Pike National Forest

Pike National Forest extends across Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Park, Clark Creek, and Teller counties. At its highest point, the forest reaches 14,264 feet at its rocky sky-high mountain peaks. You will see herds of deer, playful prairie dogs, and graceful prairie chickens in the lower elevations, and bighorn sheep and pikas as you climb higher. Bears, lynx, and mountain lions also inhabit the forest.

Stars at dusk in Pike National Forest
The night sky in Pike National Forest – Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

About Pike National Forest

From Devil’s Head Lookout to Pike’s Peak, there are numerous scenic views to feast your eyes upon. Read on to hear about the trails, history, and wildlife of one of Colorado’s most prominent recreational forests. Being only a two-hour drive from Denver, it is one of the closest forests to the state capitol and provides many city dwellers with the outdoor respite we all need.   

The hike up Pike’s Peak Mountain itself is strenuous, as Pike’s Peak is one of Colorado’s fourteeners. Two different trails lead to the top of the mountain, Barr Trail and Crags Trail. Perhaps you shouldn’t tackle either of these trails if this is your first hike or even your second or third, but anybody with more experience, a set of good hiking poles, and good planning should be able to manage the terrain and build some incredible memories conquering the mountain!

Barr Trail

Barr trail, the more popular of the two, is 13 miles long one way and gains 7,400 feet of elevation. Trail difficulty rating: advanced. Hiking poles and sunscreen are highly recommended. The average conditioned hiker can make this round trip in around 16 hours, however, if you would like to keep this hike as leisurely as possible, feel free to simply split the trek up into two days by staying overnight at Barr campground conveniently located near the halfway point. The trailhead is located off of Ruxton Ave. in Manitou Springs, Co. If solitude while hiking is particularly important to you, we wouldn’t recommend Barr trail. It is a popular trail in every season but winter.  

Crags Trail

Crags Trail is a 13.6-mile round trip, contains beautiful overlooks, and is only rated at intermediate. Unlike Barr, the use on Crags trail somehow remains light to moderate, despite being easier and shorter. Perhaps Colorodians just can’t pass up a good challenge?

History of the Forest

In 1892, the Pike’s Peak Timberland Reserve, Plum Creek Timberland Reserve, and the South Platte Forest Reserve were created. Pike’s Peak National Forest was born when the federal government combined these three reserves in 1905.

At first, the land was desolate and void of life. Settlers had unleashed wholesale logging on the land in addition to mining and overhunting.

Eventually, the buffalo were gone and the people turned to agriculture. Because of this, they destroyed grassland after grassland with copious herds of cattle. Luckily, the land became protected after the president realized that the settlers were going to lose all their resources permanently at the rate they were using them, leading the land to become preserved and protected by the federal government. Thanks to this, the area has grown back beautifully to support the original ecosystems of grasslands and pine forests.

View of the forest from a mountaintop in Pike National Forest
A panoramic view in Pike National Forest – Photo by Laiton Barbo on Unsplash

Recreation in Pike National Forest

Pike National Forest hosts all manner of recreational activities, from backpacking and horseback riding to fishing and scenic byway driving. The 1,106,604 acre forest offers 225 miles of hiking trails, and out of these, ⅓ are okay for motorized vehicles. There are a total of 250 beautiful campsites throughout the forest.

A 400-acre shooting range just off interstate 25 at mile marker 132 is open to military personnel, their families, and their caregivers. Fort Carson not only offers targets but hosts events such as triathlons and even beer-tasting yoga sessions. Are you a soldier or vet? You might want to check out Fort Carson some weekend. They are a military family-owned and operated business dedicated to giving back to America’s heroes.

Want to try one of those scenic byways I mentioned? One of the most popular, and for good reason, is Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway, established in 1998. The length is a total of 82 miles, averaging most drivers about 2 hours.

Wilderness Areas

Pike National Forest shares nine wilderness areas with San Isabel National Forest Cimmaron and Comanche National Grasslands. Altogether, the wilderness areas make up 385,000 acres of forest. The following list will link you to each designated wilderness area’s description, including important information about passes and permits as well as trailheads and safety tips.

A lone bison on grassland - they were once plentiful on the land that is now Pike National Forest
At one time, bison were plentiful in present-day Pike National Forest – Photo by Bryce olsen on Unsplash

Visit Pike National Forest

If you want to prepare before heading off to the woods, have a look at the latest Alerts and Notices from the USDA on the Pike Forest. This page can inform you of special notices from the USDA about the area such as camping, trail conditions, and permit requirements, so it’s always a good idea to visit before you go on your trip.  

Make sure to save The National Forests.com to your reading list so you’ll always have a connection to America’s National Forests.

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!  

-by Heaven Morrow

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