If you’re looking for a nice place to hike in Colorado Springs, with some pleasant red-rock scenery and a wide variety of hiking routes and challenges, consider the Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Admission is free, and you can hike as much or as little as you want — and easily change your mind and adjust your route along the way. And, it has a landscape that’s similar to the Garden of the Gods, directly across the valley.
I decided to begin my first full day in Colorado by hiking where the locals hike. I needed a day to adjust to a mile-high elevation (this area is in the 6,200 to 6,600-foot range, or about 1.2 miles high) before climbing any higher, in hopes of avoiding altitude sickness. Red Rock Canyon Open Space looked like a nice area with some pretty scenery, so I gave it a try.
The Open Space has numerous trails, many of which criss-cross each other, or connect in more than one place. You can loop around the perimeter, or cut from one trail to another. I didn’t know anything specific about any trail, so I decided to start hiking and exploring. Starting at the second parking area, my first trail was the easy-rated Red Rock Canyon Trail.
Most of this area is dry, but there are some small ponds near the start of the trail. This pond has some ideally-placed red-rock fins on the opposite side. You’ll catch a great reflection, unless some ducks stir up the water.
The pond has a few small, dead-looking trees that are fun to photograph.
Beyond the pond, you can choose the main road (Red Rock Canyon Trail) or the side-road (Red Rock Canyon Path).
The path is rougher, and although it’s rated “moderate”, it’s still pretty easy. It will bring you closer to a big, pink-rock wall that runs most of the distance of the park.
Rock climbers love to tackle these walls, and you’ll probably find a few of them along the way.
As you hike, you’re passing by a very natural- looking landscape, until suddenly…
… you come upon this. The Kenmuir Quarry is one of several parts of the park that were reclaimed from industrial areas. This quarry produced Lyons sandstone in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
You can climb up to the quarry area using a couple of different routes. The most fun path involves a series of stair-steps, carved directly into the hillside.
At the top of the quarry, you can cross over to the other side…
… for this view of the southwestern side of the park.
I decided this central valley didn’t look as exciting as where I had been…
… so I crossed back through the quarry…
… and returned to the Red Rock Canyon Trail. Eventually…
… the trail turns rougher, as you get close to the southern end of the trail system. Red Rock Canyon Trail ends…
… with a right-turn onto the Roundup Trail. This trail heads west…
… and gains some elevation…
… giving you a nice view of the canyon through which you just passed.
And once you’re at the top, you have a nice view of everything! Notice that outcropping of rocks in the distance?
That’s the Garden of the Gods.
I almost wish you couldn’t see it from here, because everything on this side of the valley looks much smaller when you realize how big and magnificent the Garden is.
The Roundup Trail is rougher and narrower than many of the park’s other trails, but that also makes it more fun.
You’ll climb up and down as you connect between other north-south trails.
Sand canyon is down below. Soon, the trail drops down…
… and you have the option of staying on the Sand Canyon trail or the Contemplative Trail.
The Contemplative Trail is probably the park’s roughest and most narrow trail, and only hikers are allowed (no bikes). I started off on the Contemplative Trail, but soon I realized that in the morning hours, it’s in the shadows — which is not great for photography.
I found a spot to cross over onto the Sand Canyon Trail, which is wider and smoother — and also better lit in the mornings.
Sand Canyon Trail stays higher on the ridge, while Contemplative Trail passes below. Hiking may be more fun down there, but photography is better up here.
Enjoy numerous sandstone peaks…
… and more views of Garden of the Gods, as you head northbound, back towards the parking area.
Once you’re near the parking lots, you’ll have several trail options to get back to your car. I took one side of the Upper Dog Loop Trail (one of two dog-friendly areas in the park), then the Mesa Trail, to get back to the car.
My hike probably covered about 3.5 miles in about 2.5 hours (which included plenty of stops for photos).
After staring over at the Garden of the Gods for most of the morning…
… I decided to take a quick drive around the park. Garden of the Gods is directly north of the Red Rock Canyon Open Space — just take Ridge Road north.
This visit to Garden of the Gods was very brief. You can see much more of the Garden of the Gods from my 2010 trip to the area.
The Bottom Line
Red Rock Canyon Open Space provides a pretty place to hike, no matter what your level of ambition. It’s also a good place to get used to the medium-high altitude, before trying something even more difficult in the mountains.
Red Rock Canyon Open Space is located on the western side of Colorado Springs, just barely inside the city limits. From downtown and I-25, take US 24 west to Ridge Road (this would probably be called 35th Street if the numbering system extended this far west). The parking area is on the south side of US 24.