We recently ventured into Hurricane Canyon, which we can’t advise any and all outdoor lovers to do (more on that later). But we were intrigued by the place in Pikes Peak’s eastern foothills upon learning that it was one of the U.S. Forest Service’s Natural Research Areas, special sites where no development – i.e. trail building, logging, mining – is allowed.

Hurricane Canyon also happens to be a Colorado Natural Area, as designated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. With the recent addition of Corral Bluffs Open Space, El Paso County now has three in the state’s catalog of 94 areas, all deemed to be worthy for their unique makeups.

Here’s more about the three areas and how to access them:

1. Corral Bluffs Open Space

Officials with Colorado Springs’ Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program were notified in December that the open space had been named a Natural Area. This came as no surprise to advocates of the site east of Powers Boulevard.

“Every time I go out with somebody, I learn something new about the area,” said Jackie Hilaire, who lives near the property and regularly welcomes researchers from afar to it.

The land of hoodoos and fossil-filled gullies has been protected by the city since 2008. Officials seek more surrounding property before crafting a recreation plan for the area, seen by scientists as a prime location to study the time between dinosaurs and man.

How to go: Hilaire guides tours throughout the year. Email info@corralbluffs.org or hilaireja@aol.com.

2. Aiken Canyon Preserve

South of the city on Colorado 115 is a 1,621-acre expanse that the Colorado Nataural Areas program says is “the largest intact foothills ecosystem known from the Front Range.”

Mostly gentle trails weave through the colorful mosaic: The woodlands are dominated by Gambel oak and mountain mahogony in some places and ponderosa pine and Douglas fir in others, in between prairies and red canyon walls. Named for 19th-century ornithologist Charles Aiken, the preserve is a birder’s paradise, with more than 100 species recorded.

How to go: Open year-round, dawn to dusk daily. Off Colorado 115 south, turn onto Turkey Canyon Ranch Road and continue to the parking area to the right.

3. Hurricane Canyon Natural Research Area

The best part of this lush, hidden pocket at the confluence of French Creek’s north and south forks: “Nobody goes there,” says Paul Mead, formerly president of Friends of the Peak and longtime explorer of America’s Mountain.

But heed his warning: “You’ve gotta be a serious hiker to get through there.”

You’ll have to bushwhack your way through fallen timber and maneuver around big rocks – carefully, so not to slip on the steep slopes and fall to the water rushing between the canyon’s high walls.

How to go: Consult the Pikes Peak Atlas. The canyon can be reached off the Heizer Trail, which starts in Cascade. Another way is from the North French Creek Trail, No. 703. But without route-finding skills and considerable fitness, you’ll want to skip this one.

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