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On Walkabout On: The Columbine Trail In Colorado Springs

Basic Information

  • What: The Columbine Trail
  • Where: North Cheyenne Canon, Colorado Springs
  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,711 feet
  • Difficulty: EasyMediumHardDifficult
  • Cost: Free
  • More Information: City of Colorado Springs website

Topographic Map of the Columbine Trail

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Narrative

After I made a visit to North Cheyenne Canon after a recent snowstorm I decided I needed to make a return visit to hike up the entire length of the Columbine Trail.  I have driven up into this canyon so many times to access the various trails from the parking area near Helen Hunt Falls called “The Hub”, however I have never hiked up this canyon from its entrance using the Columbine Trail.

So on a recent weekend when the weather forecast was looking good I drove over to the entrance of the canyon where the Starsmore Discovery Center is located:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

This visitor is open when there are volunteers available to staff it.  When it is open it is actually a nice place to visit to learn more about the canyon, its various hiking trails, and has a number of fun activities for kids.  I have walked the lower portion of the Columbine Trail with my now 4-year old daughter before and stopped by the Discovery Center where she always has fun with the activities there.  Since it was 7AM in the morning the Discovery Center was not open yet and in fact I saw no one else even at the parking lot.  So it appeared I was going to initially have the whole trail to myself this morning.   So I walked over to the trailhead for the Columbine Trail behind the Discovery Center:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

The Columbine Trail has three different trailheads, the Lower Columbine Trailhead at the Starsmore Discovery Center, the Middle Columbine Trailhead a mile up the canyon, and the Upper Columbine Trailhead at Helen Hunt Falls four miles up the canyon.  These different trailheads allow visitors to complete hikes of varying distances and difficulty in the canyon.  Since I was planning on hiking the entire trail and then walking back that makes the round-trip hike 8 miles.  The trail begins by walking through the forest bordering North Cheyenne Canon:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

To the right of the trail is North Cheyenne Creek which had sections that were completely frozen over due to the winter temperatures:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

I also noticed a lot of trees that had been knocked down by the floods that struck Colorado Springs in September 2013:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

The canyon was actually closed for a number of months while crews repaired trails, cleared dead trees, and did rock removal throughout the canyon.  The city I believe did a really good job with the restoration of the park after the floods because I found the trails to be in great shape and safe for visitors.  As I walked into the canyon I constantly found myself looking up at the incredible walls of North Cheyenne Canon:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

I found myself doing the same thing when driving into the canyon, but walking in gave me enough time to really appreciate how beautiful these canyon walls are.  All the nice picnics sites scattered around North Cheyenne Creek is another great way to spend some time enjoying these scenic canyon walls:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

I then came to a bridge that crossed over North Cheyenne Creek followed by a crosswalk to go across to the other side of the road:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Here is a view of North Cheyenne Creek from the top of the bridge:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Across the road I reached the Middle Columbine Trailhead that is located one mile into the canyon:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

There was a few vehicles parked here so I knew that there was more than just me on the trail now.  A short distance from the Middle Columbine Trailhead I came upon a bridge perched high above the road below:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Here is a view of the road from the bridge:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

The trail then began to switchback up the hillside towards the unusual rock formations at the top of the canyon:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

As I gained elevation I could see the Mt. Cutler Trail across the canyon from me:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

I have hiked up the Mt. Cutler Trail before which is a 2 mile round-trip hike with the option for a longer hike that provides great views of North Cheyenne Canon and Colorado Springs.  As I continued up the Columbine Trail the views up the canyon became more and more impressive to include of this large rock formation:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Here is a view of another prominent rock formation as I passed by it:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Further up the trail to the West I could even see one of the snowcapped summits of the 12,367 foot Almagre Mountain which is the source of North Cheyenne Creek:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Like Mt. Cutler I have also climbed up Almagre Mountain which is an adventurous 17.5 mile round-trip hike to summit. You can read more about my hike at the below link:

