So, we’ve discussed the WHY. Now, let’s talk a bit about the HOW. There are…
From Colorado Springs, head west on Highway 24/ Cimarron. Soon after passing the traffic light at 31th Street, you will see a sign for Red Rock Canyon, where you will turn left at Ridge Road. When the road bends to the right, there is a roundabout on your left that leads to the parking lot. If coming from the west, head east on Highway 24 and turn right on Ridge Road. There is also access from 31st Street.
Red Rock Canyon is open from dawn until dusk. Dogs, bicycles, and horses are allowed on most trails. The Upper and Lower Dog Loops are off-leash areas, and there is a free-ride bike park at the east end of the first parking lot. Many of the trails make for good cross-country skiing on snowy occasions.
About eighty technical climbing routes have been established at Red Rocks. Climbers must be registered through the Garden of the Gods visitor center. Informal rock scrambling, while tempting, is not allowed.
Registering to climb at the Garden of the Gods visitor center (1805 N 30th St.) is a fast, easy, and free process. The permit is good through December 31st of each year and covers climbing routes at Red Rocks, the Garden of the Gods, Cheyenne Canyon, and Ute Valley Park.
Luckily for us, the land that is now Red Rocks was saved from becoming a housing development several years ago, thanks to the efforts of citizens and advocacy groups. The city of ColoradoSprings purchased the land in December of 2003 and designated it open space. It started as a small network of trails and has expanded greatly over the last couple years, with even more work still ahead.
The rocks you see at Red Rock Canyon Open Space share many features with the Garden of the Gods, acting as the next vertebrae in the spine of sandstone formations seen in their more famous counterpart. From many vantage points in Red Rocks, you can see the continuity of the chain—ancient slabs of beach popping up in an arc across the western edge of the city.
While the formations at Red Rocks are not as big as those in the Garden, they are no less beautiful and not nearly as crowded. Its popularity continues to rise, however, so if you want to avoid crowds, be sure to go on a weekday.
There are two main sections to the parking lot: the west half, visible when you first enter, and the east half, further along the road. Four main trails begin at the parking lots, each of which branches off into a variety of further options. If you park in the west section, you can go to the far western side and head past the roundabout, where there is a chained off dirt road. By heading up the road, you can access Sand Canyon or the Contemplative trail on your left. Or, on the other side of the lot just before the bike park, you will see the Mesa trail, which heads up the hill on the right. If you choose to park in the east lot beyond the bike park, you will see the Red Rock Canyon trail, which angles upward at the end of the lot, or you can take the Hogback Trail, which cuts through a gap in the rocks on your left.
SUGGESTED LOOPS AND MILEAGE
Mesa/Greenlee: 2.85 miles
This loop stretches all the way to the southern tip of the open space and then circles back down. This means it is all uphill the first half and all downhill the second, but the grades are generally moderate. The trails are road-width and usually stay on top of the mesa, making them nice and sunny for winter hiking. They parallel the canyons, providing a good view of the formations although not directly among them. Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods are also a major part of your view. The sky feels expansive, and it is a fantastic place to enjoy the bright blue of a typical Colorado day or to cloud-watch. Start with the trail at the east end of the west parking lot and follow the natural horseshoe, ignoring the sidetrails. The road becomes Greenlee when it begins turning downward, and it will intersect Mesa again near the bottom.
Upper Dog Loop: 1 mile
Of the two off-leash dog loops, this is a nice choice because the Lower Dog Loop overlooks Highway 24 and therefore has much more traffic noise and civilization visibility. Lower works fine for those in a hurry; roundtrip mileage from the main parking lot is only half a mile, making it one of the shortest loop hikes in the park. Upper Dog Loop is fairly short as well, about a mile roundtrip, and both fit their purpose of giving your dog freedom to run.
The Quarry: 1.8 to 2 miles
In the 1800s, a quarry was established in Red Rocks, the remains of which are still quite evident and rather interesting to hike through. It is a fun place to take kids, history buffs, and others looking for a story behind their hiking trail. The rocks are among the largest formations in the park, and the quarry work left behind enormous geometric cuts in the rock face. The hiking trail forks on the east side of the quarry, giving you two options for getting up or down the hillside—a normal dirt path that switchbacks, or the steep “miners’ staircase” cut directly into the rock. The stairs are much easier to spot if you approach the quarry from the east side, via the Red Rock Canyon trail. The other option begins with the Mesa trail. From either side, simply look for the Quarry Pass trail, which connects the two. (You can also take Greenlee as a shortcut between Mesa and Quarry Pass.) The loop is just over two miles; with the Greenlee shortcut, it is 1.8 miles.
At the crest of the Mesa/Greenlee loop, there is a connector trail taking you to Section 16 of the Intemann Trail, with very nice rock formations along the way.
Hogback: 2.5 or 3.3 miles
This section of the park provides a beautiful view of the rock formations and quarry from above. From the east parking lot, you will see Lower Hogback on your left. It takes you onto the plateau, giving you an overlook of Red Rocks and Pikes Peak before you and the city behind you. Since the mesa is composed mainly of meadows rather than woods or rock formations, it can look a bit bleak in the winter, but it makes a fantastic spot for wildflowers in other times of the year.
Lower Hogback eventually forks, and two basic loops are possible from this point. If you take the downhill choice on the right (Red Rock Rim Trail), you will soon reach another trail branching off on the right, which takes you back to Red Rock Canyon Trail in the heart of the formations. If you take the uphill choice on the left, you will be following Hogback Valley Trail, which continues to give you an overlook of the canyon and eventually becomes the Lion Trail, looping around to the same intersection where you started. The Lower Hogback/Red Rock Rim/Red Rock Canyon loop is about 2.5 miles, whereas the Lower Hogback/Hogback Valley/Lion loop is 3.3 miles.
Contemplative/Sand Canyon: 1.75 miles
Some wanted to call Red Rock Canyon the “Garden of the Goddesses,” but the apt name did not go to waste—there is a club by that title which helps build and maintain the trails. In particular, the Garden of the Goddesses built the Contemplative Trail, which is off-limits to bikes and horses because the members wished to honor the sacred, meditative quality of the area and therefore dedicated it to hiking only. The Contemplative Trail skirts especially close to the rock formations, often traversing between two rock walls, making it a quiet route separated from the noise of traffic and neighborhoods. Several pine benches have been installed along the trail, and many more natural benches can be found on the rocks for your sitting and meditating enjoyment. You can make the hike a loop by starting at the Sand Canyon trailhead at the west end of the parking lot. The Contemplative Trail begins and ends from Sand Canyon, so you can hike up one and down the other. The loop’s roundtrip length from the parking lot is about 1.75 miles.