Cheyenne Mountain State Park: Colorado Springs’ Hidden Gem
Nestled quietly in the foothills just south of Colorado Springs is Cheyenne Mountain State Park, a hidden gem among the more well-known recreational areas near the city. With 22 miles of hiking and biking trails, 61 camping spots, and 52 RV spots, Cheyenne Mountain State Park has some great reasons to get out and enjoy nature this summer.
The campsites, which are open year-round, have been generally full since January, and now, in what is termed the “high season” (May 1-September 30), almost all the campsites have been reserved. The facilities are so nice it’s almost not really camping: the RV sites ($26/night) have full water, electric, and sewage hookups, and the tent areas ($18/night) have grills and communal gazebo areas with picnic tables. Covered restrooms, a play and activity area, and full laundry facilities are close by. If a few families want to book a group site they can do so through the visitor’s center, but all other reservations are handled through the national parks network at www.reserveamerica.com.
Not only are the camping and hiking great, but some of the trails have been opened for equestrians this season. The horse trails cover most of the Sundance, Talon, North Talon, and South Talon trails, which give riders almost seven miles that cover most of the southern areas of the park. There is even a special parking area for equestrians to load and unload their horses, and with rules asking riders to remove manure, to stay on the trails, and to keep their horses at a walk, hikers will face little inconvenience on these trails.
Many people might be surprised to know that Cheyenne Mountain State Park has an archery range. Not only is there a static range, but archers can now enjoy the newly opened field range, which gives archers the opportunity to practice in a hunting-like environment with lifelike animal targets. Lessons are available at different skill levels for both women and men.
The visitors’ center is warm and welcoming, especially on a misty, foggy day in May, when the weather should be nicer. Visitors to the center will find a knowledgeable friendly staff who will not only assist with the very-affordable $7 day pass, but can also help with other things like family activities, programs, trail guides, souvenirs, and essential camping items. The center also houses a few surprises, like Chance the bull snake. She’s beautiful, and since bull snakes aren’t poisonous, she is used to educate nature lovers about the local snake population. She seemed eager for some company when I visited her terrarium.
All the other animals in the center are preserved, but patrons can see beautiful displays featuring wild turkeys, fox, bobcat, and other local fauna, with stations where kids can learn about Colorado’s wildlife. The center even has free family fun packs, a backpack filled with great activities. Kids can take the binoculars, bug boxes, magnifying glass, and field guides out with their parents to the hiking trails, and journal what they find as they explore the foothills and enjoy some of the best views along the front range.
The Park has a pretty interesting history, too, dating back to when Native Americans called the area home. In 1880, a man named John Lytle grazed cattle there until he parceled it out to Lida Touzalin, who owned most of the land until 1937. The Jones family negotiated a land swap with the Touzalins to form the JL Ranch, which occupied the space until 1963 when NORAD forced Jones to move. In 1979 the ranch was sold to a foreign investor, and the state of Colorado purchased the land in 2000. It was opened to the public as Cheyenne Mountain State Park in 2006. If you go, check out the historical timeline in the activity center, found at the camping Entry Fee Station, just at the top of the hill past the Visitors’ Center.
What makes this park worth visiting are not only the spectacular views and tranquil camping and wilderness areas, but also the many and diverse programs the park offers. From yoga in the park to Wildflower Wednesday hikes, birding hikes, geocaching, Junior Ranger Wildlife Encounters, Meet a Naturalist and Ranger, archery classes of all levels, fire safety courses, Big Cat Encounters, Literary Walks in the Woods, and featured artists in their gallery, there is something for every taste and ability level. Most programs are free. Find out more at www.cpw.state.co.us.
So, really, there is no excuse not to visit Cheyenne Mountain State Park. It’s close by, it’s beautiful, and it’s a fun way to spend the day. Take Highway 115 south to JL Ranch Heights Road, opposite Gate 1 to Fort Carson and turn west to the park entrance. Normal State Park fees apply, but the cost is so reasonable, it’s really worth it. I’m planning on going back when the weather is a little nicer. I look forward to trying out some of those great trails. Learn more at http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/CheyenneMountain/Pages/default.aspx