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On Walkabout On: The Stanley to Monument Canyon Loop Hike

Basic Information:

  • What: Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail
  • Where: US Air Force Academy, Colorado
  • Max Elevation: 9,236 feet
  • Distance: 13 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,906 feet
  • Time: 6-8 hours
  • Difficulty: EasyMediumHardDifficult
  • More Information: SummitPost.org

Topographic Map of the Trail

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Elevation Map of the Trail

Stanley Canyon Elevation Map

Narrative

A lot of people when they think of the US Air Force Academy they think of cadets, airplanes, and football.  What most people do not think about is the great hiking that the Academy has to offer.  The Academy to me seems to be one of these locations in Colorado Springs that locals know is a great outdoor destination that has yet to be well known outside the city.  Locals can be often be seen hiking, jogging, and mountain biking all over the various trails in and around the Air Force Academy:

Earlier this winter I found myself back at the Academy deciding to complete a hike I had on my agenda for quite some time.  I have hiked up the Stanley Canyon Trail before, but this time I wanted to hike to the microwave tower above the Academy and then take the Monument Canyon Trail back down to make a loop out of the hike.  The Stanley Canyon trailhead is located directly behind the Air Force Academy’s hospital.  To find the trailhead simply drive to the easy to find Air Force Academy Stadium.  On the north side of the Stadium is Academy Drive, follow this road up to the hospital.  At the hospital take a left on to Pine Drive and then immediately begin to look for a dirt road on the right side of the road.  Follow this dirt road up to the trailhead.  It was about 6:30 AM when I started my hike which meant that I had a nice view of the sunrise on the adjacent Rampart Range:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Despite the sun starting to come out it was still quite cold with the temperature in the teens; so I had plenty of layers of clothes on as I set off up the trail.  The Stanley Canyon Trail is officially known as Trail 707 and is well marked and easy to follow:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

There are a few other trails that connect to the Stanley Canyon Trail near the start of the hike, but once again the trail is well marked; so just stay aware and follow the signs:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

From the trailhead the trail ascends gradually towards this prominent rock formation:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Once below the prominent rock formation the trail becomes quite steep for the next 1.5 miles:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

As the trail ascends up the side of the Rampart Range it eventually enters into the Pike National Forest:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The trail for most of this section of the hike runs adjacent to Stanley Creek.  During the warmer months the creek gently flows through the canyon, but in the winter some sections of the creek overflows and freezes over the trail making for some slippery conditions at times.  I found my microspikes to be very useful on these icy sections of the hike:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

About a mile up the trail it reaches a waterfall that is normally bypassed on the right side of the canyon.  However, the waterfall had completely covered the trail and I could get no traction on the hard ice to climb up it, even with microspikes on:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

So after spending a few minutes surveying my options of how to get around this waterfall I decided to do a bit of rock climbing on the left side of the canyon to get around the waterfall.  It was a short class 3 scramble, but I was able to successfully work my way up and around the waterfall.  Here is the view looking back down Stanley Canyon from the top of the waterfall:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

After the waterfall the hard ascent up the canyon was largely over with the rest of the hike up the canyon being a very gradual ascent through the forested upper slopes of the Rampart Range:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The forests above Stanley Canyon were very lucky to survive the Waldo Canyon Fire back in 2012 because the fire stopped just South of the Air Force Academy:

Many more maps of the fire are available from the Latinos Post.

I was great that the fire did not extend further North so this nice forest above the Academy could remain untouched:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

However, I did see a lot of downed trees during my hike which I figured was from the severe flooding and storms we had this past fall in Colorado:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

As I entered deeper into the forest I had to contend with more snow, but it was packed down by prior hikers and not deep enough to warrant any snowshoes:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

After two miles of hiking I reached the dam above Stanley Canyon:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

This dam forms the Stanley Canyon Reservoir which is a really nice secluded place to go fishing during the summer because of the fact that few people want to hike two miles to get up here to go fishing:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Below is a panorama of the reservoir, which I heard was actually drained to the point of being nearly empty as firefighters used the lake as a source of water to fight the Waldo Canyon Fire since it was adjacent to the frontlines:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

After spending a few minutes hanging out at the reservoir I then proceeded to walk South across the dam to access a dirt road that is used by Colorado Springs utility workers to drive to the dam:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

