Length: 4.0 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Why we love it: A taste of the Royal Gorge without the crowds—or the entrance fee
When to go: Any time of year
Pre-hike buzz: Fuel up in Cañon City as you pass Cañon Coffee Café (aka Cañon City Mugs); 1520 Royal Gorge Blvd (US 50)
Restrooms: None available
Dogs: No restrictions

This level gravel trail offers such easy access to the beautiful canyon carved by the Arkansas River that it almost seems unfair. Instead of sweating bullets, you need only stroll a short distance along the wide, handicap-accessible walkway to enjoy amazing views of the same steep rock walls that comprise the Royal Gorge, which lies just a few miles upstream.

From the trailhead, the road climbs a single, short switchback to access a yellow gate where the Tunnel Drive Trail officially begins. Beyond this short, initial climb, the trail remains pancake-flat for its entire 2-mile length.

A short distance beyond the gate, several of the namesake tunnels have been blasted through the gorge’s 1.7-billion-year-old rocks, including ribbons of pink-and-white granite as well as much darker metamorphic rocks initially deposited as a big pile of mud. These rocks were once buried about 11 miles beneath the Earth’s surface, where the stupendous pressures and temperatures transformed them into the smooth, hard rocks you see along the walk.

The trail’s crushed gravel surface is perfect for strollers and bikes, and signs marking every 0.25 mile allow you to keep careful track of the distance, an added bonus for those with kids in tow. Intermittent benches offer ample opportunities to rest and enjoy the views down to the Arkansas River, where in the summer, you might spot kayaking and rafting parties finishing up the challenging run through the gorge’s frothing whitewater rapids.

All too soon, the trail ends at a second yellow gate. Turn around here and retrace your steps to the car, soaking up more sun and scenery along the way.

Getting there: From Denver follow I-25 south to Colorado Springs. At Exit 140, exit and head south on CO 115. After 33 miles, merge onto US 50 West and follow this through Cañon City. On the west side of town, about 0.8 miles after 3rd Street, turn left onto Tunnel Drive Street. Follow this road 0.6 miles to its end at a small parking area on the right. Two handicap parking spots are located above the initial switchback.

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.