text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather
Garden of the Gods boasts an impressive number of yearly visitors. But after 7+ inches of snowfall a magical transformation takes place...quiet.
Just The Facts
Trail: Scotsman Trail/Buckskin Charley Trail
Elevation Gain: 272 ft
Distance: 2.2 mi. (loop)
Trail Use: Hiking, Trail Running
Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
Bring Your Dog: Yes (but must be on a leash)
Access: All year long
Trail Map: www.GardenOfTheGods.com
Entrance fee: Free!
The Hike Before the Hike
For a brief moment, I thought about not doing this hike. Not because I didn’t want to hike in Garden of the Gods, but because I was being lazy. When I arrived, the main entrance to Garden of the Gods was closed.
“Well, that’s it...guess I’ll go somewhere else.”
But If the main gate is closed, then there’s probably not going to be very many people in the park. Once I figured out I could get an almost empty Garden of the Gods all to myself...I wasn’t going to pass it up.
So, I drove over to the Visitor’s Center parking lot, and hiked in, an extra 2 miles mind you, to the Scotsman Trail trailhead.
There are so many good ways to experience the park, and today Scotsman Trail felt right. Scotsman Trail is a short loop, but I decided to combine it with Buckskin Charley Trail...so I could play in the snow a little longer.
There are wonderful views of Pikes Peak at almost every bend. Pinyon pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, and Utah juniper were all sagging under the snow, and the frosty, morning air added to the experience.
I traveled south about a quarter of a mile until I reached the junction for Buckskin Charley Trail. Buckskin Charley Trail then works up and down, moving further south.
Eventually, the trail will make a sharp right turn, and slowly drop down, working its way towards the west side of the park.
The rusty-red rocks (powdered with clean, white snow) drive upwards from the hillsides, reaching for the bright blue skies. Deer, and rabbits have criss-crossed through the grasses, and shrubs breaking the soft surface with their tracks. The only sound, in an otherwise stock-still day, are my boots in the snow.
By the time I reached Scotsman Trail again, the morning sun had already started to thin the white blanket of snow. The branches and pine needles shaking back into place, dropped twinkling showers onto the trail below.
The main gate must have opened not long ago because the traffic has already started up again. Families with little kids are out enjoying the wintery park. Cars and trucks slowly make their way around the twisting roads. The snow-filled joy is bringing the park back to life, and a brief moment of quiet slowly fades away...until next time.
Garden of the Gods is such a unique setting, and location everyone should visit at least once. Seeing it transformed by snow makes it an ideal spot to explore, especially if you’ve never ventured out for a snowy hike.