Ranch Hand: Day Hike on Palmer Divide Ranch Trail

text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather

Prairies and Cliffs

The Palmer Divide Ranch Trail loops through fertile grasslands along the willow-shaded banks of West Cherry Creek. You’ll also navigating next to ragged cliffs populated by ponderosa pine, giving you two distinct environments in one hike.

Just The Facts

Trail: Palmer Divide Ranch Trail (Lincoln Mountain Open Space)
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 225 ft
Distance: 4.5 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)
Access: All year long
Trail Map: www.Douglas.co.us
Entrance fee: Free!

Because it was grassy

Mystery! Intrigue! Unknown! These are all words I’m using to distract you from the fact that this is another foggy hike. Yes, that does make it harder to paint a picture of the surrounding landscape...because there wasn’t much to see. Well, other than what was right in front of me. That doesn’t make Palmer Divide Ranch trail any less enjoyable, it just changes how I experienced it.

Chilly spring temps, overcast sky, light rain, and swirling fog; this is springtime and it’s worth getting out in it.

Palmer Divide Ranch Trail is found in Lincoln Mountain Open Space. It’s slightly longer, but also slightly easier than Lincoln Mountain Trail—also located in Lincoln Mountain Open Space. You can read my post about Lincoln Mountain Trail here.

From the parking lot, follow the trail to the first junction. Keep straight to continue on to Palmer Divide Ranch Trail. Soon after you’ll find another junction. This is the start to the Palmer Divide Ranch Trail Loop. Either direction will bring you right back to this spot...you get to decide which way to go. I took a left, and headed towards the rocky terrain.

The trail sweeps over the grassy meadow right into a subtle climb into the rocky terrain. Soon you’ll find a marker for Dewey’s Hill. Stick to the left, and continue down into a little gully.

Sleepy Hollow

With the fog rolling in and out, the overcast sky, the trail took on a much different feeling. Almost like being in a long forgotten land. Slipping through pine forest, and back into open meadow, and back again.

Popping out of the fog would be a fleeting view of rocky ledges, and stony perches. Similar, but different to other hikes in the Palmer Divide area, the surrounding terrain reminded me of Castlewood Canyon, and Spruce Mountain.

There isn’t a significant elevation gain, but eventually the trail flattens out. Along this flat section you’ll find some of the best views from cliff edges. The rock-bound curves reaching out into the horizon, blending into the fog and rain.

The trail starts to make a descent toward the meadow, and the ponderosa pine transition to gamble oak—still wearing their autumn colors.

Wind In The Willows

The last half of the hike floats over the greening grasslands, carving a path over the serene hills and valleys. The trail tracks along the banks of West Cherry Creek, which are thick with willow trees just starting to put on the spring color.

The foggy blanket drifts over the land in the distance, and adds a hush to the world around, pierced only by the songs of meadowlarks.

The trail climbs out of the valley and works back to the trail junction. Another half mile to go, and you’ll be back to the parking lot.

Lay of the Land

An Open Space can be just about anywhere; urban, suburban, rural. Most Open Spaces are created to preserve a natural habitat, or species. Blodgett Peak Open Space, Stratton Open Space, Spruce Mountain Open Space are all great examples of this local protection in practice.

According to the Colorado Springs Comprehensive Plan (1991):

An open space area is a parcel of land (publicly owned, maintained, or privately owned land for which park land credits have been granted), set aside to retain land, water, vegetative, historic and aesthetic features in their natural state.

• Open space areas are in a natural or primarily natural state
• Open space areas contain significant natural, aesthetic, or cultural features that warrant protection
• Open space is permanently protected, not a temporary designation for vacant lands.

Not all Open Spaces are open to the public, but might be in the future. Some Open Spaces are maintained by the city—Colorado Springs maintains Blodgett Peak Open Space and Stratton Open Space. Others will be maintained by the county—Douglas County maintains both Lincoln Mountain Open Space and Spruce Mountain Open Space.

Open Spaces are vital for our future, and should be a major focus of any city or county. So get out there and find some space.