Red Rocks Open Space & Section 16
For those of us tethered to urban environs by the taskmasters of food, shelter, clothing and bread-winning, finding wilderness can be difficult. Especially finding wilderness in a timely manner. Here in Colorado, summer weekends can be particularly trying when droves of Front Rangers (people living on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains) head in exodus to the mountains, clogging the highways and blowing countless mental fuses along the way.
Ultrarunner and adventurer Anton Krupicka has written about living in proximity to mountains and trails as a mandatory in his life. His sentiments strike a chord. Living on the west side of Colorado Springs allows reasonably quick access to wilderness. Ten to twenty minutes in the car affords numerous trailheads and open space areas with some being accessible on foot from the front door. At the intersection of Highway 24 and 31st Street lies one such urban/wilderness interface.
Trail Running Red Rocks Open Space and Section 16
- Distance: 9.91 Mi
- Climb: 2,345 Feet
- Don’t Get Lost: Download GPX
- See it in 3D: Download Google Earth File
Red Rocks Open Space could rightly be called The Local’s Garden of the Gods for its fair share of angular sandstone formations without the tourist traffic. Hikers, climbers, runners and mountain bikers all find good reasons to visit Red Rocks Open Space. I’ve always enjoyed the scenery and challenge of the area, because it is situated on a downslope from the mountains and foothills. In other words, flat trails don’t really exist in Red Rocks Open Space, determination is a prerequisite for mastering the vertical gain.
On a recent dreary weekend, I grabbed my new Camp Trail Vest and slipped into the eastern edge of the space via the 31st Street trailhead, across the street from an aromatic Rudy’s BBQ. Red Rocks can be accessed from 31st Street and also a little further west, at the main entrance off Highway 24. Though the entire area is generally quiet, I often prefer to start on 31st due to the convenient access.
Whether starting from the 31st street trailhead or the central parking area, ascending through Red Rocks towards the south provides a healthy climb and, eventually, leaves the open space – intersecting with other area trails. One such trail is the Section 16 Palmer Red Rocks Loop Trail. Section 16 is a 5.5 mile loop boasting 1300+’ of gain with the majority of vertical effort occurring in a 1.5 mile grunt (when the route is taken counterclockwise). Souls brave enough to confront this climb arrive at a saddle providing panoramic canyon views to the south. Section 16’s dull name helps protect its true reward: three miles of forested singletrack, hugging the canyons and descending at a supremely runnable grade. My favorite section is a rocky little nook complete with a wooden footbridge and sparkling mountain creek flowing by. This area is icy and beautiful in the wintertime, but may require traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes to help prevent falling on the ice and packed snow.
On this occasion, I was on a mission to shoot some video and photos in an effort to entice a budding trail runner to come out for a run with me. The progression of dry sandstone ridges, forested foothills to shady and modestly snowy canyon confines seemed like great PR for trail running (Update: this worked, he came and ran the route with me a couple weeks later).
Various routes through Red Rocks are available for climbing to the back of the open space, most of these run into the Paul Intemann Memorial Nature Trail which runs all the way over to Manitou Springs and the base of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. A small section of this trail must be run in order to connect Red Rocks to Section 16.
Counting more deer than people, and stopping frequently to shoot pictures and videos for my friend provided a new challenge: sharing. Rather than racing a clock or striving for a summit, this trip was about capturing an experience for the purpose of enriching another. This is the experiment of Ruin Your Knees: sharing adventures as a form of inspiration. Only slightly missing the familiar effort to complete a run without stopping, I found myself happily slowed – absorbing the scenery and attempting to verbalize exactly what was being seen and done. Removing the pressures of time and destination proved to be thoroughly rewarding, and my body still encountered a good workout along the way.
Attention! Have you approached one of your favorite routes (trail, river, rockface, whatever…) with a sharing mindset? How did it go? Please share in the comments below!
High up on Section 16 revealed a drought tickling dusting of snow, and the chilled air finished off my camera’s undercharged battery (Note to self: when planning to take video for a friend, remember to charge the camera). Tucking the camera away, I put my head down and settled into a pleasant cruise down the frosty singletrack, eventually hitting High Line Drive (taking a left), looping back around to the top of Red Rocks Open Space, and back to the car.
- Red Rocks Open Space and Section 16 do not have to be combined. Section 16 has it’s own traihead on Old Gold Camp Rd. above Bear Creek Park.
- Section 16 is reasonably wild. On this trip I saw more deer than people. Be self-sufficient when entering wilderness areas and always let someone know where you are going.
- Section 16 utilizes part of High Line Drive, take a left when you hit the dirt road if you are taking the loop counterclockwise. When you reach asphalt, bear left at the fork to return to the regular Section 16 parking area.
- The 10 mile route I completed requires completing the Section 16 loop and dropping back into Red Rocks Open Space.