In the past Colorado Springs utilities workers actually got in trouble for fishing during working hours at the dam.  I did not see anyone at the dam the day I hiked up to it, but I did talk to a utility worker later who was driving up the road.  He asked where I was going and I told him my itinerary and he mentioned that Monument Valley was technically closed to hikers due to flood damage work, but since no one was working on the weekend that I can hike through there.  I was glad to hear that the canyon was open, so I continued to hike in that direction up the road.  Before heading to Monument Canyon I first wanted to stop by the microwave tower that can be seen above the canyon from the Academy.  From the road I was on I had to take a left onto another road that led to the tower.  Near the intersection with this road I had my first views of the 14,115 foot Pikes Peak rising up in the distance to the Southwest:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Pikes Peak looked tremendous as always.  You can read about my prior hikes up Pikes Peak at the below links:

It was about a mile walk from the lookout of Pikes Peak to reach the area of the microwave tower where I noticed there was actually two towers; one is just difficult to see from the Academy.  So I first walked over to the higher and more difficult to see tower:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

According to my Garmin Fenix GPS the hill this tower sat on was the high point of the hike at an elevation of 9,236 feet.  I spent a few minutes hanging out at the tower taking off a lot of the layers of clothes I had been wearing.  It was in the teens when I started the hike and now with the sun out with clear skies, the temperatures had risen into the 40’s.  It was just a beautiful day out as I sat down and reconfigured my layers.  While I did this I made sure to enjoy the spectacular views in front of me.  From the tower I could see the more easily spotted microwave tower down below me to the East:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

To the North I could see out in the distance the summit of Mt. Herman:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

You can read about my prior hike up Mt. Herman at the below link:

Way off in the distance towards the Northwest I was surprised that I could see the 14,060 feet Mt. Bierstadt and the 14,265 foot Mt. Evans:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I could even see the famed Sawtooth Ridge that runs between two great peaks from the tower.  I hiked both of these mountains in 2013 and my trip reports can be read at the below links:

To the South I could see the 9,423 foot Blogdgett Peak that had been badly burned by the Waldo Canyon Fire:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Of course to the West I had a stunning view of the North Face of Pikes Peak:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

From the first tower I then walked down the road towards the other tower that is easily seen from the Academy:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

At the tower there is really no view to be seen and thus I had to do some bushwacking to get to a nearby highpoint to take some pictures.  From the viewpoint I now had a good view of the North side of Colorado Springs:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I could also see the Black Forest area of Colorado Springs that was devastated by a June 2013 wildfire:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Here is a closer look at the area that was burned by the Black Forest Fire:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

To the West I still had a great view of Pikes Peak as well as the 12,367 foot Almagre Mountain further to the South:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Almagre Mountain is another hike I have completed before that is a great day hike from Colorado Springs.  You can read more about this hike at the below link:

Here is a closer look at Pikes Peak:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Here is a closer look at Almagre Mountain:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Here is also a closer picture of the 9,727 Ormes Peak which I think may be the highest summit of the Rampart Range:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Ormes Peak is an area still closed off to the public after the Waldo Canyon Fire which means I have not had a chance to hike up it yet, but it looked like it would have some really good views of Pikes Peak.

To the South across from me was Blodgett Peak:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Finally here is a panorama of the view that I took using my iPhone 5S:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I did not hang out this tower very long and proceeded back down the road towards the other radio tower I had previously visited:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

From there I backtracked about a mile back down the road and tried to find the turn off to Trail 713 that leads to Monument Canyon.  I was expecting to find a real trail to follow, but it took me a while to spot it along the road because there is really not a trail to find.  All there is to find is this Trail 713 marker in the trees:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

As I walked into the trees towards the trail marker I then spotted a very faint trail in the grass:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The trail remained faint the entire way which means this trail must not receive much traffic.  In some sections I was just basically walking cross-country over grass that had completely consumed the trail:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Trail 713 between Stanley and Monument Canyons was a pleasant walk though that featured a few rock formations to check out:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

To the West I had an even bigger rock formation that was rising dramatically over the trees:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

After about 30 minutes of hiking, Trail 713 began to descend into Monument Canyon:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

As I descended down into the canyon, sections of the trail were covered once again by ice due to the overflowing creek:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Once I reached the bottom of the canyon I then had to find a way to cross Monument Creek which was largely not frozen over on this section of the creek:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I found a small downed tree to cross over the creek with and now I was on another dirt road with the marker for Trail 713 directly in front of me:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

