When I first started posting trail reviews I was really excited to write about Red Rocks Canyon Open Space…but then it was closed for an unannounced period due to flooding damage. I was worried it would turn into a Williams Canyon closed-for-years situation, but then it reopened on the 4th of July weekend! Thrilled, we checked it out that Monday to make sure things were as I remembered. In all the important ways (fossils, fun easy trails) it was. It was also exceptionally crowded for a Monday-that-was-threatenting-to-storm. Given its closure, this expect this one to be crowded for a few more weeks as people celebrate its reopening.
Pros: The elaborate trail system allows you to make a hike of any possible length. It’s popular and accessible, so this is a great weekday hike you can feel confident doing alone with your little ones. It’s as beautiful as Garden of the Gods, but much more rugged–while the trails are easy for all levels, you won’t find the pavement or dense crowds you’ll find at Garden of the Gods. As an added bonus, on the western edge of the park you can find fossils in the sandstone–giant ammonites as well as clams/mussels. A total treat for budding geologists!
Cons: Along with the published trails, there are also a number of social trails, which can make staying on your intended route difficult. The good news is that it’s a not a huge park and the social trails eventually lead back to a main established trail. This park is also popular with mountain bikers, so you may find yourself stepping off the trail quite a few times on a busy day. Finally, there is not much in the way of shade, so if you take your sea level visitors on a four mile hike in the middle of a July afternoon, force plenty of water down them. They’re bound to underestimate the amount they will need! (I’m looking at you, Kelly May!)
Difficulty/distance: A dense network of easy trails great for young families.
Directions: There are two parking lots for the park. The one on the western side is the less formal parking lot, but is the closest to the fossils. If you want to look at fossils without actually walking, this is the one for you. The more obvious parking lot is farther east. For both, take Highway 24 west toward Manitou Springs. For the western parking lot, take a left on 31st street. The parking lot will be on your right. For the main parking lot, stay on Highway 24 past 31st street and take a left onto Ridge Road. The park is visible from Highway 24.
- Fossils! Along the western side of the Hogback Valley trail you’ll find sandstone that houses ammonite and clam/mussel fossils. If you go off trail and climb to the top and then down the back side you’ll find many. If you don’t fancy that much scrambling (and the feeling of being Off Trail and therefore Naughty), there are some very accessible ones if you follow the trail to the western parking lot as it branches off the Hogback Valley Trail. You only have to go off trail a few feet. This is the view from the trail:
It is located about halfway between the two round holes in the rock (which probably have an actual name but ’round holes’ it is) just above kid eye level.
Mussels and/or clams near the ammonite:
- The history of the park from ColoradoSprings.gov which includes information on the old quarry in the park:”Activity on Red Rock Canyon dates back to 7000 B.C., during the Archaic Stage. Due to its close proximity to Fountain Creek and its abundant wildlife, this was an ideal location for settlement.During the late 1800s the property provided many building supplies for Old Colorado City and the surrounding communities. Material taken from the quarries included Gypsum, building sand and sandstone blocks. The Kenmuir Quarry, mined during this time, was open seven days a week due to demand. Declining demand for stone and increased demand for concrete and steel, forced the quarry to close in the early part of the 20th Century.
Opening in 1886, the Colorado-Philadelphia Company Mill used the land to refine the ore shipped by train from the gold mines in Cripple Creek. It was the largest mill of its kind in the United States, until the new Golden Cycle Mill was built in the early part of the 1900s.
John George Bock purchased the property in the 1920s-1930s and later willed it to his two sons. John S. Bock, the eldest son, continued to live there until his death in 2002. The family had grand plans for the property including a resort community with convention center, high-rise towers, commercial centers and a golf course. In the end, they were only able to build a few residences and outbuildings, two dozen mobile home sites, a 53-acre landfill, and two gravel quarries. In 2003, the City of Colorado Springs purchased the Red Rock Canyon property to be used as public open space.”
- Lots of opportunities to talk about the different rock formations exposed here. We took this walk just a few days after the Dinosaur Ridge and Triceratops Trail walks, and so I was able to point out to the kids that these were the same formations we saw up in Golden. Here’s a link to a map detailing the different formation and their period.
- The recent flood damage is a great illustrator to kids of how powerful water is at carving landscapes and eroding away rock.
Eeek! My littles got big!
The old quarry:
Photos on July 6 2015 after the park reopened of some of the flood damage:
Are you participating in The Book of Proverbs – One Chapter A Day online bible study at womenlivingwell.org? This is my first time participating in an online bible study and I’m really enjoying it. It just started Monday, so it’s not too late to join in! I did get the journal, but it wasn’t what I’d expected–it’s just the same thing over and over again (the various chapters aren’t included [I always enjoy comparing the wording of other bible editions with my own, but this just includes a single verse from the chapter opposite each journaling page with no additional commentary), so if you already have a journal for bible study you’re better off using it–you can just write using the SOAK method (explained on the website) on each page.
