text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather
Aiken Canyon Preserve offers a chance to step back into history, and roam through an environment that inspired an early Colorado birding pioneer, Charles Aiken.
Just The Facts
Trail: Aiken Canyon Preserve Hiking Trail
Elevation Gain: 538 ft
Distance: 4.5 mi. (loop)
Trail Use: Hiking, Walking, Trail Running, Bird Watching
Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
Bring Your Dog: No (this is a nature preserve...so no pets)
Access: All year long
Trail Map: www.Nature.org
Entrance fee: Free!
Back to the Future
In the spring of 1871, a brand new city (envisioned by General William Jackson Palmer) ushered in new possibilities in the Territory of Colorado. That city, located in what would soon become the state of Colorado, was Colorado Springs. I’m sure there were stories in newspapers, or pamphlets depicting the wild beauty of Colorado. And even more than a few promises of a new life in the ever-expanding West.
In the fall of 1871, Chicago, home to more than 300,000 people, exploded in conflagration. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed much of the central part of the city and left more than 100,000 people homeless. The dry goods business of James Aiken, Charles’ father, was one of the many building destroyed in fire.
These two events connect directly to the lives of the Aiken family which motivated them to move to Colorado. James Aiken purchased a ranch a few miles outside Colorado Springs, and that land is now the present day Aiken Canyon Preserve. It was on this ranch that Charles wandered through the prairies and canyons, honing is ornithology skills–that means studying birds. For the next 65 years, Charles devoted himself to ornithology throughout Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
On the List
I’ve wanted to hike Aiken Canyon Preserve for a long time, but I kind of forgot about it. But thanks to my wife, who saw an Instagram post from UpaDowna about Aiken Canyon, she encouraged me to finally get out there. She’s the best!
You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Aiken Canyon Preserve. I’ve driven right past it many, many times and had no idea it was even there. The entrance to the preserve is directly across from Turkey Creek Ranch. Turkey Creek Ranch is still home to the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard, but it doesn’t host any more MWR events, and activities.
For Your Reading Enjoyment
You’ll find the trailhead a few yards from the parking lot. The trail begins in a the grassy prairie, and soon meets up with a dry creek bed. The trail crosses along, and over the creek bed several times. So, depending on recent weather, you just might get your feet wet. But most of the time, this creek is dry.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed stroll in the preserve, be sure to stop and read the signs posted next to the trail. It important to know that the following are prohibited in the preserve:
Vehicles (no bikes)
Collecting of plants, animals and rocks
So, if you like to bring your dog with you on a hike, you’ll need to leave the pup at home this time.
Each of the signs will give more detail to the various flora and fauna protected within the borders of the preserve.
From high above, the trail would look like the outline of a balloon. This first mile of rusty-red dirt path is the string, and the junction (which completes the loop) would be the balloon. Elder-Fehn trail is the same type of balloon-loop hike.
From the junction, you can go right or left. It doesn’t matter which way you go, they both lead right back to this junction. To the left, the trail climbs more quickly. To the right, the trail follows in a more sweeping arch, and is a little more of an easy climb. The elevation gain isn’t that much in either direction, but is easier on the leg muscles if you go to the right. In case you’re wondering...I went right.
The day started of super windy, so it was nice to get into the protection of the canyon. The trail changed from dusty-red dirt path to a rocky, leaf-covered trail under the shade of trees.
At around the halfway point, you’ll find another trail. This is an out-and-back trail that ventures about another mile into the canyon. I haven’t hiked this section yet, but I plan to get back there someday. A little further down the trail, there is a short trail leading to an overlook.
After passing the overlook junction, the trail begins a quick descent. The terrain is more rocky, and loose on this side...so watch your footing. There are some great views of red rock walls, and of mountains in the distance.
It almost feels like this area hasn’t ever changed. Frozen in time. And, ultimately, that is the goal of The Nature Conservancy. Preserving this canyon and prairie so that we can enjoy it, but also keep it as it has been for thousands of years. It’s a great example of how important it is to safeguard even a small ecosystem...especially one as diverse as Aiken Canyon.