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On Walkabout On: The Stanley Canyon Trail In Colorado Springs

Basic Trail Information

  • Name: The Stanley Canyon Trail
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Distance: 4 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: medium (1,391 ft climb)
  • Time: 2-3 hours round-trip
  • More Info: Colorado Springs Trails

GPS Map & Elevation:



3D Flyover of the Trail:

Narrative

I recently had the opportunity to go and complete another one of the recommended hikes in the book I bought  titled “The Best Colorado Springs Hikes (Colorado Mountain Club Pack Guides).  The start of this trail is a bit unusual because it begins at the US Air Force Academy before heading high up into the Rampart Range north of Colorado Springs.  You can read more about the US Air Force Academy at the below link:

The trailhead is located off of Pine Road across from the Air Force Academy Medical Center.  There is no sign marking the dirt road that leads to the trailhead.  Once on Pine Road just simply look for a dirt road across from the hospital.  Drive about a quarter mile up the dirt road and it will lead to this gate that marks the start of the Stanley Canyon Trail:

There is actually a large parking lot by the gate so finding a place to park is no problem. From the gate the trail leads towards this rocky butte where Stanley Canyon is located just to the left of:

The mid-April day that I went hiking was nice and sunny with highs in the 50’sF.  The start of the trail was in very good shape as I hiked up towards the Rampart Range:

The first quarter mile of the hike is on US Air Force property before entering into the Pike National Forest that covers most of the Rampart Range:

At this point of the hike the steep ascent up into the mountains begins where the various rocky buttes visible from down below come up close and personal along the trail:

The trail eventually begins to run parallel to Stanley Creek that flows through the canyon.  Due to the steepness of this canyon the creek cascades down in a series of small waterfalls:

The picture below gives a good indication of how steep the terrain is that the trail climbs up:

As I continued up the trail I spotted this small cave that appeared to be human made:

The cave had become a pool water inside but I wondered if this cave was chipped out of the rock by gold prospectors long ago?  As I hiked higher up into the mountains the trees got thicker, the temperature colder, and thus more snow was visible on the ground:

I also began to find myself walking parallel to the large rocky buttes of the Rampart Range that I had admired earlier down below:

About mile into the hike Stanley Canyon becomes very rocky and narrow thus causing a large amount of snow and ice to accumulate at this choke point:

I was going to have to do a bit of scrambling up this wall of ice and thus stopped to put on my ICEtrekkers.  With the added traction I was able to easily climb up the icy slope.  I ended up leaving my ICEtrekkers on the rest of my hike because of the snow and ice:

Once through the narrow and icy part of the canyon the trail eventually begins to level out once on top the range.  Up here it is thickly forested and thus little sunlight hits the ground to melt the snow:

Since I had my Danner hiking boots on my feet were well protected from getting wet and cold from the snow.  I recommend anyone hiking up this trail outside of the summer months to wear good hiking boots as well to protect your feet from the snow and cold.  Also up here on the top of the range the trail passes over a few small improvised bridges that cross the creek:

Then suddenly the trail enters into this big open meadow:

I have always wondered how meadows like this form in such dense forests?  Why don’t the trees try and cover this area as well?  Anyway before long the trail enters back into the thick forest:

Then shortly before reaching Stanley Reservoir the trail enters into yet another meadow:

Then a short while later the dam for Stanley Reservoir comes into view:

At the reservoir the hike reaches its maximum altitude of 8,885 feet after beginning the hike at 7,474 feet.  This means the altitude gain for the hike was 1,391 feet in about 2 miles of hiking.  So this is a pretty decent workout for people looking for a short distance hike that will work out your legs.  Stanley Reservoir is managed by the city of Colorado Springs Utilities as this sign near the reservoir states:

Here is the spillway from the dam that the water in Stanley Creek flows from:

Since the Colorado Springs Utilities sign says that people are forbidden from walking on the dam face the trail which was hard to follow due to the snow wraps around the dam to the right and then goes up a small hill to this lookout:

From the trail’s lookout I could see that no one was at the lake to include Colorado Springs Utilities workers fishing:

I am definitely going to have to hike back up here this summer and do some fishing because this lake is not only beautiful but secluded as well:

After spending about a half hour hanging out at the lake I then decided to walk back down the canyon.  This meant walking through the snow again:

As well as doing a few more crossings of the creek:

Since it was all down hill now I made excellent time and before I knew it I was back in Stanley Canyon:

This canyon may be small but it is quite impressive with all its rocky spires sticking up everywhere:

Eventually I came to the really treacherous icy part of the trail and was very careful climbing down the ice face:

Once I passed this treacherous point I took off my ICEtrekkers and it was clear sailing all the way back down the canyon.  On the way down I made sure to take a few moments to enjoy the sounds of the beautiful creek flowing down the canyon:

I also took the time to take a side trail to this large rocky butte at the entrance of the canyon in order to get some clear pictures of the Air Force Academy and Colorado Springs:

I didn’t go all the way to the top because it would take a bit of climbing to get up there and since I was hiking by myself and never do anything as potentially dangerous as that without a partner.  Anyway from the base of the rocky butte the pictures were beautiful anyway.  Here is the view looking North towards the US Air Force Academy:

Here is one final close up look at the Air Force Academy:

Here is the view looking East where the Black Forest can be seen in the distance and the rest of the forested grounds of the US Air Force Academy are visible to include the Academy’s hospital:

Here is a closeup look at the Air Force Academy’s medical center where the dirt road across from the hospital that leads to the Stanley Canyon trailhead is visible:

Finally here is a view looking towards the South where just a little bit of Colorado Springs is visible:

After spending a few minutes on the rocky butte enjoying the view I then continued back down the trail and soon re-entered the property of the US Air Force Academy:

Then a short while later I was back at the trailhead enjoying the view looking back towards the rocky butte and Stanley Canyon that lies behind it:

Conclusion

This hike is a real hidden gem and I highly recommend this hike in conjunction with a visit to the US Air Force Academy.  Visitors can easily spend a couple of hours in the morning seeing the sights at the Air Force Academy and then hiking up to the Stanley Canyon Reservoir to eat a pack lunch.  If you bring your fishing poles you may be able to catch your own lunch!  Such an itinerary would fill up a whole day and really show some of the best sites that the Colorado Springs area has to offer.

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