North Cheyenne Cañon Park is located on the southwest side of Colorado Springs. North Cheyenne Cañon Park is cut 1,000-feet deep into the 1.5 billion-year-old granite rock. This 1,600-acre park provides good habitat for large animals such as the Black Bear, Mountain Lion and Mule Deer, and little birds that love water, like the Kingfisher, American Dipper and Broad-tailed Hummingbird.
North Cheyenne Creek runs along the bottom of the canyon. Visitors can drive, hike and bike from the entrance of the canyon up to Helen Hunt Falls. Beyond Helen Hunt Falls, North Cheyenne Canyon Road continues until it reaches Gold Camp Road. There is a large parking area where bikers, hikers and runners can access additional trails.
- An extensive trail system open to hikers, bikers and runners. Dogs are allowed and must be leashed.
- Picnic areas
- Two visitor centers. Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center is located at the entrance to the park. The Helen Hunt Falls visitor center is located near the base of the falls.
- Portable toilets are located at Helen Hunt Falls.
The master plan for North Cheyenne Cañon Park is being updated. To find out more, get involved, and follow the process go to https://coloradosprings.gov/NCCMasterPlan
Length: About 4 miles from the Starsmore Discovery Center to the Upper Columbine trailhead
Elevation: Lower Columbine trailhead 6250', Mid Columbine trailhead 6500', Upper Columbine trailhead 7300'
General Description: This trail makes its way up the Canon from behind the Starsmore Discovery Center to the Upper Columbine trailhead near Helen Hunt Falls. The Mid Columbine trailhead is about 1 mile up the road from the main park gate by the Starsmore Discovery Center. The Upper Columbine trailhead is about 350' east of Helen Hunt Falls. Hikers, cyclists and equestrians can use this trail.
Mt. Cutler Trail
Length: About 1.1 miles from the trailhead to the overlook just east of the top of Mt. Cutler
Elevation: Trailhead 6785', highest point by the top of Mt. Cutler 7200', overlook 7050'
General Description: The trailhead is on the south side of the road, about 1.5 miles up the road from the main park gate by the Starsmore Discovery Center. Hikers only.
Silver Cascade Falls Trail
Length: About .3 miles from the Helen Hunt Falls Visitor Center to the top of the Silver Cascade Falls
Elevation: Trailhead 7225', top of Silver Cascade Falls 7400'
General Description: Park in front of the Helen Hunt Falls Visitor Center, hike over Helen Hunt Falls and continue along the trail. For your safety, please DO NOT hike beyond the plaza area to the closed-off portion of Gold Camp Rd.
Spring Creek Trail
This is a connecting trail.
Length: Trail itself, approximately .72 miles each way between Mid Columbine and Lower Gold Camp Road. The trailhead on Mid Columbine Trail is 1.68 miles from Starsmore Discovery Center, .68 miles from Mid Columbine trailhead, and 2.31 miles from Upper Columbine trailhead. The Lower Gold Camp Road trailhead is across from Captain Jack's Trail parking lot at the east end of Tunnel #1.
Elevation Gain: Approximately 175' (Spring Creek Trail only)
General Description: This trail serves as a connecting trail between Gold Camp Road/Captain Jack's Trail and the Columbine Trail. It is open to hikers and cyclists only.
St. Mary's Falls Trail
(Pike National Forest)
Length: About 1.2 miles from parking area to trailhead, about 1.6 miles from trailhead to base of St. Mary's Falls
Elevation: Parking area 7500', trailhead at Tunnel #3 7700', base of St. Mary's Falls 8800'
General Description: Drive about 3.2 miles from the Starsmore Discovery Center to the parking area where North Cheyenne Canon Rd, High Dr. and Gold Camp Rd. intersect. Park here. Hike along the closed portion of Gold Camp Rd. to Tunnel #3. Follow the trail up and over the tunnel to St. Mary's Falls.
