Garden of the Gods - Palmer Trail
text & photography by Ryan Stikeleather
If you think of parks and open spaces as a giant backyard, then Colorado Springs has a great backyard. And there is a lot to explore. Just walk out your door and let your adventurous spirit guide you.
Not Your Mom's Garden
Garden of the Gods. The name alone makes you want to visit it and, a lot of people do. Garden of the Gods is a popular tourist attraction in Colorado Springs, and it ranks right up there with Pikes Peak when it comes to jaw-dropping landscapes.
Since the early 1900's, Garden of the Gods has been a public park, free for everyone to explore and soak up all its unique beauty, and over the years, many trails have been found and formed in this natural wonder. With over 15 miles of trails winding around ancient orange and red rock formations, Garden of the Gods begs for exploration with Technical Rock-climbing, cycling and mountain biking, trail running, hiking and horseback riding. In fact, while on my hike, a group of twelve passed me on horseback.
Just the Facts
- Location: Garden of the Gods Park, west side of Colorado Springs
- Trail: Palmer Trail (and a little of Siamese Twins Trail)
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 250 ft.
- Distance: 1.8 mi. (3.6 mi. round trip)
- Trail Use: Hiking, Running, Mountain Biking, Equestrian
- Trail Condition: Well maintained and clearly marked
- Bring Your Dog: Yes! But must be on a leash at all times
- Access: Open Year Round
- Garden of the Gods trail map
Ok! I'm Sold...What Do I Hike?
I'm so glad you asked! There are a lot of trails you can explore. One of my favorites is Palmer Trail, which is one of the longer trails. Palmer Trail is part of a larger trail system that nearly rings the entire park. You can access the trail from the main parking lot (north-side of the main road), but I like to start at a different spot, away from a majority of the crowds. Drive past the main lot, and head for Parking Lot #14. This lot usually has at least a few open parking spaces.
Spring Canyon Trailhead provides access to several other trails including Cabin Canyon trail and Siamese Twins Trail. To reach Palmer Trail, start from the parking lot and make your way up Siamese Twins Trail. The hike to the top, which only takes about 5 minutes, provides stunning views of Pikes Peak and the trails namesake, Siamese Twins, two conjoined rocks shaped by nature and time. The Twins rest on the edge of the hilltop accented by scrubby piñon pine and Utah juniper clinging to the hard rock. Situated perfectly against the ideal backdrop of Pikes Peak, a natural window has opened up near the base of Siamese Twins, providing a remarkable view of the mountain.
Keep following the trail to the left and begin your hike on Palmer Trail. Palmer Trail meanders through groves of Gamble Oak, across dry creek beds (unless it has been raining) wrapping around rock formations and giving you a chance to scramble on top of them. Some of the rocks even have alternating bands of light and dark colors layered on top of each other. There is abundant wildlife, so be on the lookout for an American Kestrel and Red-tailed Hawk, Mule Deer, or if you are super lucky, Bighorn Sheep! Pikes Peak is home to large Bighorn Sheep herds, so you never know what might be visiting the park with you.
Vista Grande (a.k.a Wow! Look at That!)
One of the best parts of Palmer Trail is the vistas! As you climb higher along the trail, you're rewarded with views of the central park. Kissing Camels, which looks like two camel heads kissing on top of North Gateway Rock. Cathedral Spires and Three Graces, slender sandstone rock, pushed up out of the ground millions of years ago, and clustered together in the center of the park. South Gateway Rock, with its mixture or pinks and gray, dominates the south end of the park. On a clear day, with a bright blue Colorado sky, the orange-red rocks burst with color. Prairie Falcon can be seen flying among the rocks or nesting in the holes that have formed in the vertical sides. These are just a few of the parks highlights. And you can see them all from Palmer Trail.
Continuing along the trail, you will finally reach the main parking lot. If you pass the parking lot, Palmer Trail connects with Susan G. Bretag Trail and Dakota Trail. Turning right at the junction, on Susan G. Bretag Trail, will take you to the east side of the park, or double back and take in all the scenery once again. The main parking lot leads to the paved Central Garden Trails. These trails are wide and smooth and are wheelchair accessible.
Palmer Trail is a great hike for quick and easy access to in town hiking. Garden of the Gods never fails to inspire and is always worth visiting any time of the year.
This is the first "official" entry in an ongoing series of local hikes and trails. You can use the search to find "My Backyard", or use the tags at the bottom of the post.