47 Ways to Play on Pikes Peak

    They call it America’s Mountain—for good reason—but this is our mountain. The towering purple peak commands our view and offers a sense of constancy. It marks our history, our collective identity, our seasons, our directions, our home. And it provides a vast playground that allows you to choose your own adventure in oh so many ways. Here are a few to keep you busy this summer.

    viewfinder on pikes peak

    Hike to the Top

    1. Barr Trail: The classic, popular route out of Manitou Springs is quick to reach and long to travel, at 13 miles one way, with about 7,500 feet of elevation gain. It’s a must-do for any Springs outdoors-person, but make sure you’re prepared for severe weather and decreasing oxygen. Yes, you can arrange a shuttle ride down from the top.

    2. Crags Trail: The shorter, steeper route up the backside of Pikes takes you from the Crags trailhead to Trail #664A and eventually through Devil’s Playground. You’ll gain 4,300 feet in 7 miles and most likely experience plenty of solitude—until you cross the Pikes Peak Highway and reach the summit.

    cyclists pedal up pikes peak
    Photo by Rob Miskowitch

    Pedal Power

    3. Ride Up the Road: Got a thing for uphill riding? Join your tribe on Aug. 11 for the noncompetitive Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb Gran Fondo. You’ll power from Crystal Reservoir to the summit—12.42 miles (20km), 4,725 feet elevation gain, 40 percent less oxygen at the top. coloradospringssports.org

    4. Get Competitive: There’s a competitive Cycling Hill Climb too for the qualified. Kudos to all cyclists who can make this ascent—major props to the para-athlete hand cyclists!

    5. Ride Down the Road: Skip the suffering; keep the two-wheeled views. Outfitters, such as Pikes Peak by Bike and Challenge Unlimited, will drive you to the top, then guide your supported descent. All ages and abilities can roll down the road. pikespeakbybike.co, bikepikespeak.com

    6. Ride All the Way: Pay your $15 access fee, and you can ride the full 38-mile roundtrip road up and down.

    7. Discover the Missing Link: Mountain bikers are giddy that this long-awaited high-elevation trail is expected to open this summer. Constructed by Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, the 4.5-mile Lake Moraine Trail will give a connector from Barr Trail to the uppermost trails of Cheyenne Cañon above Jones Park, making possible a remote and epic 20ish mile loop. The trail is also part of Ring the Peak and will give hikers another route to Pikes summit. medwheel.org/missing-link

    8. Mountain Bike the Big Mountain: The Elk Park Trail offers some expert, technical riding on the big mountain, dropping 2,000 feet from the Pikes Peak Highway to Barr Camp, where you can then catch the Missing Link.

    bighorn sheep on pikes peak
    Photo by Richard Collens

    Explore the Secret Side

    Closed to the public for 101 years, the pristine 9,000 acres in the South Slope Recreation Area reopened in 2014 on a limited basis: Thursdays through Sundays, Memorial Day through September. If you score one of the 20 daily permits, $20 per vehicle, here’s what you can do:

    9. Spot Bighorn Sheep: Hike or bike the Mason Trail. The 9.4 out-and-back route will take you above tree line to Boehmer Reservoir, except during partial closures during bighorn lambing season.

    10. Catch and Release Cutthroat: Fish from the shore or a nonmotorized boat on McReynolds and Mason reservoirs. coloradosprings.gov/parks/page/south-slope-recreation-area

    running the pikes peak marathon
    Photo by Alex Gauthier

    Make a Run For It

    11. Get on Your Marks: Each summer for 63 years, runners race from Manitou to Pikes’ summit: 13.32 miles, 7,815 feet up Barr Trail as fast as they can in the Pikes Peak Ascent. Hardcore. pikespeakmarathon.org

    12. Make It a Marathon: Do a full 26.2 miles up and down Barr Trail in the full Pikes Peak Marathon. Beast mode.

    13. Do a Double: Just can’t get enough of Peak running? Veteran Ascent or Marathoners can run both the Ascent and Marathon on their subsequent days, Aug. 18-19. Otherworldly—or insane.

    Tour the Top

    14. Drive Up: Consider the Pikes Peak Highway a 19-mile string of scenic overlooks with 162 turns. It will cost you $15 per adult, $5 ages 6-15 or $50 for a carload up to 5 passengers. The 25 mph speed limit will give you time to gawk.

    15. Catch a Ride: Want to leave the driving to someone else? Outfitters will let you ride in style and focus on the views. Adventures Out West provides blankets and snacks in their custom Jeeps. Rocky Mountain Rides uses vans named Jan Claude Van Damme and Vanny DeVito. advoutwest.com; myrockymountainride.com; pikes-peak.com/alternatives-summiting-peak

    Hike Around the Peak

    16. The Ring the Peak Trail (RTP) is still a work in progress, so you can’t connect all 63 of its eventual anticipated miles. But you can follow about 80 percent of it, or sample scenic segments on all sides of Pikes through nine open portals. fotp.com/8-trails/ring-the-peak-trail

    RTP Dayhikes include:

    17. Catamount Ranch Open Space: Connect with RTP through the Elder-Fehn or Vayhinger trails, and take in gorgeous views of Pikes’ north face.