Captain Jack's Trail
(1.2 miles in park; 2.25 miles in Pike National Forest)
Length: About 2.55 miles from the trailhead to the top of High Drive, about .9 miles from the top of High Drive to a saddle behind Mt. Buckhorn
Elevation: Trailhead 7200', top of High Dr 7900', saddle behind Mt. Buckhorn 8200'
General Description: The trailhead is directly east of Tunnel #1 at the multi-use trail sign. The Captain Jacks Trail system is a multi-use system that allows hikers, bicyclists, equestrians, and motorcycles. For those who are up for a real challenge, the Captain Jacks Trail joins with the Jones Park Trail at the saddle behind Mt. Buckhorn, and the trail continues for another 2.4 miles to Jones Park.
Seven Bridges Trail
(Pike National Forest)
Length: About 1.5 miles one way
Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.
General Description: The trailhead is directly off the closed portion of Gold Camp Rd. (on the west side). Park at the intersection of Gold Camp Rd, High Dr. and Cheyenne Cañon Rd. Hike past the gate, which is in the northwest corner of the parking area, and follow the closed portion of Gold Camp Rd .7 miles to the trailhead. The trail is unmarked, so you will need to watch for the creek that goes under the road, and the trailhead will be on your right. This is a moderate hike, which crisscrosses Cheyenne Creek over a series of seven bridges.
The Chutes Trail
Length: About 1.1 miles from the top of Gold Camp Rd. to the Chamberlain Ridgeway Spur between the reservoirs.
Elevation: Trailhead 6950', Chamberlain Ridgeway Spur between reservoirs 6500'
General Description: This trail can be accessed from Stratton Open Space at the Ridgeway trailhead or at the La Veta trailhead. You can also reach the Chutes trail off of Gold Camp Road. Go past the Section 16 trailhead parking area and most of the houses. Look for the large rock with the pine tree growing out of it on the left. Beginning at the parking area on Gold Camp Rd., the Chutes is a popular trail for cyclists because of it’s winding curves and fairly fast descent. Once at the reservoirs, there are several developed trails through the Stratton Open Space that can be accessed easily. Suggested bicycle use only; hikers refer to Gold Camp Path (Stratton Open Space Trails).
Stratton Open Space Trails
Current Trail Lengths: Chamberlain-Ridgeway Spur: 1.1 miles; Gold Camp Path: .8 miles; Ponderosa: .4 miles; South Suburban Lower Loop: .4 miles; South Suburban Upper Loop: .6 miles; Stratton Springs Path: .5 mile; Upper Meadows Loop: .7 miles; Wildflower Path: .7 miles.
General Description: There are three trailheads that service the Stratton Open Space: 1) La Veta Way off Cresta Rd; 2) Ridgeway off W. Cheyenne Blvd. and 3) trailhead on the north side of the road about .3 miles up the road from the main park gate by the Starsmore Discovery Center. Most of the trails within the Stratton Open Space are easy to moderate in difficulty and offer "loops" that allow users to enjoy the Open Space. Keep in mind that all trails designated as "paths" are for hiking only; equestrians and cyclists may use all of the other loops.
- From I-25 take exit 140 (Tejon Street)
- Go south on Tejon Street (away from downtown Colorado Springs)
- Take a slight right onto Cheyenne Boulevard
- The entrance to the park is located at the intersection of Cheyenne Boulevard, South Cheyenne Canyon Road, Evans Avenue and North Cheyenne Canyon Road (this is the road through the park)
Bears and Mountain Lions
Important information to remember when hiking/biking/running in black bear & mountain lion country:
Black bear and mountain lions are more active at dawn and dusk. Also, black bear can be active at all times of the day/night, searching for food prior to hibernation.
A mountain lion's predatory instinct can be activated by things that are going fast or are small and making high-pitched sounds (esp. during the times they're most active).
Keep small children close to you and don't let them run ahead or lag behind on the trail.
Use extra caution where hearing or visibility is limited: in brushy areas, near streams, where trails curve around a bend or on windy days.
