What this trail is missing in elevation gain and shade and water it makes up for in history. We spent a day in Cripple Creek last summer visiting the Vindicator Valley Trail and exploring some of the area and we will definitely be back. This would be a great weekend trip so you can fit everything in!
Pros: The route is short, the hills are minimal, it’s a loop trail (versus an out-and-back) and the old mines are great to see. I was surprised by how deserted the trail was, although the approaching rain may have had something to do with it!
Cons: The youngest hikers will find the mines repetitive after one or two, and there is no shade to be found on this trail, so it could be a rough one on a hot summer afternoon! Keep the elevation in mind as you prepare–you’ll need more sunscreen than you’re used to even in Colorado Springs. A section of the trail was closed while we were there due to over-saturated ground. (Remember how wet last summer was?!)
Distance/Difficulty: This is an easy two mile walk with some easy uphills. The biggest difficulty is in the elevation–an almost flat walk at almost 10,000 ft isn’t the same as one at 5,000!
Directions: From Divide, take C)-67 south through Cripple Creek to Victor. In Victor turn onto Fourth Street and drive 1 block before turning right onto Diamond Avenue (CR 81). In 1.7 miles the trailhead is on the left. (If you would like to start at the upper trailhead, it is off CR 831).
- There are signs along the walk to help explain what you’re seeing. Gotta love good signs!
- The trail begins at the Theresa Mine, which you will see from CR 81 as you drive in. Although the mine opened in 1895, the metal structure you see was built in 1934 after a fire destroyed the original wooden structure. It operated from 1895 to 1961 (with a break from 1915-1930 when low gold prices forced its closure). The main shaft of the mine is 1,620ft deep, and it produced an estimated $196 million in gold (at today’s gold pricing), or 7,500lbs of gold. Also interesting is the fact that beginning in the 1980s the mine’s waste dump rock was removed and processed by modern methods to even more gold from the mine. There may be less gold in the remaining rock, but we have better methods of getting at it!
- See the recommended excursions below–lots of learning opportunities in this area!
- The American Eagles Mine Scenic Overlook is a total must stop, even if you don’t a full tour of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine (it was such a great place to even just see from the outside that we’re definitely doing the tour this year)! I was completely wowed by the scale of the operation. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be a little boy and see it!
- The Cripple Creek Heritage Center is another amazing (and free–thanks, casino money!) stop on your way in. We stopped in on a whim, and ended up spending more than an hour there, and we were in a hurry to get to lunch!
- If I had it to do again, I would have planned a weekend trip with camping nearby. You could visit the Heritage Center, American Eagles Mine overlook, Cripple Creek Gold Mine guided tour,Vindicator Valley Trail, and Molly Kathleen tour.
- We had lunch in Victor at a little “soda fountain” that had decent burgers, but was cuter on the outside than the inside. There are not very many choices for lunch in Victor.
(Bottom three pictures from the American Eagles Mine scenic overlook.)
For our family this hike was part of our first backpacking excursion. It is well known as being a side excursion to the longer and harder Pancake Rocks hike, but for a young family it’s a great hike on its own. While there are some nice steady grades for little legs, there is also a flat section in the middle for them to catch their breath.
Pros: You’ll enjoy shade for most of the hike. It’s not difficult and would make a good introductory hike for young kids.
Cons: This is a popular hike, so it may be crowded. I was also a little spooked by several marking trees next to the falls, but given the number of visitors to the falls it’s hard to imagine you’d actually see a bear during the day. It was just enough to make me 100% sure our backpacking spot would NOT be near the falls!
Distance/Difficulty: This is a nice family hike–the mileage and elevation are very manageable for new hikers at 2.6 miles and 655ft.
Directions: This hike couldn’t be easier to find. Take US24 to Divide, then take US67 south for 9.3 miles. You’ll find the trailhead easily around a bend in the road, as it is notable for its large parking area next to an old tunnel.
- Bear marking trees. I spotted several trees that a bear had recently shredded (you can see in the pictures all of the fresh pieces of bark next to the tree). The trees are a good opportunity to talk about bears and spotting signs of wildlife even when you can’t see the wildlife, but also a good chance to talk about safety.
- Water as a method of transport. When we were hiking, there were plenty of branches and logs clogged up in the creek. You can talk about how all sorts of things are brought along by rivers–rocks, leaves, branches, mud…and how they are deposited when the water slows down.
- Area history-the hike takes you along the outskirts of Horsethief Park. The guidebooks make vague references to Horsethief Park’s “colorful history,” and a few blog posts explain that the park received its name from the thieves who lived there and stole from the gold camp travelers. From Pancake Rocks you can look out to see the giant American Eagles Mine and talk about the history of mining in Cripple Creek. US-67 runs along the old railroad bed that ran to Cripple Creek. According to Roadside Geology of Colorado, Cripple Creek produced $450 million in gold and silver from 1891-1942.
I wear scrubs six out of every seven days. Six days a week I wear scrubs and then on Tuesdays my jeans and I have a talk about how my current lifestyle is not without consequences.
