North Cheyenne Canyon Park Guide
Cheyenne Canyon Park is a favorite spot among locals. It provides something for all skill levels. There are easy 0.1 mile trails all the way to more difficult 14 mile out and back trails. All trails offer amazing views and are worth the hike. North Cheyenne Canyon Park's most popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, climbing, and waterfalls. There are also opportunities to backpack and bird watch.
My first time visiting North Cheyenne Canyon Park was exciting and breath taking. I was impressed at the towering rock formations and the winding road through the canyon. What impressed me even more though was how close and easily accessible this massive playground of hiking trails and rock formations was. The entrance to the park is right off a street my friend grew up on and is a 15 minute drive from my house. As a local it makes the perfect place for a quick trail run or endurance hike. I find myself coming here a lot, and whenever I have friends visit, I make sure to bring them to Cheyenne Canyon Park. It is an amazing place, but not one advertised too often. The best part is, it is a great place for unacclimated people to get to explore while limiting their physical exertion.
Upon arrival, if you would like more park information and history make sure to stop by the visitor centers. The park's main visitor center is the Starsmore nature center and is located right at the parks entrance by the entrance parking lot. Side note, unless planning on hiking the lower columbine trail, that goes through the base of the canyon, you will want to keep driving up the road to your desired trail head. The next center is the Helen Hunt Falls visitor center. This visitor center has more information on the park, but also has some historical significance. The visitor center and its area were part of the Bruin Inn and goes way back to when people started settling in the springs.
Sightseeing and Driving
Gold Camp Road through Cheyenne Canyon
Gold Camp Road is the road that is an old railroad bed that went to Cripple Creek. The part of the road that is accessible from the park is a great spot for history, driving, and sightseeing. Start at the entrance of Cheyenne Canyon Park. Although the part that follows the creek technically isn’t gold camp road. But starting from the entrance gives you great views from within the canyon like what you would see on Columbine Trail (Columbine Trail takes a very similar route as the road). Once at Hellen Hunt Falls, the road turns around and quickly climbs out of the canyon. Now that you are driving the ridge you have great views of Colorado Springs from up on the front range. There are plenty of pull off spots along the road. I have friends that go up there to relax or hangout. Their only complaint is that it closes at 9:00pm. Side note: it is a great place to watch 4th of July fireworks. You get a bird’s eye view of the entire city lighting off fireworks and celebrating. Anyways, the road connects back to the city on the other end. If you take it far enough it will take you to the old gold processing plant that the trains would unload gold at.
This road is a very well-maintained dirt road. There are no bumps or washboard parts. The tunnels are narrow and for only one direction at a time. It is a fun drive with no challenges, I would recommend this drive to anyone.
Notice: If you go up during non ideal conditions make sure you vehicle can handle it. I went up once after a late season snow fall and there was a car stuck every hundered yards or so. Then to add insult to injury, once we got them unstuck no one could get going on the ice because they lost their momentum. I have never had a problem with 4lo, locking rear differential, and good all terain tires. If you have a 2WD and highway tires try not to venture too far on snowy days.
Hiking and Backpacking in Cheyenne Canyon Park
Hiking is by far the most popular activity at the park. When I want a nearby hike with great views North Cheyenne Canyon is the first place that comes to mind. It is not too popular for backpacking mostly because all of the trails can be done in a day. If you want to backpack you can go to Mount Garfield Peak. This semi off the trail route is long and not travelled often. That would be a great spot to backpack. Other than going off the trail, I can not think of many other times I would backpack in the Park. The hiking in the park consists of mostly moderate trails. There are a few difficult trails and some very easy trails. I have had friends come visit that were unathletic and not acclimated but want to do some scenic hikes. Cheyenne Canyon is the first place I bring them, and I pick an easy hike like Mt. Cutler.
Easy trails in Cheyenne Canyon
The trail to Mt. Cutler is one of the easiest trails that I consider a hiking trail. It is great for not so experienced people because it has great views for being under a mile to the summit. The hike up brings you out of the canyon and gives you great views along the way. Once at the summit, you get a great view of Colorado Springs. There are clearings in the trees for great views and a bench that overlooks the canyon. If time allows, I recommend taking the Mt Muscoco trail which branches off the Mt. Cutler trail about halfway down. Mt. Muscoco is techniqually a moderate trail, but I have had out of shape and unacclimated friends do the trail after Mt. Cutler with little difficulty.
Mt. Cutler is the perfect trail for those who do not have endurance and/or are not acclimated to the altitude. This is the trail I bring most of my out of state friends on. Because it is less than a mile and has steady elevation gain there aren’t many opportunities to exert yourself. Most of my friends that come to do Mt. Cutler feel good enough after to take the Mt. Muscoco trail.
Just keep in mind that Mt. Muscoco and Mt. Cutler are some of the more popular trails in the canyon. If come at popular times parking may be a little scarce, and for these trails every time is a popular time.
Mays Peak is just over three miles out and back with an elevation gain of 777 feet. The peak is at 8,297 feet and offers 360 views. What makes this peak special is the clearing at the summit. There are small bushes but very few trees obstructing your view. This is another great hike for beginners or people visiting the area that want the rewarding views without the work associated with it. Honestly, I have been up Mt. Cutler so many times, I think I am going to start bringing visiting friends up Mays Peak instead. The only downside is if you feel it is too easy, having Mt. Muscoco trail right off the Mt. Cutler trail is nice and convenient.
Helen Hunt Falls
The trail to Helen Hunt Falls is not so much a trail but a small walk from the parking lot. If you want to see more waterfalls though, keep following the trail for about half a mile to get bigger falls. Just keep in mind the waterfalls vary based on the season. They are much more fun and impressive in the Spring and Summer. I personally wouldn't come to Cheyenne Canyon just for the falls, which is why I say this is a good trail to end on after completing one of the others listed.
