Pike National Forest Overview
Perhaps as embedded in American folklore as the Brooklyn Bridge, Pike's Peak is America's easternmost 14'er (a mountain with an elevation of 14,000 feet or higher). The sentinel rises suddenly, as if to declare this is where the prairie ends, and has greeted settlers heading west much in the same way that the Statue of Liberty greeted immigrants into New York Harbor.
It is atop Pike's Peak that the song "America the Beautiful" was written, and understandably so. The view from this lofty height is changing on a weekly basis as Colorado's suburban wall of sprawl stretches ever further up and down the corridor between Denver and Colorado Springs. This ecologically conscious suburbia is snaked with numerous green belts and effectively serves as the eastern boundary of Pike National Forest.
Just as these two urban centers function as iron lungs for the region's economy, the forest serves as its green lungs, where the exploding population spends its weekends seeking solitude and a place to hike, bike, fish, explore, and sometimes simply a place to chill.
There are still pockets of quiet to be found within these mountains—such as the Mount Evans and Lost Creek Wilderness—where visitors can experience the rawness of an uncontrollable earth as they walk across moraine-covered valleys and into giant amphitheaters of silence surrounded by glacial cirques. Wander through thick stands of cone-bearing forest, and at lower elevations listen to the soothing sound of aspen leaves rustling in the mountain breeze.
Explore a Forest of Ancient Pine
At the Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area you will come face to face with your own mortality when you ponder ancient stands of bristlecone pine. This native Rocky Mountain conifer lives at elevations exceeding 8,000 feet and can live for a few thousands years. Using dendochronology (the counting of rings), scientists dated one specimen discovered in Nevada at 4,900 years old. Located atop Windy Ridge, at an altitude just shy of 12,000 feet, the Colorado bristlecones are tilted and twisted by torrents of unrelenting winds.
Hike the Pike
Pike's Peak, the nation's easternmost fourteener, offers several trails up to this way-too-famous summit named for explorer Zebulon Pike, who described it in 1806. "Zebulon's Peak" would have been a cooler name, in our humble opinion, but the mountain is no less staggering as it rises 7,800 vertical feet above the town of Manitou Springs. Did you know that the song "America the Beautiful" was written atop Pike's Peak? About 60,000 hikers a year use the Barr Trail to get up the mountain; perhaps the trail should be renamed the "Pike Turnpike."
More on hiking in Pike National Forest
Climb A Working Fire Lookout
The Devil's Head Fire Lookout is the last operating fire lookout on the Front Range. The lookout is open to the public and offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding forest. The original structure went up in 1912 and was eventually replaced with a glass-enclosed structure equipped with modern fire-detecting devices. A moderate hike of 1.34 miles will get you from the trailhead located at the Devil's Head Picnic Ground to the fire lookout that sits on top of Devil's Head Mountain.
Camp in Thin Air
Situated on a ridge above the Rampart Reservoir, the 21-site Thunder Ridge Campground sits at an elevation of 9,200 feet. Aspen groves, spruce and wild rose thrive at this altitude, giving the campground a Garden of Eden quality... if Eden were in the mountains. A few choice sites command views of the 320-acre reservoir that offers fishing for rainbow and Mackinaw trout. The nearest town is Woodland Park, located at the intersection of Baldwin Street and US 24.
Bike with Beavers
Bicyclists can go for a pleasant pedal along a 2.1-mile paved trail (that's 3.4-km for you Canadians) from South Meadows to Manitou Lake. The Manitou Park area once served as the summer hunting grounds for the Ute Indians. The bike trail meanders its way through wispy willows and alongside a creek where you can watch busy beavers building their dams.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication