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My Life Outdoors

Section 16 Palmer Loop Trail – Colorado Springs, Colorado

While in Colorado Springs for a work related conference I managed to sneak off one morning to do a little hiking. Among the foothills of Pikes Peak is a wonderful little county trail. Section 16 or the Palmer Loop is six mile trail that offers a little bit of everything. Great views of Garden of the gods, a (frozen) mountain stream, and outstanding views of Colorado’s Front Range.

Colorado’s Front Range glowing red in the morning sun.

I woke up early and drove less than 5 miles from the hotel. As I approached the trail, the sun had just emerged over the horizon giving the mountains a beautiful red glow. The trailhead was easy to find and I was the first one to arrive. I set off toward the north climbing steadily as I followed the well trafficked snow laden path. The first mile or so has little to no trees which allowed me to take in the many views. As the trail turned west following the northern ridge abundant views of Garden of the gods begged me to stop and linger a while.

Section 16 trailhead, AKA Palmer Loop

well trafficked snow laden trail
Some of the only trees I saw along the first mile of trail.
Colorado Springs and Garden of the gods to the north
Garden of the gods through the trees.
Heading up the mountain before entering the forest.
Red Rock Open Space viewed from the Palmer Loop Trail

 A little further the trail turned back to the south and entered a snowy forest. The shadows on the northern side of the mountain had allowed the snow to remain in higher quantities. Everywhere around me the shadows and snow casted a deep blue tint inviting the cold and causing me to put my jacket on what was an otherwise warm day. Along this section the trail climbs to the highest point switching back and forth up the mountain in thick forest. I pushed on stopping to rest when I felt the need. Two locals passed me making it obvious they were in much better shape.

The forested north side of the Palmer Loop
In the shadows it was very cold.
Just before the trail’s summit.
View of the mountains to the north
Last view of the northern mountains through the trees.

Before long I reached the summit of the trail (1.6 miles from the trailhead). I tucked back behind a rock to eat a little breakfast and admire the surrounding mountains. Having reached the top of the ridge the sun was visible again making things much warmer and more comfortable. I lingered at the top for about 15 min before two more locals (two women) joined me on the summit. The sad part was I had heard them coming… talking the whole way up the trail. I decided I should move on and continued to follow the loop west. The women must have followed me because I could still hear them quite a ways down the trail. I was here for quiet and solitude and didn’t want to hear what was going on in these ladies lives. I stopped to let them pass and gave them a good lead before continuing. When I started back again I could still hear them. I thought…I should have stayed at the summit longer.

Views of the Pike’s Peak foot hills at the summit of Palmer Loop
A view from the summit of the Palmer Loop
Another view from the Palmer Loop Trail Summit
The Snow had a hard time remaining on the south side of the mountain.

Finally after allowing far too much time for them to get well ahead of me I was able to continue along the trail in peace. Having crossed over to the southern side of the mountain the snow was much less abundant. In places snow had melted and then frozen as ice making parts of the trail very slick. In spots I wished I had some Yaktrax to give me some traction.

Were the snow did remain it was icy and slick
Heading south along the Palmer Loop Trail
Warm Sun on the Cold Snow
Crossing back and forth across a ridge. Snow on one side…icy trail on the other.
Sun shining through pine needles

On the southern side of the loop the views switched from those of Colorado Springs and Garden of the gods to the Pike’s Peak foothills. I descended another mile to a shadowy ravine were I began to hear the sounds of a flowing mountain stream. The stream was flowing but not visibly. A thin layer of ice covered the top of the water. Even a small waterfall uphill from the trail was frozen at the surface. I crossed over the stream via a small log bridge and started heading east. The next half mile switched back in forth (north side to south side) along a ridge. On the north side I was cold and snow was everywhere. On the south side I would strip my jacket and slip on frozen ice. This repeated most of the rest of the trail.

Frozen stream ans small waterfall among the rocks. Log foot bridge allowing me to safely cross the stream.

A half mile from the end of the loop the trail joined a dirt road called High Drive. The road was covered in snow and closed off from vehicle traffic. I passed many locals hiking up the road and even had one gentleman pass me on cross-country skis. I passed by a closed pipe gate the marked the end of the loop. It was a short 0.2 mile hike back to my car on the paved Gold Camp Road. I was surprised to see the trailhead crowded with cars. In fact there was no parking left. This is a very popular trail.

Beautiful Canyon walls along High Drive.

All and all I hiked close to six miles in 3 hours time. The weather was warm and the views abundant. I became very jealous I didn’t have anything this special in my backyard. I was glad to see people taking advantage of such a special local trail. Tomorrow…I would leave the mountains behind and head back to flat arid west Texas.

The Hike:
Distance 5.48 miles (according to my GPS)
Starting Elevation: 6,598
Highest Elevation: 7,854
Elevation Gain: 1,256
Duration: 3 hours

for a Google Earth File of this map please contact me

Getting There:

From Colorado Springs, take Highway 24 west and turn left (south) onto 21st street. Turn right on Gold Camp Road and continue straight through the four-way stop sign. The trailhead and  parking is on the right just a few minutes up the road.

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  • Griffis Family

    January 21, 2011

    If you're ever up there in the summer or fall the Barr Trail from Manitiu up to the peak is one of the classic Colorado Springs Trails. I did it as an overnighter in June about 10 years back and enjoyed it. Definately not good for solitude, howver.

  • Steven

    January 21, 2011

    I have some friends that did that last year…they too said it was great. There seem to be a lot of great trails around there!

  • T. Chris

    January 22, 2011

    Thanks for sharing the great post and especially the pics. I haven't been back to Colorado in years, but plan to this year. I can't wait to get back to the mountains!

  • billkeith

    January 23, 2011

    Great post. I need to do a little more hiking when I am out on business.

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