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Trail Report: The Aiken Canyon Trail, Colorado

Basic Information

  • What: Aiken Canyon Trail
  • Where: Outside Colorado Springs, CO
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 650 feet
  • Fee: free
  • More Information: Nature.org

Topographic Map of the Trail

Aiken Canyon Topo Map

Narrative

This past fall I was looking for a good hike for my four year old to complete when a friend of mine at work recommended the Aiken Canyon Trail near his home.  I had never heard of the trail before and decided to check it out.  The trail is located about 15 minutes outside of Colorado Springs off of Highway 115:

There is no sign on Highway 115 notifying drivers to turn onto the road to access this trail.  However, there is a sign for Turkey Creek which is located on the opposite side of the highway from Aiken Canyon.  So instead of turning left into Turkey Creek take a right onto the road that leads to the Aiken Canyon trailhead.  The parking lot for the trailhead is quite obvious once this turn is made due to this large sign:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

At the trailhead there is plenty of parking available and these nice signboards that describe the trail and the natural environment around it:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

What I had not known until I visited Aiken Canyon was that this property is managed by the Nature Conservancy.  I have been a member of the Nature Conservancy for many years and had no idea that this property was here.  I was very glad to have discovered it.  What else that was good to see was that the Nature Conservancy has been working in partnership with the Fort Carson Army post to conserve land in the area:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

There was also a sign that explained why the 1,600 acre nature preserve was named after ornithologist Charles Aiken who originally owned the land and conducted a lot of scientific studies of the plants and animals here before donating the land to the Conservancy:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Here is a look at the loop trail that passes through the preserve:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Before setting out on our hike we walked over to the nearby visitor center:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

The visitor center has a nice restroom facility and and plenty of information about the preserve.  It is actually a very nice facility but note that the visitor center is only open when they have volunteers able to man it:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

After checking out the visitor center my wife, daughter, and then my son strapped on my back walked over to the trailhead where these rules are posted:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Probably the most significant rule is that no pets are allowed on the trail which may turn some people off from hiking here considering how many people I see hiking other trails in the area with their dogs.  The trail starts out by crossing through a section of grassland with views of the nearby foothills which is where this loop trail leads to:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Much of the trail is quite small and surrounded by overgrown grass.  This annoyed my four year old daughter who kept having to push away plants from her face.  She liked the sections of the trail that crossed through dry creek beds since they were much wider than the standard trail:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

The below picture shows where the loop portion of the trail begins.  The Nature Conservancy volunteer at the visitor center told us that taking the left trail was the best option for us since it gradually gains in elevation:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

As we walked up the trail there was not a whole lot of wildflowers to see other than these yellow ones that grow so well in Colorado:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Further up the trail we descended down into this gully with the help of some nicely constructed stone stairs:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

On the other side of the gully we found this marker in honor of Kyle W. Powell who constructed the stairs as part of an Eagle Scout project:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Kyle Powell would go on to be a US Marine and was killed in action in Anbar Province, Iraq on November 4, 2006.  My condolences to the Powell family for their loss.

Corporal Kyle W. Powell

Next the trail passes by this hill which we would later stand on top of when we hiked to the lookout located up there:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Until near the halfway point the trail had ascended very gradually.  In order to gain the ridgeline that leads to the top of the hill the trail does have a bit of a steep climb at this point of the hike.  The trail stops ascending near this large rock:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Near the rock there is the option to take a side trail up to the top of the previously mentioned hill that provides sweeping views of the entire nature preserve:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

It was a short walk to the overlook so my family and I decided to check it out.  Fortunately there were some nice rock steps installed on the trail that made it quite easy to reach the top of the hill:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Steps like this are especially useful when carrying a small child like I was on my back.  Once on the top of the hill we had some fabulous views of the surrounding area.  Here is the view looking east towards the Fort Carson training area and the Great Plains out in the distance:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Here is the view looking to the northeast where the remaining section of the loop trail could be seen below us as it crossed through the grass field:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Here is a panorama picture of this sweeping view in front of us:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Here is the view looking south where the slopes of the foothills below Pikes Peak meet the high desert:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Here is a wider angle view of these foothills:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Further out in the distance to the southeast I could even see the 12,347 foot Greenhorn Mountain and the Spanish Peaks:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

You can read about my prior hikes up these mountains at the below trail reports:

Even further out I could see the Sangre de Cristo Range and Humboldt Peak:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

You can read about my climb up Humboldt Peak at the below link:

Finally here is the view looking north in the direction of Pikes Peak which is not visible from the preserve due to the adjacent foothills:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

After spending about 15 minutes taking in the views from the summit we walked back down the hill to the main trail.  A short distance from the lookout trail is the option to hike 3/4 of a mile into a canyon where Charles Aiken used to have a cabin:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

My daughter was pretty tired from the hike so we decided to head on back to the trailhead.  To reach the trailhead we crossed over this large grass field that we saw previously from the top of the hill:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Here is the view looking back towards the hill:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

We soon reached the end of the loop portion of the hike and followed the trail back to the visitor center:

Picture from Aiken Canyon Preserve

Conclusion

Overall this trail ended up being a great hike for my family.  The distance of four miles was perfect to challenge my four year old with while being short enough for me to handle carrying my son on my back.  Moving at the speed of a four year old we completed the hike in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  For anyone thinking of hiking this trail just be aware of how overgrown much of the trail is.  I was glad I wore pants and a long sleeve shirt to avoid being scraped by the thorny plants that grow in this high desert area.  My daughter on the other hand had to contend with many plants rubbing against her face which greatly annoyed her.  We were also glad we wore hats and sunscreen because there is little shade for most of this hike. Besides that we had a great time and hopefully more people discover this nice little hike in the Colorado Springs area.

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