Length: 5.5 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate
Why we love it: The forest trails lead to panoramic mountain views—without the intense steepness of the nearby Manitou Incline
When to go: Late summer through fall, when temperatures are cooler over the open, unshaded portion of this hike.
Pre-hike buzz: Stop by Ivywild School, a former school that’s been transformed into a community marketplace. For a caffeine boost, turn left upon entry and grab a cup of coffee from the Principal’s Office. For a beer post-hike, head right to Bristol Brewing Company, which brews everything in-house.
Restrooms: None
Dogs: Allowed on leash

When I went down to Colorado Springs to see a buddy of mine, we had few concrete plans. One of them was to climb the Manitou Incline. He told stories about a few people who must be crazy became legends of the Incline—including one guy who climbed it 1,401 times in a single year. But things don’t always go as planned. Our night out went a bit long, and the next morning I awoke hardly feeling up for the Incline. Instead, we decided to tackle a different hike: The Palmer Loop / Section 16 Trail, a 5.5-mile trek that’s mostly downhill.

The trail kicks off with an easy incline through red rock, small trees, and some cactus flowers. It’s a well-maintained track that never forces hikers to traverse over loose rocks. Be warned: There’s little tree cover at the start, so it’s a good idea to hit the trail early, before it gets hot. We took advantage of the relatively cooler temps to stop and enjoy views of the Garden of the Gods about a half-mile into the hike.

At the beginning of the trail, you’ll notice several intersecting paths. To avoid getting lost, follow the Palmer Loop signs, and if you don’t see signs, choose the path most-traveled (this is a popular trail, so expect to see plenty of other hikers, bikers, or even horseback riders). Soon you’ll reach the forest, which is the steepest part of the loop. It’s short—no more than one mile long—but it’s still a climb. Once at the top, enjoy stunning views of forest-covered mountains. The rest of the hike is a blissful downhill march through the trees and along a creek, leading you back to your car.

Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 south and take the exit for Manitou Springs. Turn right onto US-24 west / West Cimarron Street. Turn left onto South 21st Street and then take a right onto Lower Gold Camp Road, and in about one mile continue onto Gold Camp Road. The Section 16 trailhead will eventually be on your right. Parking is free.