Hike Pikes Peak: Barr Trail
Explore one of the popular 14er hikes near Denver: Pikes Peak
August 18, 2016
Pikes Peak is a popular destination for travelers exploring the Colorado Springs area. At 14,110 feet, Pikes Peak rises dramatically over the eastern plains of Colorado. Pikes Peak shares the distinction of being one of more than 50 14ers in Colorado. With a cog railroad, toll road and hiking trail access to the summit, Pikes Peak also offers diverse ways to enjoy reaching the mountain's heights. When choosing to hike Pikes Peak there are several different trails you can take making this one of the best mountains to climb.
On Highway 24, Manitou Springs is about seven miles west of Colorado Springs. The Visitor Bureau on Manitou Avenue provides helpful orientation to food and recreation opportunities in the surrounding area. A few blocks west of the bureau is a roundabout that leads to Ruxton Avenue, where both the cog railroad and Barr Trail begin a half-mile up Ruxton Creek near an old hydroelectric power plant.
While the Pikes Peak Highway — a toll road a few miles west of Manitou Springs — is the quickest way to the summit, I chose to hike Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail. The hike is about 20 miles out and back, with 7,500 feet of elevation gain. The ascent takes about seven hours, with another five hours of hiking required to return to the trailhead. Since afternoon thunderstorms are common at the summit of Pikes Peak, most hikers begin the trek at sunrise.
Before I began my ascent of Pikes Peak, I prepared my daypack for a full day of hiking. My essential gear list included a rain jacket, two headlamps, water filter, hiking food, two liter bottles of water, map, notebook, GPS, cell phone, sunglasses, reading glasses, pocket knife, a few adhesive bandages and a fire starter.
The Barr Trail begins as a wide, smooth gravel path with many switchbacks as it climbs gently out of town. The low shrubs that line the well-traveled trail allow an overview of the eastern plains and the red rock formations at Garden of the Gods. A few miles above the trailhead, a dense forest of lodgepole, fir and spruce embrace the trail and provide shade for a wide variety of montane wildflowers.
Halfway up the mountain, at 10,240 feet, I rested after three hours of hiking. Since my two liter bottles of water were empty, I filtered water from a stream beside the trail and took a lunch break. Once I was back on the trail, I saw a long, gradual slope leading to tree line, then 2,000 vertical feet of pink boulder fields below the summit of Pikes Peak.
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As I approached treeline, dark clouds began to fill the early afternoon sky. I passed an A-frame storm shelter that was constructed to offer sanctuary to hikers caught by darkness or surprise changes in the weather. Nearby, a bronze plate is dedicated to a local hiker who was 88 years old. On her 14th hike to the summit, she fell off the trail in the dark and died during her descent of Pikes Peak.
I continued hiking upward through switchbacks on an easy grade through the boulder fields until the Barr Trail crossed the path of the cog railway at the summit of Pikes Peak. Beside the track, the foundation of a visitor lodge built in 1873 remains intact, across from a modern restaurant.
I was grateful for the shelter at the summit of this 14er, since the afternoon sky was soon filled with brilliant spears of lightning as storm alarms sounded around the visitor deck.
I waited for the dark clouds to dissipate, then descended at a jogging pace to tree line and reached the trailhead soon after sunset.
Originally published in the August 18, 2016, issue of the Summit Daily News and regularly vetted for accuracy.
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