The Forest Primeval: Hiking Lovell Gulch Trail
text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather
A New Favorite
Hiking Lovell Gulch Trail is a quick way to disconnect from the hectic pace of everyday-life, and transport yourself deep into a peaceful forest, surrounded by lush meadows, and dense Aspen groves. There are some challenging sections, so come prepared to put in a little work, but that effort is well rewarded.
Just The Facts
Trail: Lovell Gulch Trail #706
Elevation Gain: 891 ft
Distance: 6.2 mi. (loop)
Trail Use: Hiking, Trail Running, Mountain Biking, Horseback Riding
Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
Bring Your Dog: Yes (but must be on a leash)
Trail Map: https://trails.colorado.gov/@break_trail
Entrance fee: Free!
Directions: (Maps App Link) From Colorado Springs take HWY 24 west towards Woodland Park. At the Baldwin St. light (McDonald’s is on the corner), turn right and drive north for approximately 2 miles. There is a sign on the left hand side of the road for Lovell Gulch Trailhead. Turn left at the City Road Maintenance building, and the parking lot will on the left.
City Above the Clouds
Woodland Park acts almost like a base camp to some great hiking around Pikes Peak: Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks, The Crags, and Mueller State Park are all within a few minutes of downtown. But what if you don’t want to leave town? Sure, you can always go to Rampart Reservoir; there’s lots of great hiking there. But what if you want to stay even closer to town?
Lovell Gulch is a hike that’s been on my to-do list for a very long time...but for some reason, I’ve never hiked it. Well, the wait is finally over, and I think I’ve found a new local favorite.
Just Up the Hill
If you’re driving up from Colorado Springs (like me) it only takes about 30 minutes to get to the Lovell Gulch Trail parking lot, which is located next to the City Road Maintenance building. There is a sign posted for the trailhead, so just look for those two things, and you should be able to find it.
This hike is a fairly popular one, and the parking lot will fill up fast. There doesn’t appear to be any overflow parking, so getting there early is always a good idea.
I was also meeting Larry Black at the parking lot. Larry is a local Woodland Park historian and member of the Ute Pass Historical Society, and has been living in Woodland Park for over 50 years. He hikes Lovell Gulch several times a week, and he’d offered to give me a guided tour. So the two of us jumped on the trail, and headed north into the dense shade of Pike National Forest.
The trail climbs easily for the first .75 mile until you arrive at a small stream. From here you’ll find a sign marking the start of the 3 ¾ loop. If you choose to go to the left, you’ll get a good cardio workout with a fairly steady ascent. To the right, the trail will climb up, but at a much more gentle pace. Either direction will bring you right back to this spot, so they choice is up to you. We went right.
The next mile drifts through lush meadows, dotted with wild flowers and hillsides covered with soft grasses and hearty blankets of Kinnikinnick.
There are trail markers at almost every intersections, and around the 1.75 mile (on the right) we stepped off the main trail, and followed an alternate route. This alternate route offers some beautiful scenery that you’d otherwise miss on the main trail. I think Larry described it best “like stepping into the forest primeval”.
A Quiet Place
The next mile is filled with views of immense boulders lining both sides of the trail. Groves of aspen fill the spaces in-between, quaking softly in the slightest breeze. The morning sun is struggling to pierce the thick cover of trees, but a few shafts of light break through, and illuminate the tops of wild flowers.
Eventually you’ll climb out of the forest, and reach the highest point on the trail. It was here that Larry and I went different ways. You can turn around, and follow the designated trail back towards the unmarked route, or continue west, and finish the loop. I chose to finish the loop, and Larry followed the trail back from the direction we’d just travelled.
You’ll know you’ve reached the back-half of the loop when you see the power lines. While it might seem like this section isn’t going to provide much scenery...just wait.
This side of the loop is kind of like a roller coaster and isn’t shying away from giving a good cardio workout. There are several ups-and-downs with steep, loose gravel sections and (thanks to a rainy summer) washed out trail. While this might sound bad, it’s worth it for the panoramic views. Just take your time.
To the south, you’ll find multiple opportunities to view Pikes Peak bathed in glorious, early morning light—another plus to hiking early in the morning. And to the west, wide vistas of the Sawatch Range, which is home to Colorado’s tallest peak; Mount Elbert at 14,440’ above sea level.
It’s a little over 2 miles until you’ll reach the loop junction. Then it’s back to the easy stuff again as you follow your tracks back to the parking lot.
This Hike Is Good For…
Frequent hikers will be just fine. Beginners shouldn’t have too much difficulty with this trail, but it does have some rough sections. The parking lot starts at around 8600’, and you’ll be climbing to about 9300’…that’s a pretty good elevation gain if you’re not used to it. Families with children might have some challenges on the steep, rocky sections.
Lovell Gulch has a lot of variety, and can meet the goal of a good cardio workout, or provide a fairly relaxed stroll—depending on which route you take. It’s full of bountiful shade, making it perfect for a hot, summer day hike. The lower half of the loop is filled with Aspen trees, and will be bursting with golden colors in the fall.
If you opt for the full loop, the upper-half of the hike is definitely more difficult, and does have exposed sections…so bring lots of water and always wear sunscreen.
I rely on my trekking poles to help me take some stress off my knees, and keep me upright. If you’ve never hiked at a higher altitude before, take your time, and don’t over do it.