Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This hike has it ALL; waterfalls, red rock canyons,colorful aspen trees and more!

Waterfalls along the trail, very pretty
Hiking in Colorado usually takes us to a peak, or a lake, or a place with scenic views; but wouldn't you rather hike a place that has it all?  The Stanley Canyon trail, north of Colorado Springs, has just that; red walled canyons, views of the Springs and the Air Force Academy, waterfalls, climbing and difficulty, aspen trees, wildflowers and the trail ends at a scenic reservoir in the middle of the mountains.  Wow! 
I had no idea how incredible this hike would be when I started up the trail but it didn't take long to espy what a great trail this would be and I couldn't stop snapping photo's along the way.  The hike to Stanley Reservoir is 2 miles each way; but the trail is difficult with Class 2 climbing (using your hands to help you) in some locations; but once you are out of the canyon and behind it, the last 1/3 of the trail becomes much easier as it meanders through high elevation meadows with wildflowers and golden aspen trees that glimmered in the sunlight. 

 Getting there:  From Denver, head south on I-25 to the N. Academy exit, just north of Colorado Springs; exit number 156B.  Continue west on the exit ramp and enter the Air Force Academy.  **FYI; you have to present ID and have a short search of your vehicle to enter.** 
Facing east on dirt road, easy ]to miss
From inside the academy; continue straight on Northgate Blvd and make a LEFT turn onto Stadium Blvd near the huge plane.  (Note, the road names are very near to the turn itself; so drive slowly and don't miss your turn).  Continue on Stadium for 1.3 miles and make a right turn onto Academy Dr for 2.6 miles.  Next, make a left turn onto Pine Drive.  From here; continue just .3 on Pine Drive and you will see a dirt road on your right with no sign or name.  Turn right on this dirt road; it is across the street from a white medical building.  It's easy to miss, because there is no sign.  Continue down the unnamed dirt road; for .3 miles, when the road forks continue right/straight for another .4 miles to the trailhead.  This dirt road does not show up on google maps, but the pin is at the correct intersection on map.  I have also added a photo for you to reference. 
Specs: The parking lot had about 6 vehicles in it, so it was not very busy on a Tuesday morning.  There are no bathrooms here.  The Stanley Canyon trail to the reservoir is 2 miles each way.  There are numerous other trails that start from this parking lot; including a mountain biking trail.  The trail to Stanley Canyon cannot be biked.
Steep climb before canyon
 The Journey:  I decided to leave late and miss the I-25 work traffic on Tuesday morning after deciding to hike the Stanley Canyon trail just north of Colorado Springs.  I left my house around 9:45am and exited I-25 at 10:45 and drive into the Air Force Academy.  I didn't know the public could go into the academy and hike so I was very excited to check out the lush scenery near the Springs.  Immediately, all the cars were being stopped, asked for ID and their car was searched; this surprised me and for a second, I thought I had made a wrong turn and was trying to get into somewhere I wasn't supposed to!  The dogs went crazy as the man opened the back of my SUV to make sure I was safe to allow to enter.  He quickly let me pass through and I was so frazzled from the search that I missed my next turn and had to drive way out of my way to circle back around.  When I finally made it to the trailhead and started hiking it was around 11:20am and getting hot.  It reached a near record at 90 degrees; fortunately there was a lot of cloud cover and shade on the trail.  The trail is very well marked for the first 1/4 mile; follow the signs to Stanley Reservoir trail number 707.  Once you make the turn to the Res. trail, there are no more signs until you reach the reservoir.
Steeper climb up the river rocks
From here the trail starts to climb and get very rocky and a little bit difficult; I stopped for a few breathers and noticed great views of the city and Air Force Base behind me.  Once you reach the top of the front canyon climb you are greeted with awesome views of the city and mountains to the east.  Next the trail continues west into the red walled Stanley Canyon.  I love canyon hiking, it's full of rivers, waterfalls and shade; all were much needed on this hot September afternoon.  This part of the hike is quite tough, it's all uphill and very rocky, there are places where it was tough to figure out where the trail goes.  Use your best trail finding skills if you find yourself off the trail by backtracking and looking for footprints or another route to find the trail again.  I did this several times on the hike up, but always found my way back to the trail with ease, which continues next to the river for most of the hike. 
The dogs were able to get water and cool themselves down in the stream while I snapped photos of the beautiful water shimmering in the sun.  The most difficult portion of the trail is getting out of the canyon; I had to climb a steep section crossing over the river and slippery rock only to cross back over again.  I had several slips and near falls, which would have hurt on the hard river rocks, fortunately I made it without incident.  Beware, the rocks are very slippery when wet! 

Our visitors, the ducks comin' at us
 Once out of the canyon, you then hike through a wooded area with pine and aspen trees; the aspens were changing color and the leaves littered the trail.  It reminded me of cross country season in Michigan with the smell of autumn in the air.  After meandering through the trees for just under a mile the trail opens up into a large meadow and shortly you are able to see a man made solar panel next to the reservoir which is raised up and out of view until you climb up to it.  I was surprised to see it was bigger than expected; the sun was behind the clouds and the mountain lake reflection in the water was magnificent.  I snapped tons of photos as I sat and ate lunch with the dogs.  We had a visit from 3 ducks, who were begging for food just as politely as my two dogs who are both afraid of water.  The ducks came remarkably close and neither dog did too much to deter them.  I did share the reservoir with one other person, who sat on the opposite side of the lake enjoying the view.  
 I didn't stay too much longer after my lunch because I had such a late start, so I walked back down the trail at 1:15pm and made it back to the car before 2:30; it was much faster hiking back.  I slipped and slid down the gravel and rocks, with several near miss falls but made it back to the car without incident.  This is truly one of my favorite hikes and I will be back to Colorado Springs again soon for it's beauty and diversity in culture.  Plus, I have always noticed the Springs climate is more lush and wet, so the wildflowers are still in bloom with the golden aspen trees changing, which is very different from the Denver area, everything is brown this late in the season. 
If you live in the area or know of other great hikes nearby; please leave a comment ~ I'd love to hear from you! 

Click on map below for personal directions to hike. 

View Larger Map
Reflection looks like a painting to me
Sky in the water, I love Colorado
Rock is making sure the ducks don't get too close :)
Ok, I had to take one of these :)

Dogs walking through the Aspens

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