Indian Summer: A Short Hike at Ute Valley Park

Cairn I help you?

Weekends are short...use them wisely.

Does this sound familiar? How can the work week be break-neck fast, and glacially slow at the same time? Somehow you drag yourself to Friday, and then BAM!...it’s Sunday. Wait!? What just happened? Where did my Saturday go? Now look at you, already having to wrap your brain around the start of a new work week. I hate to break it to you, but summer is over. Those long, 15 hour (give or take a few minutes) sunshiny days are gone. Well, if you’re desperate to get outside, but short on time...I have a solution for you.

Just The Facts

Trail: Pine Ridge Trail/Scrub Oak Path/Bear Trail/Beaver Trail
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 320 ft
Distance: 2.5 mi. (loop)
Trail Use: Hiking, Trail Running, Mountain Biking, Walking, Horseback Riding
Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
Bring Your Dog: Yes (but must be on a leash)
Access: All year long
Trail Map: www.ColoradoSprings.gov
Entrance fee: Free!

Keepin’ It Simple

While I’d love nothing more than to spend hour after hour outdoors, life finds a way to whittle away at my free time, and (more often than not) leaving me with only minutes to spare. So, what do you do? You want to go on a hike, but you also don’t want to spend all day doing it. Well, lucky for you, I’ve done most of the hard part, and found a great hike, and as a bonus...it’s in town. Now all you need to do is get to the trail...well, finish reading this, and then get out there.

Five seconds before this, a mountain bike raced past me.

Ute Valley Park offers a quick, easy-to-get-to option for the free time-challenged outdoor lover. Just get there early. Since this park caters to a wide audience, the parking lot fills up fast.

I only had a short amount of time, so I stuck with the main trails. It’s hard, I know, only sticking to main path resisting the urge to venture off onto all the side trails, and see where they might take you. But that’s the beauty of an in town hike...you can always come back. Well, assuming you’ve found more free time.

How green was my valley? Not very, mostly rocks.

Not far from the parking lot, I found the first trail junction. I kept right onto Pine Ridge Trail, and worked my way uphill. The elevation gain is minimal, and made for an easy stroll. The rounded sandstone rocks provide a natural staircase, and a perfect launching pad for mountain bikers—watch out for the mountain bikers, they love to bolt over these rocks.

For about a half mile, the soft, sandy trail parallels the most dominant feature of Ute Valley Park, a hogback ridge of steep-sloped, rocky terrain forested with scrubby oak, and ponderosa pine. There are also great views into the valley below. The valley is framed by rock walls, pocked with naturally formed holes and small caves. There isn’t much shade along this part of the trail, and on a clear, warm day, the sun really beats down on you.

Winding Down

The next major junction (which also has a good view of Pikes Peak) is Scrub Oak Path. If you’re ready for some shade, this is a welcome change to the scenery. This short path weaves its way down to the valley floor under the canopy of ponderosa pine, hedged by gamble oak cloaked in their fall colors of earthy browns and yellow.

Just a wee bit of snow on Pikes Peak.

In the valley, the trails are a little more “interpretive”. I didn’t see trail markers, or at least named trails. Most of the interesting rock formations are on the hillside, so I kept to the right when a new path appeared. I wanted to work my way up, and keeping right seemed to do the trick. All the trails lead back to the main parking lot, so it isn’t a big deal, it just depends on the route you want to take.

The sandy trails slowly transition to rocks and roots as I climbed out of the valley. I was now winding my way through the sandstone cliffs I saw earlier from Pine Ridge Trail. There are so many interesting formations, and vistas from these hillsides. I can imagine how differently they would look during the spring, or winter seasons, or during soft light from a sunrise.

That looks like fall to me.

Continuing on, exploring some of the cliff edges, I finally reached the Pine Ridge Trail junction once again. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was walking along Beaver Trail. So next time I’m here, I think I’ll take this loop in reverse, just to change up the views.

Ute Valley Park offers a lot of options for a variety of activities. Take the family, head out with a friend, or get some quality alone time. No matter If you’re short on time, or have all the time in the world, you won’t be disappointed with the choice to get on a Ute Valley Park trail, and soak up that sunshine...while it lasts.