    18. Raspberry Mountain: Big views from this summit on Pikes’ west side are accessible on the 6-mile round-trip from the Crags road.

    19. Pancake Rocks: Plan on about 6 miles round-trip to hit Horsethief Falls and the strange, Suessian rock formations that overlook Cripple Creek.

    20. Stand Sentinel: Sentinel Point juts above the west end of the Pikes Peak Massif like a stony watchtower. The trail is not clear all the way to the top, so it’s a rugged 7.5-mile round-trip, advanced hike from Horsethief Park. You’ll find lonely, above-timberline views from the second-highest peak in the region, 12,488 feet.

    21. Follow Zebulon Pike’s Errant Footsteps: It’s common knowledge that Zeb Pike never reached the summit of his namesake mountain. Historians believe he probably summited Mount Rosa, then bivouacked in a cave on its southeast slope during a snow storm. You can follow a trail to Rosa’s summit for excellent 360-degree views that include Pikes Peak—the same view that told Pike he was in the wrong spot.

    22. Hike a Classic, The Crags: The rewards of this popular backside hike include scenic aspen-lined meadows and a sweeping overlook from Pikes’ northwestern flank. The mostly-gradual ascent makes it especially family friendly.

    Photo by Jon Easdon

    What About the Water?

    23. Fish the Flanks: The three picturesque lakes of the North Slope Recreation Area—Crystal Creek, North and South Catamount reservoirs—are teeming with trout. Crystal Creek Reservoir is a great spot to take the kids, where they can land rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout from the shore. You might catch lake and brown from a small boat powered by oars, paddles or an electric motor. The most secluded North Catamount Reservoir is for flies and artificial lures only. Bring your Colorado fishing license, and $5 per adult for your highway access to the area.

    24. Paddle the North Slope: It’s hard to find a more scenic spot to SUP, canoe or kayak than the North Slope reservoirs. Get ready to light up your Instagram.

    Sleep Under the Stars

    25. The Basic: The popular Crags Campground on Pikes’ west side offers your best bet for wooded Forest Service campsites for tents or small RVs. fs.usda.gov

    26. Stepping Up: Nearby Mueller State Park upgrades the amenities and options—full RV hookups, cabins—with its own trail network and gorgeous Pikes Peak views. cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Mueller

    27. Conveniences: If you want services like showers, full RV hookups, a swimming pool and fishing pond, try the Lone Duck Campground in Green Mountain Falls near the Pikes Peak Highway. loneduckcamp.com

    28. Spend a Night at Barr Camp: Built in 1922 by Fred Barr, this storied, cozy cabin provides a rustic respite and trailside community. Halfway up the Peak at 10,200 feet, the haven feels far from the crowds. Make your reservation early for a night’s stay in the main bunkhouse, upper cabin, lean-tos or tent sites, and savor the spaghetti dinner and Pikes Peak Power Pancake breakfast. barrcamp.com

    29. Satisfy Your Need for Speed: It takes the winners of the Race to the Clouds about nine minutes to cover the 12.42 miles to the summit. The one-of-a-kind Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has been running since 1916. And it’s a motorhead’s dream with categories including just about everything from motorcycles and sidecars to vintage, open-wheel and exotics—all racing the clock and challenging the altitude and elements up the treacherous 156 twists and turns. You can watch the week’s practice runs, but don’t miss race day, June 24. ppihc.org

    Photo by Larry Chen. Courtesy of The Sports Corp.

    30. Sing Your Heart Out: Get inspired by the same view that moved Katherine Lee Bates. Pay homage by belting out “America the Beautiful,” preferably from the summit.

    One Peak, Many Names

    Tava: the Ute word for sun, or sun mountain

    Grand Peak: by Lt. Zebulon Pike after spotting it in 1806

    James Peak: by Maj. Steven Long for Dr. Edwin James, the naturalist on his expedition who made the first recorded summit of the mountain in 1820

    Pikes Peak: by Maj. John Charles Fremont, head of the Army’s Topographical Core, who believed Pike deserved credit as the first American to document the mountain, 1840

    31. Eat a Doughnut: How many 14ers are there where you can get a fresh baked doughnut at the top? Just one. Love ’em or hate ’em, the special high-altitude doughnuts at the Summit House are a famous treat.

    32. Toast America’s Mountain: Get a lovely creekside table at the eclectic Wines of Colorado, located at the base of the Pikes Peak Highway in Cascade. Order a bison burger, sample the Centennial State’s vino and toast your day on the Peak. winesofcolorado.com

    33. Pack a Picnic: Want to get away but avoid the crowds on the summit? Pack lunch and enjoy the views from an easily-accessible lakeside picnic area in the North Slope rec area.