Reduce your chances of surprising a bear or mountain lion by talking, singing or wearing bells during the times they're more active.
Always have your dog on a leash.
Unless there's a bear-proof trash can around, take any garbage with you.
Mountain lions cover their prey with dirt, leaves, etc. and return to feed until it spoils. If you encounter leftover prey while hiking, calmly leave the area immediately. You could be seen as a threat if the mountain lion should return. (Note: It's uncommon for a mountain lion to leave prey by a trail, but it has happened.)
Avoid berry patches in the fall.
Where is the Creek From and Where Does it Go?
North Cheyenne Creek originates at the Stratton Reservoir on Mount Almagre, (Mount Baldy is a local name). Almagre is the second highest mountain standing to the South of Pikes Peak. Like Pikes Peak, Mount Almagre also rises above the tree line. After flowing over Helen Hunt Falls, the creek continues down North Cheyenne Cañon and meets South Cheyenne Creek near the Starsmore Discovery Center. After leaving the Cañon, Cheyenne Creek flows into Fountain Creek near the Tejon Wetlands. Fountain Creek travels south and empties into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The Arkansas flows into the Mississippi River and from New Orleans, Louisiana, empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Water Can Move You
The water has moved the heavy boulders that you see in the creek. People can easily be swept away by water moving fast over slippery rocks. Do not underestimate the dangerous power of water. Many people have been critically and fatally injured after falling over the waterfalls. Please stay out of the creek!
Volunteer time commitment is FLEXIBLE.
And many activities open to teens ages 13 and older
We need help in:
- Reception desk and gift shop sales
- Hike leaders and/or ambassadors
- Natural or Cultural History Guide
- Office Assistant
- Advertising Assistant
- Facilitators for educational programming:
- Preschool: "Andy Animals Senses"
- School-age: "Nature Detectives", "Animal Habitats", "Insects Everywhere", "Junior Ranger"
- School age to Adult: "Tipi Building and Ute Heritage Workshop"
- Hummingbird Festival
- Cañon Clean Up
- Cheyenne Cañon Camp
- Canvases in the Cañon
- Canya Cañon
- Trail Maintenance
- Garden Maintenance
- Volunteer Training and Enrichment:
Volunteer Training Workshops are scheduled throughout the year. Plus a wide variety of Enrichment Events are scheduled. Enrichment Events are open to volunteers and members of Friends of Cheyenne Cañon. Others may attend Enrichment Events by joining Friends of Cheyenne Cañon.
The Ever Changing Forest
Change in the forest is constant and may be extreme with freezing temperatures and winter snow, to monsoon rain and flash flooding, or to sun-baked droughts and fires. There are no clear-cut lines of where trees grow. In moist pockets, White Fir, Ponderosa, Douglas Fir and Aspen trees grow side-by-side.
Douglas Fir trees are the climax species that will grow to dominate the forest if there are no disturbances, even on the south-facing slopes, where Ponderosa Pine thrives. If a Ponderosa Forest becomes too thick and shady, the Ponderosa seedlings will not grow healthy. The Douglas Fir seedlings will grow strong in the shady, overgrown conditions and will eventually crowd out the Ponderosa.
Aspen trees are a pioneer species that are quick to grow after a disturbance such as an avalanche or fire. Aspens have suckering root systems that can grow or die back according to sunlight or competition from shade-loving plants. After a forest fire creates a clearing in the forest, Aspens begin to sprout from the root system that remains alive undergrown, waiting for a sunny opportunity to grow.
The Land of Few Trees
The Great Plains that stretch to the eastern horizon are inhospitable to trees. The sandy and clay soils do not hold enough water to support large plants such as trees. Plains Cottonwood trees mark the presence of water on the harsh, dry grasslands. Trees naturally grow along creeks and rivers like a green ribbon across the prairies.
Today, the native trees are hard to find in the urban forest that has grown up with our city at the foot of Pikes Peak. Since 1972, city foresters and citizens have been planting trees, and with the help of irrigation water, our hot, dry grasslands have shade.
