ROAM A WILD ESCAPE
3650 Maizeland Road
This vast playground on the north side demonstrates the true greatness of Colorado Springs, where an escape into deep nature is easy. It is strange and marvelous to look out at urban sprawl while perched on some high rock ledge, surrounded by rugged wilderness. Surely, the park would make its namesake proud: City founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer wanted tourists to have easy access to beauty.
More than anywhere in the city, this place might afford the single best views of Pikes Peak in all its stately glory. Start at the Yucca Flats parking lot, smack-dab in a meadow with panoramas of the hazy blue mountain range. Get on the Templeton Trail, a loop of about 4 miles that is treasured by mountain bikers near and far. The path is a thrill ride, sandy and rocky with chutes to soar down. Bizarre hoodoos rising along the trail are a particular treat. Don't feel bad about losing the trail; it disappears at times in boulder patches. Then it reappears. It's another thing that makes Palmer Park awesome: It's easy to get lost and found again.
WOW YOUR VISITORS
NORTH CHEYENNE CAÑON PARK
Main entrance at 2120 S. Cheyenne Canyon Road, 385-6086, cheyennecanon.org
Colorado Springs visitors are rightfully curious to experience these great outdoors. So if you're new to town - like I was in 2016 - you may find yourself contemplating where to take friends and family. Probably, Garden of the Gods comes to mind first. But I've found this regional park to be perfect.
The drive itself is wondrous, whether coming from the main park entrance and rising into canyon walls and pine forests or from the high Gold Camp Road through tunnels and breathtaking passenger-window views. But it's the variety within North Cheyenne Cañon Park that makes it ideal. The trails up Mount Cutler and Mount Muscoco are relatively short, moderate in difficulty and beautiful. Head to St. Mary's Falls for a longer and wilder excursion. The Upper Columbine Trail lies in the middle in terms of distance and difficulty, and it will similarly inspire awe in your visitors. On the way out, treat them to the famed converted schoolhouse that houses Bristol Brewing Co.
MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT RECYCLERS
1024 S. Tejon St., 210-6427, merecyclers.com
The downtown consignment store announced some changes at the beginning of the year, with a Denver-based nonprofit buying it and a local group committed to getting kids on bikes partnering in the operation. But business promises to be business as usual. And that means people getting cheap, quality adventure necessities while the community benefits. Mountain Equipment Recyclers rents and sells discounted used and new gear while sending a portion of proceeds to local nonprofits and outdoor advocates. If what you're looking for isn't in stock, staffers won't hesitate to tell you where else to go.
Amid the changes, founder Mike Mazzola will remain full-time CEO, and he's the kind of guy you want to root for. Last year, he started Team MER, bringing together explorers who use the outdoors to confront challenges. He has been seen flipping burgers and handing out chips and cookies to customers on regular special clearance days.
BEHOLD A UNIQUE SIGHT
THE PAINT MINES
29950 Paint Mine Road, Calhan, 520-7529
The legends are true. All that local murmur about a place that suddenly warps into a multicolored dimension is real. The Paint Mines is a designated archaeological district and interpretive park in El Paso County's windy eastern plains, just outside Calhan. It's a 750-acre dreamscape worthy of the hour's drive out.
Greens, whites, pinks, purples, yellows and oranges blend in this geological delight of clay and sand, with grasslands rolling endlessly above gullies that weave around hoodoos and rock spires. Exploring the park's 4 miles of trail is like stepping into some ancient civilization; artifacts of humans dating 9,000 years back have been found by researchers who flock here.
The kids will love it. You'll feel like a kid yourself.
GET ON A TRAIL THAT RULES
The 5.5-mile loop through the high Pike National Forest west of town is a beloved gem among hikers and mountain bikers, and for good reason. Timber steps begin at a Gold Camp Road pull-off, leading to a red, rocky path with far vistas of Garden of the Gods.
The trail bends steeply upward through the woods - a challenge that will get the legs burning and the heart pounding. The reward is a ridge offering epic views: immense, green hills rolling endlessly. Continue into the solitude of the forest, following a track that winds splendidly for bikers. On a hot day, stop to cool off at the waterfall.
For the most part, you can count on being alone at peace or with your own group. It's what makes Section 16 a preferred option over trails like, say, the packed Manitou Incline or Barr Trail.
DON'T TAKE FOR GRANTED
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
410 JL Ranch Heights Road, 576-2016, cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/CheyenneMountain
For a town that hosts a state park, there's not much talk about it. Sure, there's plenty of outdoor recreation to feast upon locally for free. But take a day to pay admission - or take advantage of free holidays - and enjoy this place deserving of protection. It's no wonder it was established in 2006, what with its rare plains-to-peaks geography.
The 9,564-foot Cheyenne Mountain overlooks meadows with paths braiding to the foothills covered in Gambel oak and ponderosa pine. The park has extended a challenge this year to complete all 18 of its mostly mixed-use, mostly moderate trails amounting to roughly 21 miles. Some are more stellar than others, but solitude is guaranteed with a strong chance for discovery. Stick around at the campground.