Where to Find It: Between Divide and Cripple Creek, southwest of Mueller State Park
Distance: 11 miles for a loop around Dome Rock; other options vary
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate
Know Before You Go: Dogs are prohibited.
What do you remember when you think about one of your favorite hikes? The sound of a stream bubbling nearby? The scent of wild roses? The sight of bighorn sheep scrambling up an impossibly steep granite hillside?
It’s not hard to find wild spaces in Colorado that engage all your senses, but there are some that almost put you in sensory overload — in a good way.
Dome Rock State Wildlife Area is one of those places. Sprawling over nearly 7,000 acres southwest of Mueller State Park, Dome Rock is an uncrowded wonderland of wildflowers, fantastical granite rock formations and the grassy banks of Fourmile Creek.
Dome Rock has several trails within its borders. Its namesake trail (#46) is the most popular for hikers, and the meandering Fourmile Creek is its star attraction. Start at the lower parking lot and head west from the trailhead. The trail is wide here, following the canyon and crossing the creek nearly a dozen times. There are no bridges. In about 2 miles, you’ll reach the ruins of Jackrabbit Lodge, an old hunting lodge that burned down in the 1940s.
For beginning hikers or those with small children, the lodge is a perfect place to turn around and retrace your steps. If you want to keep going, you can, but only for half the year. Dome Rock is a state wildlife area, not a park, and it is an important calving ground for Rocky Mountain bighorns. Because of that, Dome Rock Trail and much of the rest of the area are closed to hiking Dec. 1 through July 15. Year-round access is permitted on the main trail to the lodge, as well as on other trails in the northern portion of the wildlife area.
If you are there without closures, you can hike on to reach Dome Rock, a dome formed by the erosion of Pikes Peak granite over millions of years. At the lodge, stay left on the trail, and in a few minutes, you will get your first look at that dome in the distance. About 3.75 miles from the trailhead, circle around Dome Rock, and you’ll see a junction with Spring Creek Trail (#43). Here, the trail climbs away from the creek and offers some memorable views. Mark this route so you can return in the fall, because you will find stands of large aspens that are more the size of oak trees. Take a left at the junction with Willow Creek Trail (#40), which will wind its way back to the trailhead. This is a nearly 11-mile loop with about 1,500 feet in elevation gain.
Want Another Option?
Dome Rock shares boundaries with Mueller State Park, and you can reach the park from Dome on a short, steep trail that you’ll see at the cabin ruins. From the Mueller side, Rock Pond Trail, Rock Canyon Trail and Fourmile Overlook Trail take you to Dome Rock on rocky, up-and-down routes that almost always include encounters with the photogenic bighorns.
How To Get There
Take U.S. Highway 24 west to Divide. Turn south on Colorado 67 and drive 5.8 miles to Fourmile Road (aka Teller County Road 61). Stay right and drive two miles to the sign for Dome Rock. Turn right and park in the lower lot.