I have a tendency to practice daily bible study only during Lent and Advent and let it slip the rest of the year, so it’s been nice to incorporate bible study into my morning routine in ordinary time. I’m looking forward to the various guests posts on Women Living Well and hearing different takes on Proverbs!
I finished the binding on this Joel Dewberry fabric modern crosses quilt last week. I used some wool batting that I won for it, and I was very excited to see how it would wash up–I’ve heard so many great things about wool batting! I was surprised that it shrank less than my usual cotton batt, so it ended up crinkling up a little less than usual.
The back is simple patchwork with the leftover fabric:
For the construction, I improvised by starting with 8″ squares, slashing them and adding strips of contrasting fabric, sewing them together again, rotating them 90 degrees, and then slashing and inserting the contrasting fabric again. Then they were squared up to 8″ again. It’s a more time consuming quilt block than I expected, so be aware of that if you pick this as a “quick block!”
Mt Herman is a great ‘cheat’ of a hike, since you get to drive most of the way to the summit before finishing off the final mile yourself. We went last year before the shooting in the area was closed, and I am excited to go back now that it isn’t accompanied by the sound of constant gunfire!
Pros: The reward from this hike are the 360 degree views at the top of Mt Herman. It’s a quick, pretty hike worth a visit.
Cons: When we went, sharing the hike with target practice was a definite bummer, but that’s gone now. The trailhead only has room for a couple of cars, so this has the potential to be a problem on a busy day.
Difficulty/distance: 2.3 miles, a good beginning hike for families. There are some steep sections, but it is roughly comparable to Mt Cutler, my favorite beginning hike.
Directions: Per the forest service: ‘From Monument, travel west on 2nd Street. Just past the railroad tracks, 2nd St. dead ends at a T. Turn left (south) on Mitchell Rd. Travel approximately 1/2 mile to Mt. Herman Rd. Turn right (west) on Mt. Herman Rd and travel for approximately 7 miles beyond the paved portion of road. The trailhead is a wide turnout on the right side of Mt. Herman Rd.”
- Portions of the area were damaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire, so it’s an excellent opportunity to talk about wild fire and regrowth.
- At the top you have a great view of the area, so you can talk about the location of various landmarks/towns the kids know.
- You can see the mesas in the Larkspur/Palmer Lake areas. (Mesas get their name from Spanish explorers in the mid-1500s who thought the formations in the American southwest resembled tables (“mesa” in Spanish). “Butte” and “mesa” describe similar shapes, but mesas are larger than buttes. Mesas have a hard layer of rock at the top (“cap rock”)–often cooled lava–that resists the type erosion that is caused by the hard sudden rainstorms that occur in the American southwest. The top layer of igneous rock resists erosion, but the softer sedimentary rock around the igneous rock is eroded away. This creates the steep sides of the mesa–anything not directly under that tough igneous rock gets washed away in rainstorms.)
Will didn’t bring his coat, which we discovered at the summit when it began to snow. We had an extra coat for Ellie at the bottom of the daypack that I’d forgotten to remove, so Will wore The Coat of Shame for the descent.
Zapata Falls is a great adventure on your way to or from Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is a tiny hike, at just 0.5 miles to the falls or 1 mile roundtrip with minimal elevation gain. What makes it notable is the adventure you will have getting to the falls. While in late summer crossing over the creek to the falls is reported to be not difficult, in May (when we like to visit the sand dunes), you’ll need to walk through ice cold water and walk on ice to see the frozen falls. It’s tricky, and carries some risk, but we really enjoy seeing the frozen falls. The first year we wore Keen sandals and brought along a towel and thick warm socks for after. The second year I wore hiking boots and to keep out of anything deeper than ankle high water–the one time I went in over my boot, it was so fast (and my socks so successfully woolen) that I didn’t have wet feet–win! Ellie has been carried in to the falls each time, but Will walked with us. It is COLD water, so if your kids are prone to be upset by cold feet, skip this one unless you’re visiting later in the summer when the falls aren’t frozen and the creek is warmer.
I always have the wrong lens with me to capture the falls (they are around a bend in a tight steep canyon, so you are very close to them when you finally see them), but I’ve shared the photos I do have, such as they are.
Pros: This is a big adventure hike in the late spring, with a big reward of a ‘hidden’ frozen waterfall.
Cons: In the spring getting to the falls requires walking on ice and quite possibly getting your feet wet. As such it carries more risk than other hikes–slippery rocks, ice that could break, etc. It’s loud at the falls themselves, which can be overwhelming to kiddos. The forest service road to the trailhead is also very rough and you’ll spend a few miles on it.
