#TravelTuesday: Central Colorado for Adventure Junkies, Part 1

by Brook Benten Jimenez on August 17, 2021 in Travels,

When Texans think of Colorado, we think of epic adventures. When Coloradans think of Texans, they think: “Visit all you want, but don’t move here.” Lucky for us, Central Colorado offers plenty of mountainous day trip adventures to fill your canteen before one last “‘Horns Up” and heading home to the Lone Star State.

This part of the world is so adventure-packed that we’ve had to split our time there into two parts. Tune in next week to visit Cave of the Winds with us, plus get great tips on places to stay.

Whether you’re hiking or driving, it’s an adventure in beautiful Central Colorado. Photo courtesy Pikes Peak Region Attractions

Adventure #1: The Manitou Incline

Located in Manitou Springs, a charming Victorian town that neighbors Colorado Springs, and referred to as simply “The Incline” by locals, the Manitou Incline is 0.9 miles of natural stairs.  Although it’s shorter than four times around a track, it will feel four times longer than that because it’s straight up. The Incline is categorized as an Extreme Trail. Before this was an adventure junkie’s workout, it was a 20th century railroad for a cable car that hauled equipment up and down the mountain.   

A Challenge for the Lungs

These stairs will challenge the lungs and live oaks of even the most conditioned adventure junkies. Highly trained aerobic enthusiasts trek to the top of the 2,768 stairs in about half an hour. Less aerobically fit tourists will be able to check Manitou Springs Incline off their bucket lists, but can expect it to take closer to two hours. 

The Manitou Incline is 0.9 miles of natural stairs — 2,768 stairs to be precise. Although it’s shorter than four times around a track, it will feel four times longer than that because it’s straight up. Photo courtesy Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce

Trainer Tip: Looking up from the bottom, you’ll see a false summit.  Don’t be disappointed when you get to what you thought was the top and see more stairs. It’s marked every 100 to the top at 2,768 stairs.  As trying as this will be in the moment, try to avoid making The Incline a mundane math game and enjoy the journey. 

Barr Trail

From the top, you’ll have the option of hiking back down the stairs or taking the Barr Trail. Three miles to the south, it is a safer and smoother choice than returning down the mile of stairs, where the grade ranges from 45° to 68°. (The Incline stairs are uncomfortable and potentially dangerous to walk down.) There’s also a point about halfway up the Incline that you can bow out and hit the Barr Trail, if you’ve had about enough of nature’s Stairmaster.

Conversely, if you’re really feeling adventurous, you may keep trekking the trail upward, ascending beyond the Incline. About 10 miles later, you’ll reach the summit of Pikes Peak. (But don’t do that on a whim.)

These stair of the Manitou Incline will challenge the lungs and live oaks of even the most conditioned adventure junkies.
Photo courtesy Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce

Parking & Permits

Parking is not extremely close or easy, but there is a free shuttle that will take you from a public parking zone to the trailhead. Although no permit is required at this time, the Incline does require advanced reservation for the time you plan on getting going (6am-6:30pm MT).  Reservations are free and can be made online.

Adventure #2: Hike a Fourteener

Hiking a fourteener means that you have walked to the summit of a mountain that exceeds 14,000 feet in elevation. If that seems like an overly simplistic explanation, it’s because there really is a lot of ambiguity here. If you start at 13,000 feet and climb to the summit, you have hiked a fourteener. If you start at the base of the mountain, you may be climbing all day from trailhead to summit back down to the trailhead. 

Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern range of the Rocky Mountains. Photo courtesy Pikes Peak Region Attractions

Pikes Peak

All variations of the climb can be done on Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern range of the Rocky Mountains.  

If you drive to Devil’s Playground and park at the parking lot there, you’ll be parking at 13,000 feet. The last part of fourteeners is usually the hardest, so you’ll still have your work cut out for you, walking through snow (you’ll need microspikes), to reach the summit.  Vehicles are allowed to drive to the observation deck at the top of Pikes Peak, so you can hitch a ride and not have to worry about busting your backside on the hike back down. In less time than it takes to watch a rom-com, you will have put in moderate work and successfully hiked a fourteener.

The stunning view from the 14,115 feet Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez

Options: Craig’s Trail

We opted for a more strenuous option, starting at Crag’s Trail for a 14.5 mile hike to the summit of Pikes Peak and back. The weather ranged from the 30s to the 80s, so there was a necessary assortment of varied clothing.

Nature’s Miracle

To enjoy Mother Nature at her greatest, many people start this hike hours before sunrise and witness the sun rising after they’ve climbed a few thousand feet. Appreciating nature but valuing sleep more, we started at 6am — a “late” start.  

Beware the Descent

The hike up this trail to the summit of Pikes Peak is not too tough. If you’re fit and can adapt to altitude changes, you’ll be fine on the climb.  The bigger challenge is the hike down. Expect loose gravel that will almost inevitably land you on your rump. There are signs at the start of Crag’s Trail that warn in large letters against climbing if you’re unprepared for the hike down. It’s good advice. I was sorely unprepared for the challenge and took most of it on my caboose.  Next time, I will be sure to bring trekking poles.

Think about the descent before you start your climb up Pikes Peak. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez

For additional insight on Hiking a Fourteener, and great tips on gear, see this recent article.

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Cover photo courtesy Colorado Springs Marriott

Brook Benten Jimenez, M.Ed. is an Austin-based fitness expert and named Austin’s Fittest Fitness Professional, 2012.  She travels Texas and beyond, seeking wellness adventures worth storytelling. Galavant with Brook on Instagram @BrookBenten.