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BEACON Senior News

Happy trails to you!

Aug 21, 2023 02:37PM ● By Lisa Lowdermilk

Editor’s note: Our local trail systems are vast and complex. While all information was verified with each trail’s respective management agency, there may be some slight discrepancies regarding a trail’s length, elevation gain, trailhead location, etc. It’s advisable to check with the trail’s management agency for current conditions before setting out on a hike.

If there’s one year-round activity Southern Colorado is famous for, it’s hiking. And it’s not hard to see why. With forests, mountains, creeks and even wetlands, it’s home to a variety of scenic vistas. But hiking can be intimidating, especially if you’re just getting started. If you’re interested in hiking but don’t know where to start, this article will highlight a variety of easy trails for you, no matter what part of town you live in.

Northern El Paso County

Fox Run Loop Trail

Black Forest residents will likely be familiar with Fox Run Park, which consists of four miles of hiking trails through majestic ponderosa pine forests. From Timber Ridge, hikers can take in the sweeping views of Aspen and Spruce Lakes. Thanks to the cooler temperatures in Black Forest, Fox Run is also a popular summer hiking destination.

Rating: Easy

Length: 3.1 mi 

Route Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: 429 feet

Avg. Completion Time: 1 hr 30 mins

Notes: Dogs on leash

Trailhead: Fox Run Regional Park, 2110 Stella Dr., Colorado Springs

New Santa Fe Trail

The New Santa Fe Trail is a well-maintained hike, but it still provides scenic views. It stretches 16 miles from Palmer Lake to Colorado Springs and has several entry points in Monument. There’s a smaller section of the hike (6.5 miles) that’s maintained by El Paso County Parks. During your hike, you’ll see plains, bluffs, creeks and Ice Lake.

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Length: 6.5 miles

Route Type: Point to point

Avg. Completion Time: 3 hr 15 mins

Notes: Dogs may be off leash in some areas
Access Points: Palmer Lake, Third Street in Monument, Baptist Road, Highway 105 in Monument

For a El Paso County Parks Trail map, visit

Eastern El Paso County

The Paint Mines - Calhan

A particularly colorful hiking experience awaits on the east side of El Paso County, out on the plains near Calhan. The Paint Mines is easily one of the most scenic parks in Colorado—proof that not all Colorado’s beauty is in the mountains. With large rocks bearing shades of yellow, gray, purple and red, it’s easy to see why the Paint Mines are named after the colorful clays and soils Native Americans utilized to make paint. Many of the trails are easy to hike, including Paint Mines Trail, which loops through the park’s characteristic rainbow rock formations. The guided hikes through the end of October are also a great option for explorers interested in learning more about the human settlements, fossils and artifacts associated with these multihued sandstone hoodoos. 

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Length: 3.4 mi 

Route Type: Loop

Avg. Completion Time: 1 hr 30 mins

Notes: No dogs; check out the guided hikes happening through October 

Trailhead: Parking Lots at Painted Mines Road

Western El Paso County

For unforgettable scenery on the west side of El Paso County, it’s hard to beat the otherworldly reddish rock formations in Garden of the Gods. With 23 trails to choose from—three of which are Americans with Disabilities Act compliant—Garden of the Gods offers a route for all ages and ability levels. It’s perhaps best known for its Perkins Central Garden Trail because it’s the closest you can get to the park’s famous central gardens. 

Park interpreters like Bowen Gillings help visitors enjoy everything the park has to offer. His personal favorite trail at the popular park is the Strausenback Trail. 

“Many of the famous vistas look west, offering visitors a scenic mountainside view,” Gillings noted. “But with the Strausenback, you get a unique east-facing view of the sky outlining the rocks.” 

For hikers looking for something more adventurous, Gillings recommends the shady Palmer Trail. The Foothills Trail along the park’s east side provides ample opportunity to watch the sunrise.

Perkins Central Garden Trail

Rating: Easy

Length & Route Type: 1.2-mile loop

Elevation Gain: 20-30 feet

Avg. Completion Time: 45 mins

Notes: Paved; ADA compliant; dogs on leash; the park’s most leisurely trail and the closest you can get to central gardens; trail has signage about the park’s geology, ecology and history

Trailhead: Main Parking Lot, #2

Strausenback Trail

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Length: Less than 1 mile

Route Type: Point to point

Elevation Gain: 80-100 feet

Avg. Completion Time: 1 hour (can be done in less but Gillings said with all the scenery, you won’t want to rush it)

Notes: Dogs on leash

Trailhead: Spring Canyon South Picnic Area - Parking Lot 16

Foothills Trail

Rating: Easy

Length: 2.2 miles 

Route Type: Point to point

Elevation Gain: Less than 100 feet

Avg. Completion Time: 1 hour

Notes: Paved; dogs on leash; a good walk- in trail for a fitness walk that connects to other hiking trails 

Trailhead: Access trailhead from overflow parking lot across the street from Visitor Center off Gateway Road

Palmer Trail

Rating: Moderate

Length: About 4 miles

Route Type: Out and back

Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Avg. Completion Time: 2 hours

Notes: Dogs on leash; closest trail to Giant’s Footprint

Trailhead: Across from Main Parking Lot

Southern El Paso County

Heading south, two nature centers offer fascinating hiking opportunities. 

Bear Creek Regional Park & Nature Center

The Bear Creek Regional Park and Nature Center is a popular option for hikers of all ages and abilities. Nestled in the foothills of Colorado Springs, Bear Creek offers visitors the opportunity to see a variety of flora and fauna. Supervisor Mary Jo Lewis highly recommends the Creek Bottom trail, which is about 3/4 of a mile and seems far from the city’s hustle and bustle. 

Creek Bottom Trail

Rating: Easy to moderate

Route Type: Loop

Length: 0.8 mile

Elevation Gain: 100-150 feet

Avg. Completion Time: 30-45 minutes

Notes: No dogs, but It’s one of the best
places to see wildlife in Bear Creek

Trailhead: Front entrance of Nature Center, 245 Bear Creek Road

Fountain Creek Nature Center

Fountain Creek Nature Center offers a hiking experience with strikingly different scenery. Located 15 minutes south of downtown Colorado Springs, it encompasses a variety of watery habitats, including wetlands and ponds, as well as trees like cottonwoods and willows. Stately great blue herons patrol the waterways year-round, and you might see kingfishers and monarch butterflies taking flight. These are just a smattering of the many creatures at Fountain Creek. The Nature Trail is a good hiking choice, as is the Regional Trail (less than 4 miles), which covers both the north and south areas of the nature center.

Fountain Creek Nature Loop

Rating: Easy

Route Type: Loop

Length: 0.7 mi

Elevation Gain: 36 feet

Avg. Completion Time: 20-30 minutes

Notes: No dogs; connects to Regional Trail 

Trailhead: Fountain Creek Nature Center, 320 Peppergrass Lane, Fountain

Fountain Creek Regional Trail

Rating: Easy

Route Type: Out and back

Length: Less than 4 miles

Elevation Gain: 36 feet

Avg. Completion Time: 1 hr 30 mins

Notes: Dogs on leash

Trailhead: Accessible from the Nature Loop, or from the Duckwood, Willow Springs or Hanson Trailheads

Before you set out on a hike, be prepared with sunscreen and appropriate clothing (layers are recommended) and plenty of water. Research trail conditions beforehand and tell a friend where you’re going. Even if you don’t consider yourself a hiker, the level terrain and lush scenery of these hiking spots can give you a whole new perspective. So lace up your hiking boots, snap a leash on your furry friend if you have one, grab your water bottle and explore all the natural beauty El Paso County has to offer.