Lower Columbine Trail
The Lower Columbine Trail is an easy trail that is different from the rest of the trails in Cheyenne Canyon Park. This full trail is broken up into two parts. Total, the trail is 7.6 miles round trip with a 1,607 foot elevation gain. The beginning part of the trail is Lower Columbine Trail which is super easy with 2.2 miles round trip and about 300 feet of elevation gain. Parking for this trail head is by the first visitor center at the entrance to the park. Just about every trail in the park involves hiking switchbacks up the canyon walls, but this trail follows North Cheyenne Creek through the canyon letting you look up at the rock formations. It gives a much different point of view of the canyon along with more appreciation.
Moderate trails in Cheyenne CanyonMore Moderate Trails
Seven Bridges Trail
This trail is a moderate 4 mile trail along a mountain creek. There are 7 bridges and waterfalls along the way. The route there brings you along what used to be a narrow gauge railroad bed that was used to haul gold from Cripple Creek to Colorado Springs.
St. Mary's Falls Trail
This is a great moderate hike up to St. Mary's Fall. The waterfall is on the way to Mt. Rosa, so Mt. Rosa and St. Mary's Fall share the same trail most of the way with St. Mary’s Fall being just a slight detour (on another trail) off the Mt. Rosa trail. It is a great place to stop and for a waterfall view overlooking Colorado Springs. Although it is rewarding year-round, the best times are during the spring and early summer. The waterfalls have more water due to snow melt higher up. The trail is 6.3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1,397 feet. The first part of the trail is along a old rail road bed that brought gold from cripple creek to Colorado springs. This means the first part is relatively flat and wide.
Mt. Muscoco is a very popular trail and shares a trailhead with Mt. Cutler. It offers great views with fun cliffs at the summit. I personally recommend this trail to friends that come visit. It makes you work a little, but it is not very difficult. The views at the top are also very rewarding. Honestly, I would rate this one easy to moderate. I did this trail while kind of out of shape and very unacclimated and I only had to stop a couple times for a quick rest. From the trail head, it is 4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. I highly recommend it especially with the cliff at the summit that lets you overlook seven falls. Just note that right before the switchbacks start the trail does split and it can be a little confusing, just make sure to take a left and follow the signs.
Columbine trail is a great trail to get the canyon experience. The trail starts at the beginning of the canyon and ends at Hellen Hunt Falls. There are no peaks or summits, but instead amazing canyon walls to hike bellow. Because there are no summits it is different from most of the trails on here. I talked a little about this 7.6 mile round trip trail in the easy trail section. The trail is split into an upper and lower section. The lower section is short and easy while the upper section is a little longer with some more elevation gain.
Loud's Cabin trail starts just past Hellen Hunt Falls and is about 6 miles. Even though the trail follows the cabin there is still a 1,700ft elevation gain. There are not any peaks that you come across, but that doesn't mean there are not great views!
Hard trails in Cheyenne Canyon
Mt. Rosa is a must do trail. The peak is one of the tallest in the immediate area. The most popular route to the summit is from North Cheyenne Canyon. This route is also the longest and more difficult but goes by Saint Mary's Falls. The total trip is just under 14 miles, which is why there is a half marathon to the summit and back every year. The back way requires taking a forest service road. The drive to the backside is exciting and full of other activities but requires a 4WD. Regardless of which route you take the views are amazing and well worth it.
Mount Garfield Peak
If you enjoy going off the trail or on very very light trails then this trail is perfect! Mount Garfield Peak starts off as the same trail to Loud's Cabin, but once at the cabin keep going. I can try to describe it here or you can view the map All Trails has laid out.
Just about every trail allows for mountain biking in North Cheyenne Canyon Park. Cheyenne Canyon consists of intermediate/difficult trails with some difficult and very difficult trails.
- Chutes, Captain Jack's, Buckhorn, Gold Camp Rd.
- Quick Cheyenne Loop
- Jones Park #667
- Chamberlain Trail
Climbing and Ice Climbing
Hellen Hunt Falls
This waterfall can be seen from the road and has its own visitor center. Following the trail past the initial fall will lead to more waterfalls with great views. The route up there is easy and is mentioned earlier in the article. The trail past the initial waterfall is very popular and well maintained. There are benches, stairs, and a lot of company. Also, like the top of most Colorado Trails there are your gathering of domesticated and over fed chipmunks! I got to the overlook one time and one hopped into my backpack and made himself at home. It is the little thing about these trails that make them exciting for me.
St. Mary Falls
St Mary Falls is on the way to Mt. Rosa and is a moderate trail with great views. For the full experience make sure to go during times of snow melt like spring and summer. Now, it is not a straight drop waterfall, instead it flows down steep slanted rocks. But what ever the waterfall lacks the views of the valley make up for it.
Skiing and Snowboarding Cheyenne Canyon
High Drive Skiing
High Drive is an old forest service road that runs a little over 3 miles from the Mt. Rosa trail head and meets back up with gold camp road. This ski line is super easy because of its width and grade from being an old forest service road. The hike to the summit from the north side (where most people park and hike from) is just under 2 miles and about 885 feet up. The grade ranges from 23% to less than 9%. The whole road is skiable all the way up to where you parked your car. There isn’t any vehicle restriction when accessing the parking area.
This trail is one of the more popular lines. There are some joggers and hikers, but on snowy days there are far more skiers and snowboarders. This terrain is a great place to practice for deeper back country skiing or to get a taste of what back country is like. There are trail heads to other trails off the road that more experienced skiers and snowboards rip down.
The Diamond Couloir
This is a short but steep line that starts with a small hike from where the Mt. Rosa trail head is at.