My map had this marked as Monument Creek Trail so I was not expecting a large dirt road like this:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Due to this large dirt road I was expecting to make great time getting back to the US Air Force Academy.  As I would find out later, I was quite mistaken on that assumption.  Anyway as I walked down the road I passed a lot of construction equipment that was parked for the weekend:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The equipment was there as part of the effort to repair the canyon’s various dams and roads after the severe weather and floods that struck Colorado in the Fall of 2013:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Once I passed the construction work I soon found the road covered in snow which led me to believe not a lot of traffic comes down this section of the road which I would soon find out why:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The walk down this section of the road was a pleasant one though with many dramatic rock formations to check out:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The rock formation pictured below I found of particular interest:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

That is because of how precarious this rock was propped up above the trail.  Who knows how long this rock has been perched like this; it could be for hundreds of year, but It appeared that the rock could fall down at anytime:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The trail next came towards a really large rock formation:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

This is where the road just suddenly ended, which meant I no longer had a high speed avenue approach back to the Air Force Academy.  From this end point there was a very faint trail that I could see descending further into the canyon:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The trail was very rough as I made my way through this narrow and rocky section of Monument Canyon:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The rock formation looming over me on this section of the hike was quite impressive.  I could not fit it into one frame with my camera so I used my iPhone 5S’s panorama feature to take a photo of this large rock formation:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The above picture really does not do this rock justice, but I can assure you it was quite impressive and left me wondering if the rock climbing community in Colorado Springs knows about this giant rock face?

For most the hike down Monument Canyon I had to continue to deal with difficult trail conditions because usually I could not find it due to all the ice covering the floor of the canyon:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

There was some sections of trail that were not covered in ice that did have some red markers to designate where the trail was, but these were few and far between:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I was very glad to have microspikes on because the footing was very treacherous as I made my way down Monument Canyon due to all the ice.  Then suddenly the canyon leveled out and I came upon this United States Geographical Survey Building:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

After a short walk passed the building I came to this open gate:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Apparently I was not supposed to walk through this area.  I soon realized that I had missed the trail that bypassed to the North around this closed off US government area.  For those interested in hiking up Monument Canyon from this trailhead the trail is well marked with plenty of Trail 713 signs:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I walked up the dirt road from the fenced in area and found this paved road that also had a Trail 713 sign visible:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Here is the view of the turn off down the dirt road from the paved road:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

From the intersection with the dirt road I followed the paved road up a hill to the North:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Along the way I passed the Tesla Hydroelectric Facility:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Even here on the paved road there were signs pointing out which way to go to stay on Trail 713.  I only walked on the paved road for a short distance before I was once again following another dirt trail that would hopefully take me back to the Stanley Canyon trailhead:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Here is the view looking East towards the Northern neighborhoods of Colorado Springs from the trail:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

At this point there were a lot of dirt trails running in various directions that did not have trail signs.  So I just continued to follow one of the dirt trails in a northeasterly direction back towards Stanley Canyon:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I then dropped down this really steep hill into a forest:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

The dirt trail soon intersected with a trail that followed a power line:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I followed this trail North for about 20 minutes when I ran into this marker along the side of the trail:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

I Googled the names on the marker, but I could not figure out how these people died.  If anyone has any information on what this marker is referring to please leave a comment.  From the area of the marker the trail then begins to ascend a hill side to get back to the Stanley Canyon trailhead:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

On this section of the trail I saw a lot of people. The only person before this section I saw all day was the Colorado Springs utility worker.  Now on what is known as the Falcon Trail I was consistently seeing mostly mountain bikers going up and down the trail.  Soon from the hill side I could see the prominent rock formation up ahead that denotes the start of the Stanley Canyon hike:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Here was the view from the hill side looking behind me back towards Blodgett Peak which is where Monument Canyon is located at:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

As the above picture shows, it was a pretty long walk from Monument Canyon to get back to Stanley Canyon.  Besides being a long walk there is a lot of up and down hiking over the various hills on the Academy which made the walk back a little bit more challenging than I was expecting.  It took me about an hour and a half to get back to the Stanley Canyon trailhead from Monument Canyon.  I had started the hike with the sunrise hitting the prominent rock formations in front me and by the time I got back the sun was setting behind these very same rocks:

Picture from the Stanley to Monument Canyon Trail

Conclusion

When I arrived back at the trailhead I was definitely pretty tired after hiking 13 miles and gaining 2,906 feet in elevation along the way.  I completed the hike in 7.5 hours, but for those who attempt this hike during the warmer months I suspect the hike would go much quicker without having to deal with all the ice in the canyons.  I think 6-8 hours is reasonable timeline for most people to complete this hike.  This loop hike was definitely fun and challenging and one I recommend to people in the Colorado Springs area check out.  If you are hiking it during the summer you may even want to pack a fishing pole!

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