Trees are Attracted to Rocks
Water seeps into the fractures and spaces among rocks. Trees naturally cover the bluffs, foothills and mountains that mark where Colorado Springs lies at the edge of the high plains. The mountain cañons were once among the few green and shady places to be found near our city. Growth patterns that change with elevation and water supply are easily seen here. Visitors may notice how the cool north-facing and the hot south-facing slopes of the mountains support different variations of trees, shrubs and ground cover.
North Cheyenne Cañon Park is an Ecotone
Plant and animal diversity is abundant in this mountain park where 3 different life zones are intermixed in this area defined as an ecotone. The creek supports a moist riparian life zone that flows from the high elevation mountain life zone down the steep Cañon to the lower elevations of the foothills life zone.
Ecology of a North Facing Slope
There is more moisture on the north side of a mountain, because snowfall lasts longer in shade locations, slowly melting into the soil. The cool temperatures also reduce evaporation of rainwater. You can feel the shade created by the trees and listen to the chatter of the little Chickaree Squirrel or the beautiful blue-colored Stellers Jay.
Fir Trees Love the Shade
Douglas Fir and White Fir trees tend to grow closer together and the crowns of their treetops grow into a closed canopy forest with patchy sunlight reaching the ground. The triangular shape of a Fir's branching pattern makes it very efficient at collecting sunlight while growing close to other trees. Mosses, mushrooms and moisture-loving flowers are found in these cool, shady places.
Survival of the Fittest
Each tree must compete for sunlight. Young Fir trees are able to grow under the shade of their parents for a few years. Many seedlings and saplings can be seen growing within inches of each other. Eventually, dominant trees will live and weaker trees will die out because they can not compete for water and sunlight. You can notice that big trees are spaced further apart than the little trees.
Trees have Titles that describe their Size
Seedlings--are up to 3-feet tall.
Saplings--are between 3- and 10-feet tall.
Pole Size--trees have a diameter between 6 and 10 inches wide.
Standard Size--trees have a diameter between 10 inches and 2-feet wide.
Veterans--have a trunk that is over 2-feet wide.
Think about tree years compared to human years. You can roughly estimate the age of seedling and sapling trees by counting the spaces in-between whorls of branches they produce each summer.
Ecology of a South Facing Slope
The sunny southern slope of a mountain is hot and dry. Water is scarce because of intense sun and rapid evaporation. On Cheyenne Cañon's south-facing slopes you can feel the heat of the sun and smell the sweet red bark of a Ponderosa. You can look for a black or gray Alberts Squirrel with long tufted ears. The long-tailed black and white Magpie has blue-green colored feathers if the light is right.
Ponderosa Prefer Sun
Ponderosa Pines thrive on southern slopes. Ponderosa have a deep, moisture-seeking taproot, and a broad, rounded, branching pattern for the crown. A healthy Ponderosa forest is open and sunny because trees space themselves far apart to avoid competition for precious water. Other common plants found in this sunny forest are Scrub Oak, Yucca and Kinnikinik.
The Ponderosa has thick, insulating bark that protects it from small fires. The low branches of trees eventually die and fall off because they do not collect much sunlight. This self-pruning of an old branch also helps trees survive small grass fires that do not reach high branches of the crown.
The Fires of Cheyenne Cañon
1840s--A trapper named George Ruxton documented a terrible fire in his journal. He described Cheyenne Mountain as being "invaded by the devouring element," of flames one night, and the skies glowed for 14 nights longer as the mountains 40 miles further west, (to Wilkerson Pass) burned.
1890--The Colorado Springs Gazette reported on Sunday, January 26, of a fire from the day before. "Old Cheyenne Mountain, standing out bold and alone from the range, was a seething mass of fire. It was grand, but pitiable to those who realized what such a fire means."
1950--The last major fire was also in January. On the 17th, the range from Cheyenne Mountain on toward the south was in flames. The US Army sent troops to fight the fire. Seven Camp Carson soldiers lost their lives working to bring the inferno under control.
