Cheyenne Canon: Snow Running the Columbine Trail

Feel transported into the backcountry on a Cheyenne Canon classic.

My legs come to life as I trot into the icy air in the mouth of Cheyenne Canon. The snow has fallen steadily for most of the day, depositing a layer of frosting on the canon’s granite walls and everything contained within them.

I have driven to the Starsmore Discovery Center, gateway to the North Cheyenne Cañon Park, no more than four miles from downtown Colorado Springs, and begun the steady ascent into the canon on the Columbine Trail. The snow provides a hush to the experience; the only sound is the burbling of North Cheyenne Creek beneath a layer of ice.

frozen North Cheyenne Creek in Cheyenne Canon
North Cheyenne Creek, Cheyenne Canon. Photo by Tim Bergsten.

The Columbine Trail is a sweet ribbon of singletrack that climbs mostly along the canon’s south-facing slope, switching back on itself now and then to make things interesting.

A good run in the snow can provide a tough workout. I find myself lifting my knees and minding my balance as I softly plant my feet in the snow. You want to be careful on winter runs. A twisted ankle or bad fall can ruin the fun and be quite dangerous in extreme cold. Best to bring a cellphone, or leave word of your whereabouts and estimated time of return with a family member or friend.

This 4-mile trail is popular but lonely on snowy days, and it provides the perfect escape for a busy mind. The Columbine Trail begins at the Starsmore Discover Center and crosses a picturesque rock bridge before it tilts up and the climbing begins. The trail gains about 950 feet in elevation from tip to tail, and tops out at 7,300 feet on the hillside above Helen Hunt Falls.

Get a Running Start on Super Bowl Sunday

Looking for a good winter run? Check out the Super Half Marathon and Game Day 5K, on Super Bowl Sunday. The race bills itself as “Colorado Springs’ Super Sunday Tradition,” and annually attracts more than 1,000 runners to the flat Pikes Peak Greenway Trail. Wear your orange and blue!

Info and registration here.

The light begins to fade, and I turn back to enjoy the descent. There are a few steep sections that accelerate my heartbeat, but the trail is doable by any reasonably fit person. It’s wise to wear additional traction in the snow. Kahtoola Microspikes or Icetrekkers, which mold around shoes and bite the ice and snow, make it easier to navigate slick surfaces.

The snow begins to fall again, a soft powder that flies like dandelion down at my feet and clings to my hat. Soon enough I am back at the trailhead. The roundtrip has taken less than two hours, but it has allowed me a taste of Colorado’s backcountry just a short distance from home. I drive away anticipating my next run on our foothills trails. Bring on the snow.

Getting There: From downtown Colorado Springs drive south on Tejon St. Go right (west) at Cheyenne Mountain Blvd. for about 2.25 miles. The Starsmore Discovery Center is on the left as you begin to drive into Cheyenne Canon. The Columbine Trail begins there, and parking is available. The trail can also be accessed a short distance up the canon, with a small gravel parking area on the right.

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