Distance/difficulty: 1 mile round trip, easy were it not for the ice/cold water.
Nic is looking away from the canyon with the falls, back toward the trail area.
This is a popular destination, so you’ll see many other people going to look at the falls.
Painted Rocks Campground is only an hour from Colorado Springs and a total gem of a campground with both reservable and first-come-first-serve campsites. We stayed here on an informal group trip with our Cub Scout den and the campground was a big hit. We’ll be back.
Pros: Painted Rocks is convenient while still feeling remote and beautiful. The Woodland Park Walmart is less than 15 minutes away if you’ve forgotten toiletries, and home is only an hour away if you’ve forgotten…say…to pack your tent. (That second one may or may not have actually happened to us on this trip.) The rock formations within the campground are beautiful and a blast for the kids to play on. It’s like camping in Garden of the Gods, but you’re able to play on the rocks! The sites are beautifully spaced so that everyone can enjoy the outdoors without feeling on top of one another.
Cons: It’s a standard Forest Service campground, so there are no showers, sinks, or flushing toilets. It’s also close enough to the highway that I could hear the road noise at night. And finally, while we were there a bear was spotted each day close to the campground and the Department of Wildlife was actively tracking him/her with the intent of shooting it with plastic bullets to discourage it from coming around the campground. (I would make a terrible Dept of Wildlife employee. Looking at a bear, shooting it with non-lethal bullets would not be my plan. I’m pretty sure I’d just hand over my wallet and promise to drive it to Safeway if we could all agree to Just Keep Playing Nice.) The maddening part of the whole thing was that there was a bear within sight of the campground…but no bear boxes. Le sigh. (We stored all food/toiletries/clothing we’d either fished in or had stuff frenched toast cream cheese exploded onto [more on that in a later post] in the car. Ellie normally smells delicious, but the minute she goes camping she starts behaving like a baby elephant and throwing dirt all over herself, so I felt pretty confident not storing her in the car.)
Facilities: Vault toilets, water spigots, and fire grates and picnic tables at each site. (No specific tent pads, but a general tentish area was discernible at the sites we saw.)
Campsite recommendations: We were at site 15, which had great shade and a fun little hill to put our tent on (and two trees perfect for my hammock). It has a rock formation off its backside that is a little bit obscured by the hill/trees. Site 13 has no shade but is a dream for kids–a great rock formation for playing is at the back of the site (pictured above). One of the families from the den was staying there and left the campout early. Within five minutes another family had scooted on over to claim it. If it’s not too hot, this site is the winner in my opinion! Site 16 also a small rock formation of its own with the added bonus of a small amount of shade, but it is closer to the road and a bit smaller than site 13. As Nic pointed out, though, there were really no bad campsites at this campground. The ones on the southeastern loop have more rock formation visibility/access and the ones on the northwestern side have more shade, but the sites are spaced far apart and you could find something nice about any of them.
- Fishing at Manitou Lake (the $6 admission fee is waived due to your campsite fee), which has absolutely beautiful views back toward Pikes Peak
- Centennial Trail – a paved easy bike path that runs from Woodland Park to Manitou Lake (and would be easy to ride to from the campsite)
- From the entrance off the highway to the Red Rocks Group campground you can access a short walk (about half a mile round-trip) to even larger rock formations that have many nooks, crannies, and pass-throughs to explore. (You take the exit off Highway 67 for the Red Rocks Group campground, then stay straight [not going into the actual campground area], park at the gap in the fence, and follow the trail/powerlines to the sandstone formations). You’ll notice a large formation and then a second large formation. The second large formation has the ‘secret room’ that we heard about from our campground host, but the real treat was passing through the gap between the first and second formations and then climbing back behind the second formation. Lots of good exploring in that area of that second rock formation!
- On the drive home we stopped at the Donut Mill in Woodland Park for giant donuts and ice cream.
The formation at the back of site 13 was a great playing spot for the kids.
(I found that awesome striped table cloth the morning we left for the camping trip at a garage sale for $0.25. I was pretty pleased with myself.)
I put up this hammock (using these straps) for the first time and I am totally in love with it (affiliate links). It is such a great spot to hang out at camp, whether you lay in it or sit “sofa style.” When we got home I immediately hung it up outside in our yard. My new favorite time is hammock-o-clock.
The formation next to our site.
The kids always learn so much while we’re camping. Here Nic and Will were discussing length versus area and why feet versus square feet are such different units of measure.
The larger rock formations by the Red Rocks group campground were a blast to explore!
Ellie does so well keeping up with the cub scouts!
The kids were soooooo excited to go fishing for the first time.
Manitou Lake is a beautiful spot to fish!
Luckily John caught a fish so we had a ‘win’ for our two trips to the lake!
A qucik stop at The Donut Mill in Woodland Park on our way home for some big-as-Ellie’s-head donuts.