Length: 3 miles round trip

Difficulty: Easy

Why we love it: Enjoy the serenity and scenery of Utah slickrock country without the long drive.

When to go: Any time of year; this open space is especially beautiful after it snows

Pre-hike buzz: The nearby Agia Sophia coffee shop offers reasonably priced espresso and non-coffee drinks and pastries, as well as a tempting post-hike lunch menu.

Restrooms: Port-o-let at the trailhead

Dogs: Must be leashed

Located just south of the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs’ Red Rock Canyon Open Space preserves a network of easy trails that explore a parallel series of beautiful red rock canyons nestled below Pikes Peak. Acquired by the city in 2003 for use as a city park, the nearly 800-acre parcel is popular for hikers, bikers, rock climbers, and runners.

The Contemplative Trail begins near the northwestern side of the park at the trailhead closest to the Ridge Road/U.S. 24 parking area. The smooth dirt path slowly ascends an easy-to-follow route between parallel sandstone ridges known as “hogbacks.” The moderate gradient allows plenty of time to enjoy the stunning contrast between the red rocks, forest-green trees, and Pike Peak’s seasonally snow-capped summit. Strategically placed benches offer frequent opportunities to rest and contemplate how wonderful it is to live in (or visit) Colorado.

After 1.1 miles, the Contemplative Trail ends at a junction with the Sand Canyon and Quarry Pass trails. You can retrace your steps or, to make a loop, follow the Quarry Pass Trail toward the east. Near the end of this path, you’ll walk right through an old quarry where blocks of 250-million-year-old sandstone, the relic of an ancient sand dune field, were cut to erect historic buildings in Old Colorado City—a national historic district in Colorado Springs—Denver (including the Molly Brown House), and beyond.

After descending the steep series of steps carved into the bright red rock, turn left to follow the Red Rock Canyon Trail, which follows another, wider canyon carved out of the brilliant sandstone. Interpretive signs along the way describe the geologic and human history of this land, including the construction of a fallout shelter here during the Cold War.

After gradually descending about a mile from the quarry, you’ll reach the first parking lot. Veer to the left (west) here around the Lower Dog Loop and the mountain bike free-ride area to return to your car.

Getting there: From Denver follow I-25 south to Colorado Springs. Take Exit 145 and turn right (west) on Fillmore Street, which turns into Fontmore Road, then West Fontanero Street. At 2.4 miles from the exit, turn left onto North 31st Street. After 0.7 miles, turn right onto US 24 and follow this west for 0.6 miles, then turn left onto Ridge Road. After 0.1 mile, turn left into the large parking lot.

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Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.