Trails: Hiking the Mt Esther Trail

Explore mellow mixed forest meadows and access the North Slope Recreation Area after a steep leg-burning ascent above Ute Pass.

Where to Find It: Chipita Park, Ute Pass west of Colorado Springs

Distance: About 3.5 miles one way from the trailhead to Crystal Creek Reservoir

Difficulty: Difficult

Peak Elevation: 9,505 feet

Know Before You Go: The first mile of the Mt Esther Trail is steep with switchbacks. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as it receives intense sun exposure and heat. Be cautious of loose gravel and washed out switchbacks on the descent. In the winter and spring, this north-facing trail can hold snow and ice for extended periods. There is very little parking at the trailhead.

Mt. Esther Trail wildflowers. Photo by Claire Barber.
Wildflowers bloom along a small creek running through the aspens. Photo by Claire Barber.

Hiking the Mt Esther trail is an out-and-back, choose-your-own-adventure. Once you clear the steep initial ascent of about 1,000 feet in the first mile, the trail is a quick escape off U.S. Highway 24 with wide views over Ute Pass and Green Mountain Falls. Those looking for a hard, quick workout can use the first steep section. For more relaxation, continue on to the meandering meadows for a picnic or hang a hammock in the aspen trees. Plus, you have the option to tack on more mileage by following utility roads to Crystal Creek Reservoir or the Catamount reservoirs in the Pikes Peak North Slope Recreation Area.

This trailhead is one of nine developed entrances to the Ring the Peak Trail system, a network of trails and roads that circumnavigate Pikes Peak. The trail network isn’t complete, with missing sections near Cripple Creek and between Manitou Springs and Chipita Park, yet it still offers exploration and outdoor escape on every side of Pikes Peak.

Mt. Esther Trail Head, Ring the Peak Trail
The Mt Esther Trail is part of the larger Ring the Peak Trail. Photo by Claire Barber.

Mt Esther lies north of Pikes Peak, and the trail is challenging from the get-go, featuring just under a mile of steep switchbacks with little reprieve. About a quarter of the way up, you’ll begin climbing a short section of stairs and will be met with loose gravel along the way. On this first section, you might meet other hikers, but afterward the trail flattens out and hikers disperse. Many seem to turn around after the steeps.

Nearing the top of the initial climb, you’ll see a nice rock outcrop — perfect for a quick rest or photo op overlooking Ute Pass. Hike about 50 yards farther, and the trail meets Forest Service Trail 754, aka Crowe Gulch Trail. Take a right, and meander in an open meadow. Stop here for a picnic or continue on for a longer hike, which will take you through mixed aspen and pine forests and past a small creek. Sounds of the highway vanish, and amazingly the hike feels far removed from the bustle below.

Mt. Esther Trail Head
Stairs along the initial steep ascent. Photo by Claire Barber.

Continue about a mile to a utility road that follows power lines. Follow the road for about a half-mile, and keep an eye out for a Ring the Peak sign and cairn. Take a sharp right here, and now you will pass through more mixed forest and boulders as you traverse across Mt Esther. Watch for a small rock outcropping for another view of Highway 24 and Ute Pass.

You’ll start to descend several short switchbacks with a wide-open view of Pikes Peak until reaching a bridge and road with Ring the Peak markers. Follow the markers to the left for about a half-mile trip to the Crystal Creek Reservoir. If you want more mileage, take a right to reach the North Catamount Reservoirs. But hiker be warned: The trip to the North Catamount Reservoirs is along a fairly unspectacular dirt road. Even without that addition, you’ll be rewarded with views at the Crystal Creek Reservoir and along your ascent and descent of the Mt Esther trail.

COVID-19 restrictions are currently in place and should be reviewed, especially if you plan to visit the popular reservoirs. Masks are required in populated areas where social distancing is not possible, such as parking lots. Check out Pikes Peak FAQs for more details.

How to Get There: From Colorado Springs, take U.S. Highway 24 west and turn left at the traffic light in Cascade, following signs to the Pikes Peak Highway. At 0.4 miles, veer right at the fork in the road onto Chipita Park Road. After 1.75 miles, turn left onto Picabo Road. Take a sharp left onto a dirt road where Picabo joins Mountain Road. In a few hundred feet, you’ll see the trailhead on your right with a small parking area for three or four cars on the left.

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