For a non-service member, I’ve spent an unusual amount of time on the U.S. Air Force Academy. It comes from growing up in Colorado Springs as the daughter of two Air Force veterans. Whether learning how to fish from my dad at the Air Force Academy fishing lakes or taking my favorite hike through Stanley Canyon with my mom, I loved getting to spend time outside on trails and areas that are much less crowded than, say, Red Rock Canyon Open Space or Cheyenne Cañon. Although security closures in recent years have kept civilians guessing, now is a good time for anyone to enjoy the academy, though some restrictions still exist. Here are a few favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors on one of the most scenic Air Force installations in the country and some guidelines you need to know.
Run, Walk or Bike the New Santa Fe Regional Trail
This wide, scenic trail crosses the Air Force Academy on its north-south run along the Front Range, and it’s open to everyone. Great for walking, running or cycling, the trail spends 7 of its 14 miles on academy property. It follows the abandoned Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad easement and connects on its south end with the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail. Both are part of the greater American Discovery Trail, which covers 800 miles in Colorado as part of its 6,800-mile, coast-to-coast spread across the country, and the envisioned Front Range Trail, which will eventually provide continuous trail from Wyoming to New Mexico. But you don’t have to go sea to shining sea to get gorgeous views—the Santa Fe will take you past picturesque views, including Ice Lake and Falcon Stadium.
Bike Falcon Trail
The Falcon Trail is an awesome intermediate mountain biking trail that takes riders on a scenic 13.2-mile loop through the academy grounds and Rampart Range foothills. But you have to have a Department of Defense ID to ride the entire loop. That means you’re active duty military, military retiree, a current Department of Defense-employed civilian. But if you are a dependent or sponsored guest of one of those qualified people, you’re in. Otherwise, visitors are welcome to ride the northern half of the trail above and including Academy Drive.
The full trail takes you through areas filled with wildlife and cadet life. You’ll also find a variety of terrain, from long gradual climbs, creek crossings, technical rocky patches and long flowy descents. Overall, you’ll ascend and descend about 1,500 feet. If you’re looking for a less strenuous ride, the clockwise route is considered less difficult.
Parking is available at the B-52 display, at Falcon Stadium’s north lot and at the Chapel Overlook. A 0.6-mile Falcon Spur Trail connects from the B-52 display. Helmets are required, and headphones are highly discouraged.
Hike Stanley Canyon
Stanley Canyon Trail is a 4.4-mile round trip trek to Stanley Reservoir, but it’s only open to Department of Defense ID holders or their guests. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful hikes in Colorado Springs. Views along the way are panoramic overlooking the academy and the Springs. You pass through pines, oak and spruce trees, pass interesting rock formations and follow a creek before entering a mountain meadow and finishing at the small reservoir.
Overall, it’s a challenging hike, gaining just over 1,400 feet in 2.2 miles with some rugged footing along the way, but it isn’t as extreme as the Incline. The trail gets steep pretty quickly, but gradually flattens as you hike along the creek. By the time you reach the meadow, you’re on fairly level ground.
It’s worth noting the reservoir is currently drained while Colorado Springs Utilities assesses the dam. When it is full, Colorado Parks and Wildlife traditionally has stocked it with trout, but bring your Colorado State fishing license if you plan on fishing.
Find the Stanley Canyon trailhead at the end of an unpaved road just west of the Medical Clinic. Park at the Medical Clinic and hike about .6 miles west on the road to reach the trailhead.
Fish the Academy Lakes
If you’d rather partake in a more leisurely activity, there are five fishing lakes on the Air Force Academy: Ice Lake, Deadmans Lake and three Kettle Lakes. But you’ve got to have the right credentials for this one. Fishing is not open to the general public. Anglers must be active duty military, military retiree, a current Department of Defense-employed civilian—or be a dependent or sponsored guest of one of those qualified people. If you clear that hurdle and you’re 16 or older, you’ll need an academy fishing permit: $7.25 for one-day, $21 for annual. Then you can cast for rainbow trout in Air Force waters.
The lakes are stocked with rainbow trout from April through September, and the daily catch limit is three channel catfish or four rainbows, with only one trout being over 14 inches. The lakes are not super busy, and they are a great spot for beginners. In fact, this is where I learned and caught the only fish of my life! You can learn more about specific fishing rules here.
Know Before You Go
If you’re a visitor to the Air Force Academy and don’t have a military ID, there are important rules and regulations you need to know while on a military base.
Entry: All visitors must enter and exit through the North Gate and are required to show a driver’s license. You can also expect to have your vehicle inspected when coming through the gate. Visitor hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. It’s smart to keep your ID on you at all times while on base.
Trails: Stanley Canyon Trail and the Falcon Trail are open to military and government ID cardholders between 5 a.m. and sundown. Visitors can use the trail between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. All trail-users are asked to use the buddy-system rather than ride alone on all trail systems.
Road Rules: Because military bases are considered federal land, some laws are different. While driving on base, you cannot use a cellphone unless the vehicle is parked or you are using a hands-free device. Motorcyclists must wear helmets.
Weed: Make sure to leave any marijuana at home. Because it’s not legal on a federal level, weed is not legal on base.
More Info: Find more information about visiting the academy here: www.usafa.edu/visitors