    34. Take a Straight-Up Challenge: It’s steep—understatement—and a one-of-a-kind icon. Expect a challenge from the famed Manitou Incline, no matter how fit you are. manitouincline.com

    35. Take Epic Photographs: The photo ops are endless. Here’s a starter checklist:
    • Summit pic, by the sign or gazing out into infinity.
    • Blue skies with a sea of clouds below.
    • Your best yoga pose in Devil’s Playground.
    • Catching summer snowflakes on your tongue.
    • Your best hanging-from-a-cliff imitation (from a safe spot, of course).
    • Peak reflection on a glassy Crystal Creek Reservoir.
    • Moon dropping behind the summit.
    • The Peak though the Siamese Twins keyhole in Garden of the Gods.
    • Pikes from far away on the eastern plains.
    • A local marmot.
    • Doing any of the adventures listed in this article.
    • The cheesiest souvenir you can find.

    36. Go Rockhounding: Brilliant green amazonite, smoky quartz and flourites are popular finds. Glen Cove is a good area to search on the Peak. Cheyenne Cañon, Gold Camp Road and Crystal Park above Manitou are hot spots around Pikes’ base. Forest Service regulations allow you to take surface gems for personal use. Just make sure you’re not on private property or someone’s mining claim. Want a guide? Manitou Springs Adventures offers a quartz mine excursion. manitou-springs-adventures.com

    zip lining below pikes peak
    Photo by Tim Bergsten

    Fly Over the Canyons

    37. Fly like Superman: Or upside down like Spider-Man. Try all the poses above Manitou with Pikes Peak Ziplines. advoutwest.com/ziplines

    38. Soar Over Seven Falls: Get the sensation of flying with a zip line tour above the scenic South Cheyenne Canyon with The Broadmoor’s Soaring Adventures. broadmoor.com/broadmoor-adventures

    39. Climb Big Rock: The big mountain holds epic slabs such as Rumdoodle Ridge and Corinthian Column. If you have climbing experience but want to step up to multi-pitch, mixed rock and ice routes on Pikes, your guide is Pikes Peak Alpine School. pikespeakalpineschool.com

    40. Jeep the Back Roads: Tour the gold country around Pikes base with a guided Jeep tour. You’ll hit all the best overlooks, Peak views, history and colorful tales around Gold Camp Road or Cripple Creek. advoutwest.com; manitou-springs-adventures.com

    41. Horseback Ride: Early visitors rode burros up Pikes Peak from its southern Gold Camp Road side. Today you can ride horses nearby through the forests and vistas with Old Stage Riding Stables. comtnadventure.com

    42. Say Hi to Santa: It’s Christmas all year at the North Pole, Santa’s Workshop. Who knew it was conveniently located in Cascade at the base of the Pikes Peak Highway? Ride the 60-foot Ferris wheel, spiraling peppermint slide and rest of the collection of family and kiddie rides. northpolecolorado.com

    43. Hunt Down the Caches: Like the challenge of the world’s largest scavenger hunt? There are many geocaches on and around Pikes. geocaching.com

    44. Spot Wildlife: Keep an eye out for deer, elk, marmot, black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, eagle, pika, coyote, raccoon and more.

    bigfoot sign on pikes peak
    © jay, Adobestock.com

    45. Buy a Souvenir: You can stock up at the Summit House or historic Glen Cove Inn near mile 12. What’ll it be? Coffee mug, shot glass, T-shirt, Bigfoot figurine?

    46. Give Back to the Mountain: Why do we have such great trails? Because of dedicated volunteers, such as Friends of the Peak, who work to keep them in peak condition. Volunteer for a day or more to help out on Barr or other trails surrounding Pikes. fotp.com

    47. Keep an Eye Out for Bigfoot: Sasquatch, Yeti, Bigfoot—whatever you call it, people have claimed sightings of the mysterious, hairy beast on and around Pikes. Why not? Any law-abiding sasquatch would use the Bigfoot Crossing sign near mile marker 4 on the road, right?

    Pikes Peak by the Numbers

    31st Ranking among Colorado’s highest peaks
    30 degrees Difference in average cooler temperature between the summit and the city
    162 Curves on Pikes Peak Highway
    14,115 feet Official elevation, despite the summit sign that says 14,110
    500,000 Annual visitors to the summit
    500,000 Doughnuts baked annually at the Summit House

    What’s Up With Those Shuttles?

    With construction beginning this summer on the new Summit House and the Cog Railway closed indefinitely, parking on top will be limited. Most drivers from May 31 to Sept. 15 will be required to take free shuttles from Devil’s Playground, mile 16, or the Hill Climb Starting Line lot, mile 7. Motorcycles and vehicles carrying disabled passengers or young children in car seats will be allowed to drive to the summit. coloradosprings.gov/pikespeakshuttle