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On Walkabout On: Mueller State Park’s Outlook Ridge Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Outlook Ridge Trail
  • Where: Mueller State Park, Colorado
  • Distance 3.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 494 feet
  • Time: 2 hours with snowshoes
  • Difficulty: Moderate in the snow
  • More Information: Mueller State Park website

GPS Map & Elevation

Note: This map was constructed using the mapmyfitness app for the iPhone.

Narrative

I recently decided to buy some snowshoes and start hiking some of the trails in the region during the winter time.  I have never did any snowshoeing before so this was going to be a new experience for me.  In order to get some practice snowshoeing I first drove up to Mueller State Park which is located less than an hour to the west of Colorado Springs:


View Larger Map

The park is reached by driving west on Highway 24 from Colorado Springs.  The highway drives up Ute Pass to Woodland Park and then continues on to the small town of Divide.  At Divide there is an intersection where you need to left on to Highway 67 towards Cripple Creek.  In less than 10 minutes from Divide the entrance to Mueller State Park can be seen.  I drove to the park the morning after a snow storm had hit Colorado so I would have the chance to snowshoe on some fresh powder.  However this made the roads to the park quite icy.  It also made the temperature extremely cold.  When I reached the park’s entrance the temperature on my dashboard read -16F:

Though it was cold the pictures I took show little indication of this fact because the sky was so clear and blue.  However, clear skies usually mean colder temperatures here in Colorado since there is no clouds to help keep the heat.  The cold temperatures caused the road into Mueller State Park to be much icier than the highways I drove to reach park:

Once I reached the park I found that the visitor center was closed because I had arrived to early.  So instead of first checking out the visitor center I then went instead straight to the trailhead of the hike I planned to complete.  I decided to try and snowshoe the Outlook Ridge Trail which was another hike featured in The Best Colorado Springs Hikes (Colorado Mountain Club Pack Guides) book that I am steadily completing all the hikes in:

The below map at the trailhead shows the course I planned to hike which is outlined in blue:

At the trailhead they have a few picnic tables which is where I sat down and put on my new snowshoes.  My snowshoes are the fairly high end MSR Evo Ascent model.

They cost approximately $200, but much cheaper models from other brands can be bought for under $100.  I bought the MSRs because they are American made in Seattle, Washington while all the other brands were made in China.  If I have the option to buy American I usually do even if it costs a bit more.  Additionally all the reviews on REI.com were very positive about the quality of MSR snowshoes while its Chinese made competitors had very average reviews.  I rather spend money on a quality made American product that will last me a very long time than blow money on a cheaper Chinese product that I will have to replace after a few years of use.

After successfully putting on my snowshoes and then proceeded down the snow covered trail:

The trails were not as well marked as the ones at Cheyenne Mountain State Park which is also run by the Colorado State Parks, but its markers were still easy to follow:

Here is a view of Colorado’s ubiquitous aspen trees as they are taking in the early morning sunshine along the trail:

The Outlook Ridge Trail gets its name because it has four different lookouts for people to hike to that provide views of the surrounding mountains.  Here is one viewpoint where the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Range can be seen rising in the distance:

The viewpoint also had a nice view of the western slopes of the 14,115 foot Pikes Peak rising to the east:

As I traveled further down the trail I began to walk on nothing, but fresh powder from the storm that had dropped a few inches of snow the night prior:

Here is the view of the tracks my snowshoes made as I traveled through the snow:

Here is another lookout I hiked to that provided views looking towards the west:

The lookouts all branch off to the north from the main Outlook Ridge Trail.  These viewpoints are usually located at a rock outcropping that is free of trees thus providing the great views:

As I descended into some of the lower valleys of the trail the lack of sunlight caused there to be much more snow on the trail:

There was not only more snow on the trail, but on the trees as well:

Here is the last picture I was able to take during my hike where the snow was actually approaching about a foot in depth as it went up and down the hills:

This part of the hike was actually quite fun since I could really practice my snowshoe skills in the deeper snow.  However, as I attempted to take more pictures I found that my camera’s battery had died.  I would later find out that the battery didn’t die it was just so cold out the camera could no longer operate.  Later after the camera warmed up in my truck it worked just fine.  I had the same problem with iPhone that also shut down because of the cold.  On future snowshoe hikes this experienced taught me that I am going to have to keep my iPhone and camera inside my jacket and close to my core body heat to keep them operational.

I was a bit frustrated with my camera dying on me because this was a really nice part of the hike.  I saw a lot of animal footprints in the snow to include what I believe were bear tracks.  I also walked past the frozen Lost Pond that would have provided some nice photos if I had a camera to take them with.  Anyway after completing the loop hike I got into my truck and drove over to the visitor center which was now open:

The Visitor Center sits on one of the park’s higher hills which gives it a nice view of Pikes Peak:

Just like the visitor center at Cheyenne Mountain State Park this one is very new and quite nice. The displays inside are very informative and give first time visitors a good Rocky Mountain 101 about the various plants and animals that live in the park:

Mueller State Park is also home to Colorado’s most famous animal, black bears:

Out of all the hiking I have done in Colorado I have yet to see a black bear.  That should give everyone an indication how shy these animals are in the wild.  So for anyone hiking in Colorado who sees a black bear enjoy it because it may be a long time before you see another one in the wild again.

The Visitor Center also had a good display about the history of the area to include the founder of the park the Mueller family who ultimately protected this land over many years and made sure it would one day become a state park.  Here is a brief  history of the park from the Colorado State Parks’ website:

This area was once a popular hunting ground for the Ute Indians. By the 1860s, homesteaders, ranchers and farmers dominated the area, along with those seeking riches during the Cripple Creek gold rush.

Prior to this time, the area was virtually uninhabited and people were simply passing through. The area was also known for the old Ute Pass Trail, which enabled Indians, Bison, explorers, prospectors and cowboys to pass through the Front Range. The first permanent settlement was in 1870.

Gold was discovered and by 1900, more than 50,000 people lived in the area. Nearby Divide helped supply the miners with saw mills, lumber, supplies and was known for its potatoes and crops of lettuce.

Eventually, W.E. Mueller purchased ten of the ranches and homesteads to create Mueller Ranch. In the 1980’s, the Mueller family designate the ranch as a game preserve. Later the ranch was purchased by the Nature Conservancy, Colorado State Parks and Division of Wildlife. The area which is now Mueller State Park sits at the base of Pikes Peak where elk, black bear, eagles and hawks are able to roam amongst the 5,121 acres of natural land. With the park’s groves of aspen trees, each season is a delight for photographers and sightseers alike.

This park is another great reason why I am a proud supporter of the Nature Conservancy.  This is one of the best state parks I have been to and it was made possible by the Mueller family taking such good care of the land and the Nature Conservancy who provided the funding and organizational power to get this wonderful property transferred and cared by the Colorado State Parks.

Conclusion

This park is not a must see in the Colorado Springs region for those with short itineraries in the area.  However, if you live in the Colorado Springs region you really should take some time and check out this great park.  The place is huge, the trails well maintained, the views superb, and the best thing is that it is not that crowded.  Well at least not during the winter months that I have visited the park.  So for first time visitors to the park I recommend checking out the Outlook Ridge Trail because it provides a little bit of everything that makes this park great.

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