Pikes Peak area home to dining, hiking and Florissant fossil sightings | SummitDaily.com

Pikes Peak area home to dining, hiking and Florissant fossil sightings

Kim Fenske
Special to the Daily

Among the many visitor attractions in the area surrounding Pikes Peak, I enjoy stopping in Woodland Park for dinner after a full day of outdoor adventures. Fourteen miles west of Manitou Springs, Woodland Park has a prolific offering of more than 40 convenient restaurants lining Highway 24. While I am a fan of ethnic restaurants, including Serrano's Mexican Bar and Grill and Fortune Dragon Chinese Restaurant, visitors can also choose more domestic fare at the Hungry Bear Restaurant, Bierwerks Brewery or Grandmother's Kitchen.

Passing through Woodland Park, I also like the breathtaking views of Pikes Peak rising into the clouds south of town.

Camping at Pikes

Two great, developed campgrounds are located within an hour's drive of Pikes Peak. Mueller State Park is located west of Woodland Park, a few miles south of the town of Divide on Highway 67. Mueller State Park campground is high on a ridge with spectacular views of Pikes Peak. Offering 110 electrical hook-up campsites for $22 per night (plus a $7 daily park pass) with a dump station and a group RV campsite, Mueller provides for the needs of diverse travelers. You'll find 55 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. For gambling enthusiasts, Cripple Creek Casinos are about 10 miles south of the park.

Another nearby developed campground is Eleven-Mile State Park, located ten miles south of Lake George. The park lies on the shoreline of the 3,400-acre Eleven-Mile Reservoir, with opportunities to fish for trout, kokanee salmon and northern pike. There are 348 campsites with access to hot showers, flush toilets and laundry facilities during the summer season, from the first of May to the end of September. There are motorhome sites with capacity for forty-footers, along with 46 electric sites for $20 per night and 205 non-electric pads for $16 per night.

Florissant fossil beds

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Mid-way between these two Colorado state parks is the sparsely visited Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Located three miles south of Florissant on Highway 1, the national monument preserves the site of volcanic mud flows that fossilized ancient redwood trees and lake-bottom invertebrates 34 million years ago. During more than a century of excavation, the area has provided more than 50,000 fossil specimens for museums.

There are more than 14 miles of hiking trails that loop through petrified forested prairies and hills covered in Ponderosa pines, with views of Pikes Peak rising above the hills east of the park. The largest exposed redwood stump on the Petrified Forest Loop is 38 feet in circumference.

North of the Visitor Center, the Hornbek Wildlife Loop leads across the prairie to the cabin where Adeline Hornbek, a widow, brought her children to homestead a 160-acre farm in 1878.

From the stunning views of an iconic 14er to the petrified fossil beds of an old homesteading town, the Colorado High Country and neighboring plains offer many beautiful experiences.

Kim Fenske is a former wilderness ranger and the author of "Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness Area," and "Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties," available from Amazon Kindle books.