To the Southwest I could also see the summit of the 11,499 foot Mt. Rosa just visible in the far distance:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Like Almagre Mountain, Mt. Rosa is also an adventurous hike of about 14 miles if you do not miss a turn like I did when I hiked up it that caused it to become a 17.5 mile hike instead.  You can read more about this hike at the below link:

Looking towards the East I could make out the neighborhoods in Southwestern Colorado Springs for the first time as well:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

As I continued down the trail I actually ran into some other hikers for the first time:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

These were actually the only hikers I saw going up the canyon, I did not see anyone else until I hiked back down the canyon.  I then came upon this Columbine Trail sign that points hikers in the proper direction:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

The sign is here because this where there is another trail that leads up to the Lower Gold Camp Road:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

As I ascended further up the canyon I began to have a little more snow to deal with than what I had found lower in the canyon which made footing a little slippery in sections:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Here is a picture of some yucca plants that were covered by the few inches of snow on the ground:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

I then came to a lookout where I could see that the Silver Cascade Falls was completely covered with snow:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

A closer look at the falls with my camera revealed that at least one person was ice climbing up the falls:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

You can read more about Silver Cascade at the below link that describes my previous visit there:

Just a short distance from the lookout I then came upon the Upper Columbine Trailhead.  Some people park here and walk the trail from this direction for a short distance before returning:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

There was a number of vehicles parked at the trailhead and the Upper Columbine Trail is where I saw the most people the whole day.  A short walk down the road from the trailhead is where the Helen Hunt Falls visitor center is located.  This is a newly constructed visitor center that opens during the summer months when there is many more visitors to the falls compared to the winter months:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Behind the visitor center is where the Helen Hunt Falls is located:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

The falls are named after Helen Hunt Jackson who was a famed writer and activist back in the late 1800’s who lived for a time in Colorado Springs. Helen Hunt passed away in 1885 from stomach cancer while living in San Francisco.  Her husband had her body shipped to Colorado Springs and buried above Seven Falls which is in South Cheyenne Canon which is adjacent to North Cheyenne Canon.  From the falls I turned around and followed the Columbine Trail back down the canyon.  On the way down I noticed Lower Gold Camp Road above the trail which is a nice drive for those looking for picture perfect views of the city:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Speaking of views on the way back I got to enjoy plenty of views of Colorado Springs as well as the dramatic rock entrance to the canyon down below:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Here is a closer look at the entrance to the canyon as well as the famous Broadmoor Hotel that can be seen near it:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Something else I had nice views of was North Cheyenne Canon Road which was well below the trail:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

I could also see Mt. Cutler and Cheyenne Mountain to the South of me:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Perched on the side of Cheyenne Mountain I could see the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

The Will Rogers Shrine is part of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo which is one of the top tourist attractions in Colorado Springs.  You can read more about both locations at the below links:

Here is the view looking back up North Cheyenne Canon:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Soon enough I found myself back at the road again:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

I then crossed the road again and began walking towards the entrance of the canyon again:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

Soon I was out of the canyon and walking through the forest near the Starsmore Discovery Center.  Behind the center I passed this really nice picnic area that requires a reservation to use:

Picture from the Columbine Trail in Colorado Springs

For those looking for a location to host a barbeque or picnic for a large group I highly recommend this location which is one of the prettiest spots in the whole city.

Conclusion

After nearly 2 hours of hiking I found myself back at the Starsmore Discovery Center.  Truth be told I did not walk the whole way.  I jogged must of the way back down the canyon which saved me a lot of time.  When the weather warms up I plan to do some training jogs on this trail and this hike was a good introduction to it.  For people looking to walk the entire distance expect to that will take an hour or more longer to complete this hike. Overall I covered 8 miles round-trip and ascended 1,711 feet during my hike on Columbine Trail.  It was a good workout, the weather was great, and the views even better.  I cannot believe it took me this long to finally hike this trail, but I will undoubtedly be back soon enough to experience it even more.

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