Hike Cheyenne Mountain State Park

July 29 2014, 11:10 AM

XO

Why we love it: It’s an outdoor adventure at the Cold War’s command center—with uncrowded, plains-to-peaks trails that back into Colorado Springs.

When to go: Early mornings or evenings in summer; middays the rest of the year (to maximize the sun’s warmth).

You’ve probably heard of the famous—or infamous—massive underground bunker tunneled beneath Cheyenne Mountain that served as the (presumably) nuclear-bomb-proof headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The fortress is typically on backup status these days, and apart from glimpses of its mountainside driveway, you’d never know it’s embedded in the 2,701 acres of open space.

That’s what I love about CMSP. It’s on the southern edge of Colorado Springs and the Army’s Fort Carson—you get sweeping views of both—but it’s easy to feel like you’re deep in the mountains. With 20 miles of well-maintained trail, there are a variety of loop options that will keep you exploring. The trail network is very clearly marked: Each path is dotted with color-coded signs, complete with GPS coordinates.

My favorite hike is Zook Loop to Blackmer Loop. The moderate combo gains about 1,000 feet over 4.5 miles. From the day-use parking lot, cross the footbridge to the Zook Loop. Follow it clockwise for a more gradual ascent. You’ll start in open grasslands and climb through progressively thicker Gambel oak into forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.

About halfway around Zook, catch the Blackmer Loop, which lollipops to a higher, shadier traverse. There are several trailside boulder gardens perfect for scrambling if kids have the stamina. (If they wilt early, stick to the 1-mile Zook Loop.) You’ll return to Zook right where you left it for your final descent. Watch for wildlife: I counted 17 wild turkeys on my last outing.

Getting there: Take I-25 south past downtown Colorado Springs to CO-115/Nevada Avenue South (Exit 140). Drive 5.4 miles. Turn right on State Park Road. Continue straight at the traffic circle, and reach the park entrance in 0.6 miles. Park entrance fee is $7 per vehicle. Pets are not allowed on these trails.