I launder my scrubs separately from regular clothing because my nursing school whites require a serious amount of bleach for me to not just burn them at the end of every day, and my burgundy scrubs are covered in baby cooties.
My current method for keeping my scrubs separate from the rest of the laundry has been leaving them on a pile on the floor until I run out of whatever color fits my health care role of the day. Nic hasn’t been super thrilled about that method of laundry storage. Enter my new dedicated scrubs laundry bag! A perfect 15 minute solution in a Sarah Jane border print I love. It’s not fancy, but it is finished!
The hike begins after a nice climb up from the parking lot on an old wagon road through relatively flat Horsethief Park. Unfortunately you are on the less attractive side of the park (although the shade from the trees is nice)–the creek and beaver dens are all on the left. The Ring the Peak Trail runs left off this trail and offers the prettier view of the park, but this trail stays in the trees. At 0.7 miles there is a large difficult-to-miss sign pointing out the junction between the trails to Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks. Adults and older kids could easily do both in a day, but my recommendation for young elementary schoolers would be to keep the two hikes separate, or at the very least, do Pancake Rocks first and if after that the kids were up to seeing Horsethief Falls on the way out, great. At this point in the hike, things get real. You’ll gain 800ft of elevation over the next mile of switchbacks through the trees. At the top there’s a great spot for a rest (unless you’re trying to beat a thunderstorm like we were)! There is a fire spot and enough level area for a great backpacking site, however it is a long hike down to the water. There is a nice flat section before you drop down (argh) and then up again (double argh).
Pros: This was a great hike to put my little hikers to the test! It was not very crowded once you get onto the Pancake Rock section, had nice variety, and the namesake rocks a the end of the hike were a nice pay-off.
Cons: I like my hikes to be predictable. I like my ups to go up and my downs to go down. This one is emotionally trickier–there’s a significant little descent on your way up (elevation you then have to gain back). There is also very little water along the hike.
Distance/Difficulty: This is the most challenging hike we’ve done as a family. At 6.4 miles and 1400ft elevation gain at 10,000ft, you are going to be trying to suck down some oxygen and wondering where it is! We’d prepped the kids that this would be a challenge, but three quarters of the way up the steep switchback section, as I was huffing and puffing, Ellie piped up with “when’s the hard part going to be?” I think what made it such a success in spite of her tiny legs is that she’d been hiking all season with a camelback full of water, but we’d left that at our campsite to lighten her load for this longer/harder hike. It was a very successful strategy!
Directions: This hike couldn’t be easier to find. Take US24 to Divide, then take US67 south for 9.3 miles. You’ll find the trailhead easily around a bend in the road, at it is notable for its large parking area next to an old tunnel.
- Pancake rock formation–for all of my books and internet research, I actually couldn’t find a good explanation of how the granite pancake rocks formed. There are explanations online about limestone pancake rock formations, but the internet geology buffs go silent when it comes to granite pancake rock formations. So have the kids use what they know about geological forces to make guesses.
- Area history-the guidebooks make vague references to Horsethief Park’s “colorful history,” and a few blog posts explain that the park received its name from the thieves who lived there and stole from the gold camp travelers. From Pancake Rocks you can look out to see the giant American Eagles Mine and talk about the history of mining in Cripple Creek. US-67 runs along the old railroad bed that ran to Cripple Creek. According to Roadside Geology of Colorado, Cripple Creek produced $450 million in gold and silver from 1891-1942.
This series shows pictures from the beginning of the hike, starting with the old tunnel and trailhead and ending with the trail junction that marks the start of the switchbacks.
Up the switchbacks to a little campsite at a great overlook spot before a nice flat section and then a steep descent before your final ascent to the pancake rocks. This area of the trail had some summer snow for snowballs!
The pancake rocks themselves and view toward the American Eagle Mine (the brown hillsides on the horizon).
Further Reading: Great pictures from a late season hike on this blog and a thorough trail review here. If you’re interested in adding on Horsethief Falls to this hike, here is my post on Horsethief Falls.
Here are a few of my nursing school/CNA must haves:
- Stethoscope name tag – the etsy store is on vacation right now but she needs to hurry back! I need a new one on my adult sized stethoscope! Standard name tags are really hard to read, but if you toss this around your neck or use one of the badge reels, patients can easily see your name. (I have a badge reel for work that I love! I went through several cheaper badge reels but whatever she uses as a base is sturdy enough to handle the 18 million times a day at work that I pull out my badge to open a door!)
- Nurse cards – These are a great resource with lab values and signs/symptoms. Great for a study resource or to help you out if your brain suddenly goes blank!
- Myndology index cards – I have never been a huge fan of index cards, but I love these little pocket cards. I stick them in my pockets at work and clinicals and when I have a spare second I quiz myself.
