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On Walkabout On: The Barr Trail to Barr Camp

Basic Information

  • Name: Barr Trail
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Distance: 13 miles
  • Difficulty: Medium-Hard
  • More Info: SummitPost.com

Narrative

I have been meaning to hike up to the summit of Pikes Peak this summer using the famous Barr Trail.  The trail is 12.5 miles long to the summit with most people tackling the hike in two days.  Once on top people can either hike the 12.5 miles back down, have someone drive up the Pikes Peak Highway to pick them up, or buy a train ticket back down.  I decided to do a recon of how long it would take me to hike up to the Barr Camp which is about the halfway point of the hike.  I wanted to determine how long it would ultimately take to hike up to the summit of Pikes Peak in one day.   So I headed over to the Barr Trail trailhead which is located in Manitou Springs:

In Manitou Springs the trailhead is located at the end of Ruxton Avenue behind the Cog Railway Station.  I got to the trailhead early in the morning at about 05:30 AM and paid the small parking fee at the lot.  I was surprised to see so many people out and about this early running the Manitou Incline.  It was almost a festive atmosphere.  I have since become a sometime runner of the Incline as well and you can read more about it at the below link:

Anyway the Barr Trail is the line depicted in red that goes all the way to the summit of Pikes Peak on the below map:

Barr Camp is about 6.5 miles up the trail and located at about 10,200 feet in altitude.  Right at the start of the Barr Trail there is a sign that warns hikers about the difficulty and possible dangers of this trail:

Despite such a warning sign it seems like every year someone gets stuck up on the mountain unprepared for the elements or how they are getting down.  From the very start Barr Trail is of high quality, but the difficulty is also high as it steeply switchbacks up the side of the mountain:

Basically I walked for an hour up what seemed to be never ending switchbacks while at the same time avoiding runners that at had ascended the Manitou Incline and were now going back to the parking lot via the Barr Trail.  I have never been on a trail busier than this one, especially this early in the morning.  Eventually once I got past the trail intersection where the Incline meets Barr Trail my walk became quite peaceful with no one around.  Past the Incline intersection the trail had also leveled out a bit as it slowly ascended up the right side of a long valley with the ridgeline leading to Cameron Cone located on the left side of the valley:

The higher up the trail I went I eventually reached a point of where I was parallel with the 10,707 foot Cameron Cone:

Something I noticed looking at Cameron’s Cone that I hadn’t noticed before was an extremely impressive pile of rocks that appeared to be ready to fall over at any minute.  Here is a closer look at this impressive pile of rocks:

From what I have read on SummitPost.com climbing up Cameron Cone is actually harder than climbing up many 14er’s in Colorado due to the rugged topography and lack of a real trail.  I have since hiked up Cameron Cone which is a great, but difficult hike to do and there is a trail to follow the entire way.  You can read more about this hike at the below link:

As I continued to hike up Barr Trail this was my first sighting of Pikes Peak on the trail:

The summit of the mountain was just visible over all the hills that obscure any views of Pikes Peak at the start of the  trail.  As I continued up the trail I then came to this interesting tunnel created by falling rocks:

Going through this tunnel is not as tight as it looks in the below picture, but I did have to bend over a little bit to go through it:

Just past the tunnel I then came upon this real tunnel that was very small:

I have no idea what this tunnel was for.  My initial reaction was that it must be an old mining shaft, but it does not look like any mining shaft I have seen before due to its small size and the fact that the front of it is made of concrete.  So I next thought that maybe a pipeline went through this tunnel long ago?  If anyone knows what this tunnel is for please leave a comment.

At about 3 miles up the trail I came upon this sign that showed that Barr Camp was only 3.5 miles more up the trail:

This section of the hike was quite nice as the trail leveled out quite a bit as it passed through a beautiful aspen forest:

All along the trail there was plenty of wildflowers to see:

The most beautiful wildflower was the columbines that seemed to be growing everywhere within the aspen forest:

With a flower this beautiful is it any wonder why the Columbine was chosen as Colorado’s official flower:

Another plant I also noticed along the trail was the yucca that is quite a hardy species that seems like it can grow just about anywhere from low and hot deserts to high and cold environments that can be found on Pikes Peak:

As I continued up the trail I came to a clearing that provided some really nice views of the 12,367 foot Almagre Mountain:

From Colorado Springs Almagre Mountain just looks like a high pile of rocks next to Pikes Peak, but from this profile Almagre looked quite impressive.  Almagre is another mountain that I have since climbed that is a long, but not terribly difficult hike to complete.  You can read more about this hike at the below link:

However, Almagre is still not as impressive as the 14,115 foot Pikes Peak that now loomed in front of me:

From the clearing the trail then entered back into the trees thus obscuring any more views of the mountains:

As I continued up the trail I did not run into any hikers, but I did have a few trail runners go past me:

I then came upon a nice little creek that was my signal that I must be nearing Barr Camp:

A short while later the trail led into Barr Camp where I saw a sign that the summit to Pikes Peak was located 6 miles further up the trail:

Barr Camp is located approximately 6.5 miles up the mountain and is operated under a special permit from the US Forest Service.  The cabin here was built in 1921 by the founder of this trail Fred Barr.  The local Gazette newspaper has a pretty interesting article about Fred Barr that highlights how he built the trail and the cabin all by himself and even today no one is really sure how he did it:

Morath called Barr “a true mountain man who loved the high rock country with all his heart.”

