Length: 2.6 miles roundtrip
Why We Love It: This hike follows a piece of history—an old incline train route—with a spectacular view as the reward.
When To Go: Any time of year, although Yaktrax may be necessary after winter storms
Pre-hike Buzz: Red Dog Coffee & Café on Manitou Avenue is a relaxing pre- or post-hike venue where you can sip a foamy cappuccino or fruit smoothie and nosh one of the freshly baked muffins, tarts, or brownies.
Restrooms: None at trailhead; the closest are in Manitou or at the cog railway station
Distance from Denver: About 78 miles
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Manitou Springs’ infamous Incline Trail, a railroad-tie staircase of 2,744 unforgiving steps, is not for the faint of heart. The Incline ascends the route of a railway at the base of Pikes Peak that was a popular tourist attraction from 1908 until 1990, when track damage from a rockfall shut it down for good. But unbeknownst to most Manitou visitors, to the south sits a competing tourist incline railway that opened in 1912: Red Mountain.
This second train incline was very short-lived; the railway was so steep that it terrified visitors, and it closed within a year. Although the attraction briefly reopened in 1921 after the scariest portion, a rickety trestle, was upgraded, these modifications didn’t instill enough confidence in the public to attract a large number of riders. It ceased operating altogether in 1922.
You can still see a few scraps of this misguided venture along the Red Mountain Trail, a path that’s nowhere near as grueling as the Manitou Incline. Red Mountain ascends the peak via a series of comfortable switchbacks (rather than directly up the old incline railway bed like it’s unforgiving neighbor).
Begin at the Iron Springs trailhead of the Paul Intemann Trail, which is clearly marked on the south side of Ruxton Avenue just downhill from the Iron Springs Chateau. Follow the Intemann Trail about 0.5 miles to Iron Springs, one of Manitou’s celebrated sources of effervescent mineral water.
From Iron Springs, the trail leads up Spring Street, a dirt residential road, where a sign indicates the point where the trail turns to the right. From this turn, the path zigzags up the hillside before contouring around the mountain’s slope toward the southeast. About a half-mile past the trailhead, you’ll reach a clearly marked junction where the Red Mountain Trail branches off to the right.
From this point onward, the route follows a series of switchbacks that climb steeply through the forest covering the peak’s northern flank, offering welcome shade on hot summer days. The trail emerges from the trees at a bare saddle just below the summit. Veer left here for the short, final climb to the top, which is covered by a concrete pad that once floored the incline railway’s power plant. From the summit there are beautiful views of Manitou Springs and Williams Canyon to the north and Pikes Peak to the west, as well as a great view of the imposing Manitou Incline, which climbs 2,000 feet in elevation in just one mile. Once you’ve psyched yourself up to try this challenge a little later in the season, retrace your steps back to your car.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 south to Exit 141. Exit here and merge onto U.S. 24 West, then follow this road about 4 miles to the Manitou Avenue exit. Turn right off the exit ramp and follow Manitou Avenue to downtown Manitou Springs. At the roundabout, turn on to Ruxton Avenue, then continue up the hill and search for parking along the street near the Iron Spring gazebo.
Logistics: This trail starts at the same place as the Manitou Incline, so parking, for which a fee is charged, is at a premium. It’s best to arrive early or take the free shuttle bus instead.