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On Walkabout On: Colorado’s Gold Camp Road

Basic Information

  • Name: Gold Camp Road
  • Where: Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek, Colorado
  • Distance: 30 miles
  • More Info: Traillink.com

Narrative

Since Colorado Springs is located adjacent to the Rocky Mountains and most notably Pikes Peak, the region is filled with many off-road drives.  I like taking my SUV occasionally on some of these off-road routes and one of the best ones in my opinion is Gold Camp Road that runs between Colorado Springs and the gold mining community of Cripple Creek located deep in the Pikes Peak high country:


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Gold Camp Road used to be the old railroad bed for the train that used to run from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek.  The route was built by the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway and began operations in 1901.  The railway was one of many competing railroads transporting supplies and people to the gold mining boom towns of Cripple Creek and Victor and bringing ore back down the mountain to be processed in mills in Colorado City near present day Colorado Springs.    The route is about 30 miles long but when driving on the road it feels much longer due to the twisting turns, high elevation, and slow speeds.

Something else that makes the route feel much longer for me at least is that I kept feeling compelled to stop and take pictures of the incredible scenery.  The lower end of Gold Camp Road is accessed from North Cheyenne Canyon where I began my prior hike up to the Seven Bridges Trail.  This lower end of the road has been closed to vehicle traffic and made solely into a hiking and biking trail because of the collapse of one of the old railroad tunnels on this part of the road.  However, accessing the upper Gold Camp Road is easy via the Old Stage Road that begins near the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  I just simply drove to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and shortly before the zoo there is a sign pointing towards Old Stage Road and Cripple Creek.  The beginning portion of the road is paved and goes through a neighborhood of very nice homes.  Eventually the paved road ends and becomes a dirt road that hangs off the side of Cheyenne Mountain providing beautiful views of the Broadmoor Hotel and Colorado Springs:

For the most part the road is in pretty good shape though bumpy in some spots the entire way to Cripple Creek:

A sturdy two wheel drive vehicle should have no problems with this road though I would recommend against a small compact car attempting this road due to the few bumpy areas I mentioned that could cause tire damage or a small vehicle to bottom out.  I would think that in the winter time this road should only be attempted by a four wheel drive vehicle with chains if needed.

The Old Stage Road portion of this route goes up and wraps around and behind Cheyenne Mountain.  Once behind Cheyenne Mountain the views of the remote wilderness are incredible.  One of the best views to the west is of the craggy summit of Mt. Vigil:

Mt. Vigil rises to an impressive 9,690 feet above sea level and its rocky prominence really makes it stand out from its higher neighboring peaks.  From what I have read on the Internet the rocky summit of this peak is quite challenging to climb.  So if I plan to ever hike up to the summit of this peak I will definitely bring someone with me because I don’t hike alone on mountains that require some rock climbing to summit for obvious safety reasons.  Anyway the peak is quite a sight and one that cannot be seen from most of Colorado Springs due to its location behind Cheyenne Mountain.

Looking to the north from Old Stage Road I could see some of the high rocky peaks that rise behind Mt. Cutler that I have hiked up before:

As the road ascends into a lush forest there is a small parking area with signs that point out the rules and regulations for traveling up Gold Camp Road to include a map of the various driving trails in the area:

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From the signs the road continues through the lush forest past a few ranches to include the Stables at the Broadmoor which is well known locally for its horseback riding tours.  From here Old Stage Road intersects with the actual Gold Camp Road and ascends up to a viewpoint of Colorado Springs:

Here is a closer look at Colorado Springs:

The viewpoint also has a great view of the backside of Cheyenne Mountain:

The viewpoint is also where a trail to St. Peter’s Dome begins which is pictured behind this big rock wall:

Since I had my two year old with me I wasn’t able to do any hiking up mountains on this trip but I will definitely drive back up here at some point and check out this trail again.  From the viewpoint Gold Camp Road continues deeper into the mountains to where I began to have some closer views of St. Peters Dome:

Here is a closer look at the rocky butte of this peak:

The road then next passed adjacent to this very large round dome of a rock that I would think is probably popular with rock climbers:

This section of the road continue to pass by a number of impressive rock outcroppings that are so unique to the Pikes Peak region:

After we passed through this section of rock outcroppings I could see in the distance the 11,499 foot summit of Mt. Rosa which is on my short list of upcoming hikes to complete:

Historians believe that when Zebulon Pike led his expedition into the area in 1806 and “discovered” Pikes Peak, that his failed attempt to climb the mountain ended up with him climbing to the summit of Mt. Rosa instead.  Here is another view of Mt. Rosa this time with a small pond and meadow in the foreground:

Gold Camp Road passes near the base of Mt. Rosa which is also where the Penrose-Rosemont Reservoir is located that is managed by Colorado Springs Utilities since it provides drinking water for the city.  There is no public access road to the reservoir, but fishing is authorized on the lake but visitors have to hike in to fish.    Passed the reservoir Gold Camp Road then begins to pass through a section of red rock terrain:

After passing through the section of red rocks this cabin located in this beautiful valley came into view:

What an ideal place to have a cabin.  There was also a second cabin nearby with a sign posted that this area was named Clyde, Colorado.  Just passed the cabin the road passes through this old railway tunnel:

The inside of the tunnel has been reinforced with steel beams which prevents the tunnel from collapsing like the one on the lower Gold Camp Road:

On the other side of the tunnel I spotted a few more cabins located on private property that included having their own lake:

I wondered if anyone actually lived in these cabins or if people just use them as summertime vacation homes?  Next up the road passes by a group of the most impressive rock formations along the entire road:

These rock formations are called collectively Cathedral Park:

There is even an old 1901 image of these impressive rock formations on a post card promoting the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway:

There are private property signs posted in this area so I don’t know if Cathedral Park is on private property or not.  Looking at my map I did not see any trails accessing the rock formations.  If anyone knows if it is possible to hike in Cathedral Park please leave a comment:

This stream just passed Cathedral Park I think would make a lovely picture in the summer time once all the grass turns green:

Once passed Cathedral Park the terrain begins to change into high forested hills and alpine meadows which signals that Cripple Creek is near:

Soon enough the huge Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company operation comes into view:

What had once been over 500 small mines digging into the side of the mountain has now been consolidated into one massive mining operation that has the manpower and technology to extract gold deep in the mountain.  It is pretty amazing when you think about it that this mountain has continued to produce vast quantities of gold now for over 120 years.  Just a short distance after spotting the mining operation Gold Camp Road intersects with State Highway 81 where going left leads to Victor and a right leads to Cripple Creek which are both communities well worth exploring for their mining history.  From there State Highway 67 can take visitors north to Highway 24 that leads back to Colorado Springs.

Conclusion

When former President Theodore Roosevelt traveled on Gold Camp Road he is well known locally as referring to the road as “the trip that bankrupts the English language.”  I really think that a visit to Cripple Creek is a must for anyone visiting the Colorado Springs region and there is no better way to get to Cripple Creek than to drive up Gold Camp Road and experience some of the best scenery that Colorado has to offer.  I have no doubt that people driving up the road for the first time today will have the same feeling that Teddy Roosevelt had over a hundred years ago when he went up this road.  Hopefully people today can find words to express it.

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