- Pocket organizer. I have two–one for work, and one for clinicals. The one for work lives in my locker, the one for clinicals lives in my clinicals bag. Inside my work pocket organizer I keep a multi colored pen, a black pen, highlighter, sharpie, scissors, and a white board marker. Inside my clinicals organizer I keep
- Multi colored pen
- Scissors and pen light (came with the organizer)
- Alcohol wipes
- A small tube of essential oils (I like Bergamont for when I feel like I smell like the poop I’ve been cleaning up all day. I prefer the non FCF version, but it looks like they don’t carry it anymore)
- Cash + my ID/debit card (I have to remember to move these two things back and forth between my purse and the organizer. I am successful approximately 40% of the time.)
Hey! Look what I found in my drafts folder! A post almost all ready to go about our first backpacking trip–I finished it up and here it is!
Last month we backpacked for the first time as a family. I am so excited for the flexibility this offers in terms of planning. Great campsites need to be reserved 6+ months in advance, and with my schedule at the hospital changing from week to week and often unavailable to me until two weeks prior to the dates in question, this is a risky move at best. Backpacking also allows us flexibility in weather–you can go where the forecast is best!
For our first trip we chose the Horsethief Park area (located between Divide and Cripple Creek). We were looking to hike about 2 miles to test Will’s ability with his pack. We ended up hiking up to Horsethief Falls, then back to the Ring the Peak trail junction, which we then followed for about a third of a mile before finding an established campsite with a fire ring and flat area for a tent. Our backtracking meant that we were really only a mile from the car, which allowed us a nice low commitment way to gear test! We hiked to Pancake Rocks the next morning before packing up and heading out.
Nic didn’t want to go on this trip because the forecast was for thunderstorms on both Saturday and Sunday. I argued that if we waited for a summer weekend without thunderstorms, we’d never go camping. We had our camp set up before the storms rolled through Saturday evening, so we retreated to the tent for about an hour, and it worked out just as I’d expected. What I hadn’t thought about was how it would go if you had to pack everything up in the rain. Sunday we hiked up to Pancake Rocks. It started raining when we reached the top, and didn’t stop for the rest of the hike. Everything not covered by our raincoats was drenched, and though we had a tent to crawl into and dry clothes to put the kids in, we still had the prospect of packing up in the rain. Luckily the rain stopped just as we had finished packing up everything inside the tent, so we were able to put the tent away dry and the weather held for our walk to the car. But it was enough to bring me onto Team No Rain. We had wanted to go backpacking this weekend for the 4th of July, but when the forecast showed thunderstorms for everywhere we were thinking about going, we stayed home instead!
I had told my sister-in-law that the food part of backpacking was really stressing me out. It’s either heavy or complicated. She recommended that I just grab the Mountain House box of dehydrated meals from Costco. They were on sale for several weeks, which made them an even better deal–the packs are usually about $8 each, but the box of 13 was $48. We made two pouches for dinner and two pouches for breakfast and I was worried that with Will and Nic it might not be enough food, but there was more than enough. Two pouches will definitely feed a family of four even if your kids are older.
Along with the dehydrated meals I brought our usual hiking snacks – Luna bars (which Ellie is in love with) and Larabars (which both kids also eat well). It’s amazing how much tossing one of these at the kids during a hike will improve their mood 15 minutes later!
Choosing our tent was a major source of stress and our biggest logistical challenge for backpacking as a family. No one makes a true backpacking tent for four people! You go from 3lb three person tents to 7lb four person tents. It is actually better in terms of weight to take two two person tents than one four person tent. (Laws of efficiency make this just so WRONG, but there it is.) We talked about going with two two person tents, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy with that solution. So, (in keeping with most of the weight-decisions), we decided to eat the extra weight and get a light-ish four person tent.
This was one of my big revelations while planning: While I admire my ultra-light family members, we realized that as a family of four, we’re not cut out for the ultra-light mentality. Backup equipment, contingency plans, and comfort are too important when traveling with kids. When hiking with elementary school kids your distance will be low, anyway–a heavy pack isn’t as big a deal. (Says the woman carrying around a 4lb sleeping pad. No joke. My sleeping pad weighs more than most backpackers’ tents.)
Want to see our gear? Here’s what we used:
The Loads (or, Life Isn’t Fair)
We ask Ellie to carry her water and coat. Will carried his water, his clothing, his sleeping bag, his sleeping pad, and Ellie’s sleeping bag and her sleeping pad. (Telling him this was actually very helpful. When we first put the pack on him at home to test it out he acted like he was that idiot woman from Wild (my reaction to that book is so strong I probably would have been kicked out of book club over it if I hadn’t had to quit anyway because of my schedule) and just about fell over. Then I told him what was actually in his pack and he said “Is that all?” and realized that it actually wasn’t very heavy.)
The kids did beautifully. At 5 and 9 this proved to be very doable. With weight for a consideration, we didn’t have some of the usual distractions (making treats, board games, etc), but I did bring our absolute favorite thing: my Eno hammock. I also brought the lightest book I could find for bedtime (Homer Price)–which we ended up reading in the tent while it rained. Ellie found a baby tree to tend to within an inch of its life. 😛 It ended up being our only backpacking trip of the year because of our schedule and the weather on the weekends that we did have free, but if the weather and schedule had cooperated our plan had been to bump up the distance to 3 miles one-way for the next trip.