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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hiking Pikes Peak

There are two hiking trails, that I know about, to the summit of Pikes Peak; the Barr Trail and the Pikes Peak from the Crags Trailhead. The Barr Trail is 13 miles one way while the trail from the Crags is 12.5 round trip. I chose to hike Pikes Peak from the Crags which is on the west side of the peak while the Barr Trail is on the east side.

I left my sister’s house in Colorado Springs around 4:30 a.m. and drove US 24 west pass Pikes Peak to Woodland Park. I stopped and grabbed a couple of nutritional bars for breakfast. I continued west on US 24 to Divide and then turned on CO 67 towards Victor and Cripple Creek. 4.3 miles later I turned left on a gravel road that took me to the Crags Campground where the trailhead is located. On the way I passed Mueller State Park on the right and to the left was a ranch and a sign for the Rocky Mountain Camp and Crags Campground (3.5 miles). The trip was about 30 miles total from Colorado Springs.

The trailhead begins on the northeast corner of the parking lot and it was well marked. I made sure I had plenty of water, food, trekking poles, sunscreen, and other necessary items for a big day hike. I had read that the elevation gain would be 4100 feet. I did not measure it with my altimeter, but I bet that is accurate.

The sun was just starting to rise, but the mountain kept the west side dark and shaded for a long time. The trail ascended about .1 mile before it split to the left for the Crags Trail or to the right to Pikes Peak. Before the split on the left there are three pipes sticking out of the ground. 100 more feet and the trail divides. Turning right the trail descended and crossed a steam via a split log bridge and then turned left and ascended for over a mile with very little change of direction. As I was walking up that portion of the trail I saw a mule deer at a small stream, once he saw me he paused and then took off. I crossed the small stream several times. I suspect in the spring and early summer there is a good amount of snow melt making the stream bigger, in July there was very little water.

The trail suddenly turned left and then back right and the trail will cross an opening that looks like an old road. The timberline is visible to the north. The trail reentered the trees and began a series of switchbacks that ended above the timberline. Before reaching the timberline I saw a couple of Dusky Grouse (later I discovered that they are known to be in the Rockies, but are not commonly seen). The trail continued up the ridge to the east/southeast. This part of the trail is the second most difficult part with the final 500 feet being the most difficult. During the first part of the hike I could see the Crags for which the original trail was made. Once above the timberline I could see the entire Crags area and Mueller State Park. The vistas were awesome!

At the top of the ridge Pikes Peak is visible and still over 2 ½ miles away. The trail turned northeast and then east on a small road passing between a series of huge boulders. The trail turned north again, goes through the parking lot of Devil’s Playground (12,000 ft  - so named because of the way lightening jumps from rock to rock during thunderstorms), crosses Pikes Peak Road and turns southeast beside the road for about ¾ mile.

From a natural lookout area at about 13,000 feet I could see in all four directions. To the East I could see Colorado Springs and Lake Moraine. To the North I could see the Manitou reservoir, Woodland Park and Pikes National Forest. When looking west I could see Sentinel Point (12,527) and Mueller State Park. Looking South I could see Sheep Mountain (12,397 ft), Bighorn reservoir and Wilson reservoir.

The trail became very faint as it turned east through rocky tundra and to the north of Little Pike (13,363 ft). Little Pike is to the right of the trail, steep cliffs are seen off to the left and Pikes Peak is straight ahead. ¼ mile past Little Pike the trail becomes very steep as it becomes more like rock climbing. Big sharp rocks lead up to the summit and the visitor’s center parking lot, the end of the trail.  The views are amazing.

On my way back down to the car I passed a heard of Big Horn sheep.

With any hike in the mountains one should be prepared. In the Rockies there will be cool temperatures and windy conditions. Thunderstorms can arise at anytime. The trail I took is snow covered in late fall to early spring. Be prepared for changing weather conditions and enjoy a great trail to the peak that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful” in 1893.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences on this hike. I felt like I was right there with you. Pikes Peak is on my "to-do" list in the near future.

    Did you do this one-way or round trip. It's a long hike either way.

  2. I did this as an out and back. I did not spend much time at the top because my sister and family had something planned that I had to get back for.

    I want to do it again and take more time to enjoy the experience. Truthfully, I would love to have someone drop me off at the trailhead and then meet me at the peak so I could ride down. :)