Barr built his trail by hand, using burros and blasting powder to make his path up the mountain and spending days and sometimes weeks looking for the right route.

No one disputes that Barr finished his project. But no one really knows how he did it.

“I’ve found nothing written by Fred Barr,” says Slaughter, who has been working on a history of Barr Camp and its founder. “I’ve been trying to piece together how he built the main cabin and the trail, but there isn’t a note, a plan, a request to be found.”

Slaughter is puzzled by the logs used for the cabin, which still stands at the midway point on the trail.

“I’ve seen photographs from back then, and there wasn’t a tree anywhere in sight of the present-day cabin that was anywhere big enough to be used.”

He believes Barr salvaged the logs used for the building from cabins that were dismantled in nearby Ruxton and Englemann canyons and carried them on a mule train road to the site.

That would have added to the effort required to finish the cabins, but Slaughter and others who have researched Barr’s work believe the miner would have relished the challenge.

Barr finished his trail in 1921, the same year the state established a highway department and crews began building the state’s first concrete highways. As construction crews made their way across the state, Barr continued to plot out paths on Pikes Peak.

Fred Barr signed his final AdAmAn register in 1939. On April 3, 1940, he died of a heart attack while he and his wife visited relatives in New Mexico. He was 58.  [The Gazette]

Here is the bridge leading over the small creek to the cabin that Fred Barr constructed:

The cabin has no running water and thus this creek is the camp’s sole source of water:

For those looking to top off their water bottles the folks in the cabin do have a filter you can use for a small fee.  Here is a picture of the front of the cabin:

I found the cabin to be in great shape and really quite a lovely place.  It is quite obvious that the owners of the cabin take great pride in the upkeep of the place.  I went inside and spoke with two of the ladies that work at the cabin.  They were both extremely nice and very informative.  That is one of the things I like about hiking, it seems like some of the nicest people I meet are found out on a trail somewhere.  I guess being a jerk is a full time job and thus these type of people cannot find the time to hike up into the mountains.  Anyway like the outside of the cabin, I found the inside of the cabin to be clean and well taken care of:

I sat down and ordered a cup of coffee for a dollar as I ate the breakfast I brought with me.  It is pretty nice to hike this far into the wilderness and be able to order a great cup of coffee.  It had taken me about 3.5 hours walking at a leisurely pace to cover the 6.5 miles to Barr Camp.  To walk the rest of the way to the summit the lady working inside the cabin told me to add an hour to whatever it took me to reach the camp.  So that would mean that to reach the summit from the camp would take an additional 4.5 hours.  This make the hike to the summit a grand total of 8 hours.  Hiking to the summit is definitely doable in one day for me, but I don’t think it would be all that fun of a hike to walk up hill for 8 straight hours.  Plus I would have to coordinate transportation back down the mountain because I would likely be too tired to walk down.  So my experience walking to Barr Camp definitely convinced me that when I hike up to the summit of Pikes Peak that I would definitely camp out and make it a two day walk.

With that determined I paid my farewell to the nice people that work in the cabin and proceeded back down the trail.  By the time I left the cabin many people had started to arrive at the camp and the place was actually quite bustling.  Going back down the trail at first was quite fast and soon enough I was taking in views of the city that I had not noticed going up the trail:

Eventually I came back to the crack in the rocks that I had passed through earlier:

I then once again found myself taking in some nice views of Cameron Cone:

As I began to descend down the long switchback located towards the start of the trail I enjoyed some great views of Manitou Springs and the Rampart Range:

I hiked up Barr Trail a week before the start of the Waldo Canyon Wildfire and thus at the time I did not know that these pictures would be the last ones I would take of this section of the Rampart Range before it devastated by the fire.  Fortunately the fire did not claim the most popular park in the Springs, the Garden of the Gods:

The fire also fortunately did not claim Manitou Springs either:

As I continued to walk down the never ending switchbacks I could eventually see the Cog Railway Station come into view where the trailhead is near:

As I continued down the switchbacks I took one last look back up the trail to get a final view of the beautiful Cameron Cone:

As I was about to reach the end of the trail and I then heard the Cog Railway train pass:

This is definitely a much easier way to get up the mountain than walking, but I think hiking is the best way to really experience this great mountain.  I eventually made it back to the parking lot and found my feet to be pretty sore from all the steep down hill hiking on the switchbacks.  In fact I can’t remember my feet ever being that sore before so this should give everyone an idea how long and steep these switchbacks are.

Conclusion

Overall, I found that it is definitely feasible to climb up Pikes Peak in one day for people that are in good shape and have transportation waiting for them at the top.  However, I think traveling 12.5 miles and climbing 7,300 feet in altitude in one day would not be very enjoyable.  It especially would not be enjoyable to try and hike all the way up and back down in one day.  Anyone who can do that is a pretty fit person.  So that is why I am planning later this summer to hike up the mountain by taking two days to do so to get up and back down.  I will probably camp out higher up on the mountain after visiting the Bottomless Pit Trail since I really wasn’t all that tired by the time I got to Barr Camp.  Also for those not interested in hiking all the way to the top of Pikes Peak walking to Barr Camp does make a great day hike.  It is challenging due to the distance and steep switchbacks at the start but definitely doable for most people.  The trail offers plenty of great views and once at Barr Camp there is even great coffee that can be ordered.  Like I said not a bad day hike to try out in the Colorado Springs area.

Note: I have since climbed Pikes Peak twice.  You can read about both hikes at the below links:

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