Viewmaster: Hiking Rampart Reservoir Trail #700
text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather
Pikes Peak draws huge amounts of tourism into Colorado Springs—and for good reason. The Peak dominates the skyline, and has been providing a beacon to westward-bound travelers long before Zebulon Pike.
If you’re looking for another vantage point to take in all the Pikes Peak grandeur, and you want to do it while on a hike, then head up to Woodland Park for a trek around Rampart Reservoir.
Just The Facts
Trail: Rampart Reservoir Trail #700
Elevation Gain: 928 ft
Distance: 11 mi. (loop)
Trail Use: Hiking, Trail Running, Mountain Biking
Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
Bring Your Dog: Yes (but must be on a leash)
Access: May until October
Trail Map: trails.colorado.gov/@break_trail
Entrance fee: $7 for Day Use
The North Face-ish
There are several different spots where you can hop onto the Rampart Reservoir Trail, but the most common spot is near the boat ramp...unless you arrive before the gates are open. As you might have guessed, I was there very early—well before the gates were opened, and before anyone else.
I parked at the Homestake fishing site, and followed the markers to trail #700. I walked over the dam towards the main parking lot, and rejoined the trail there.
The north-east side of Pikes Peak rises prominently over the reservoir, and will be an ever-present figure while walking along the north side of the trail.
The trail climbs slightly as I made my way towards the first cove. The clear, blue-green water shimmers in the morning light as small waves lap at the shore. The reservoir is deep, more than 200’ is some spots. But at the edges, when the light is just right, you can see 15’ or more below the surface.
I hope you like coves because the reservoir has a lot of them, and the trail will pretty much follow right along beside them.
Each coves watery finger reaches into the shadows of the surrounding forest, providing a still, cool spot to cast a line, or explore on a kayak or canoe. A hike around them is just as enjoyable. It takes several hours for the warm sunlight to reach into these hidden spots. So on a hot summer day, this would be a perfect hike to escape the heat.
After each turn on the trail, you’ll be greeted by another stunning view of Pikes Peak reflected on the rippling surface. There are too many spots to count where you can stop and soak-up the views.
A little more than 3 miles in, the trail sneaks off into the forest, and away from the waters edge. The morning air, cool and fresh, clings to the shadowy hills. The trail bobs and weaves around enormous boulders, and fallen trees before putting you back near the water.
Keep on Truckin’
It might not seem like it, but this is a very long trail. 11 miles will be a little more demanding than an average day hike, but it’s also an easier trail than you’d think. The elevation gain is minimal, and the terrain is mostly dirt, or granite gravel. What makes this a moderate trail, at least to me, is the length. So be prepared to work a little.
Eventually you’ll come to the Rainbow Gulch trail junction. This is another popular trail in the area and is often used by those looking to fish on the west side of the reservoir. After crossing the creek, the trail will bend to the south, and head back towards the dam, and the Homestake fishing site.
Remnants of the 2012 Waldo Canyon forest fire can still be seen along the south side of the reservoir. There are several spots where the trail has been covered by fallen trees, and as a result it’s best that you’re careful while hiking in this section.
While wildfires are apart of life in Colorado, and never something that you want to see happen, they can have a silver lining. The burn scar around the reservoir is bursting with new growth, and aspen saplings are taking full advantage of it. In time, this spot will glow in beautiful yellow and orange fall colors.
As you exit the burn scar, the trail bounces between waters edge, and forest. By mid-day the shores are spotted with several people fishing and enjoying the perfect weather.
Soon the trail meets up with the Homestake parking lot, and the loop is complete. 11 miles of classic Colorado views all next to a beautiful reservoir.
Lay of the Land
Water is critical to the development of any growing city. Colorado Springs has faced this issue since its founding in 1871. This need for water grew into ambitious projects starting in the 1950s and ending in the 1970s. Three massive water projects were started to help bring distant mountain water into Colorado Springs. One of these water projects was a joint venture between the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora—the Homestake Project.
Homestake brought so much water into Colorado Springs that an existing reservoir, Northfield No. 5, would need to be expanded. Several city council members saw an opportunity to capitalize on a new recreational source. In January ‘67, the city of Colorado Springs added a ballot proposal to open up this new reservoir. Voters agreed, and thanks to that vote, we now have Rampart Reservoir Recreation Area.
Construction of the new dam completed in 1969, but it would be another five years before anyone would be allowed to use the area. With the help of the National Forest Service, several campgrounds, fishing sites, a boat ramp, and hiking trails were installed.
Rampart Reservoir not only provides 70% of Colorado Springs public water supply, but also delivers a popular outdoor activity destination.
If you’d like to be transported back in time, check out these YouTube videos on the Homestake Project.