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Length: Approximately 8 miles (round-trip) from the parking area
Why We Love It: You get a little bit of everything you want in a Colorado hike—switchbacks through forests, a waterfall, a meadow filled with wildflowers, a creek, and a reservoir.
When To Go: April through October
Pre-hike Buzz: Your best bet for caffeination can be found in Manitou Springs (about 10 miles southeast of the trailhead); check out Red Dog Coffee & Cafe‘s extensive menu.
Distance from Denver: About 86 miles
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we dive into the details: The beginning of this hike sucks. The trailhead sits deep in a Green Mountain Falls neighborhood, and area homeowners have fiercely (and fairly) protected their “No Parking” rights, meaning you have to park in a small, creekside dirt lot at the bottom of Hondo Avenue’s steep, mile-long hill and walk all the way up—with little protection from the glaring sun—before you even reach the start of the actual trail.
Now that that’s out of the way, I can say this: Catamount Trail is a beauty of a Colorado hike. It steeply switchbacks through the spruce fir forest—and past a waterfall—on a well-tended dirt path before depositing explorers in the Garden of Eden, a stunning wetland area and expansive meadow that was already speckled with wildflowers in early July.
You’ll continue along the trail, which runs parallel to a softly-flowing creek, and enjoy a lull in the uphill push. Then you’ll come to a curving road—yes, a road. There’s no signage but follow it to the right; you’ll walk slightly downhill on the pavement (be aware of cars) before making the final steep climb to South Catamount Reservoir.
All said, you’ll climb about 1,500 vertical feet to reach the reservoir and dam. And when you finally reach that turnaround point and stop to relish in your achievement—and views of Pikes Peak—you’ll notice that other people drove up here to fish and picnic (swimming is not allowed). Ignore that and applaud yourself for reaching your destination the old-fashioned way: on your own two feet.
Along The Way: There are two overlooks on the trail. The first provides views over the town and the valley beyond and is definitely worth the photo-op. We made the side trips on the way back, as my hiking crew was more inclined to enjoy the views when our hearts didn’t feel like they were exploding from the relentless climb.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 south to US-24 west toward Manitou Springs. Take the second exit for Green Mountain Falls. Continue for 0.6 miles along this road, which becomes Ute Pass Avenue. There is a small parking area on the left side of the road at the intersection of Ute Pass and Hondo avenues. From here, you’ll hike up Hondo to the trailhead.