The Forest has Layers of Life Tree Canopy
The upper layer includes the leaves and branches of tall trees such as Douglas Fir, White Fir, Ponderosa and Aspen.
Underbrush: The middle layer includes shrubs like Boulder Rasberry, Rocky Mountain Maple and Chokecherry.
Surface: The ground layer includes grass, Poison Ivy, and wildflowers, such as Shooting Star, Mariposa Lily and Columbine.
Underground: The unseen world includes burrows, roots and wormholes where fungi and microorganisms help make soil rich by decomposing dead plants and animals.
Ecology of Land with Water
Buffalo Creek originates from natural runoff on Mount Rosa. It converges with North Cheyenne Creek below the Silver Cascade falls and beyond the ridge that separates it from North Cheyenne Creek. In Colorado's dry climate, water is our most precious resource. This wet ribbon of land is essential for all wild animals. In the Cañon, look for a natural spring flowing from the middle of the trail or seeping from the rocks. Notice the abundance of lush-green plant life, including Wild Roses and Aspen.
Survival of the Veterans
Massive tree trunks mark the spot where you can enjoy the shade of giants. The veteran size of the fir trees in this moist pocket among boulders and waterfalls does not mean they are ancient in age. Trees can grow to be very large if they have plenty of water and sunlight. Photographs taken 100 years ago show sapling and pole-size trees at this site.
Rocks tell Stories about Geology
The Oldest Rocks formed deep under the Ocean Floor
Precambrian rocks of the Pikes Peak Region formed from molten magma that cooled miles deep within the crust of the Earth approximately 1.5 billion years ago. Before the mountains were uplifted, oceans, shallow seas, and swamps had each left their rock impressions behind.
Sandstones and Shales found on the eastern plains and foothills of Colorado Spring have fossils of animals that lived in an ocean 70 million years ago. The Pierre Seaway moved toward the present ocean as these solid granite mountains rose.
Mountain building forces began pushing blocks of solid granite to high elevations 65 million years ago. Cheyenne Mountain was shoved out and over rock formations that are younger than the granite. The upheaval and release of pressure on the granite caused it to expand and form many joints and fractures. Erosion followed mountain building and nearly leveled the mountains with the plains. Approximately 17 million years ago, earthquakes forced the mountains to rise again and the foothills were being scoured by intense erosion.
At a much slower rate, this process continues today. The Ute Pass Fault line that separates these uplifted mountains from the foothills and plains can be noticed at the base of Cheyenne Cañon where the granite of Mount Cutler rises abruptly through the sedimentary sandstones and clay soils on the flat-topped mesa above the Starsmore Discovery Center.
Water Shapes the Land
Water is the universal solvent that is slowly tearing these mountains down. The combined effect of uplifted mountains, torrential flooding from glaciers melting after the Ice Age, and the erosion of the plains have all influenced the creeks ability to carve rock out of the Cañon and deposit its load of silt, sand and gravel onto the foothills and plains below.
Thunderstorms cause tremendous downpours and flash floods. You can see the mountains dissolving into the muddy gravel during a severe storm. Within minutes, the creek becomes a torrent of red-earth colored water, and it does not clear until hours after the storm.
Rock Resistance Creates Waterfalls
Waterfalls are created by a difference between rocks and their ability to stand up to water that carries rocky debris which cuts through the Cañon and polishes the waterfalls.
Pikes Peak Granite is Weak
The pink-colored Pikes Peak Granite makes up most of the rocky Cañon. It has many joints and fractures. Water gets into cracks in the rocks and it easily crumbles into gravel. When the water freezes, it expands and forces the cracks to open wider. For millions of years, this freezing and thawing of water have caused the Pikes Peak Granite to shatter in slow motion. Notice the gravel or "scree" slides on the mountains. The creek has no trouble cutting through and removing this loose rock material.
The three most noticeable materials of the Pikes Peak Granite are the milky and smoke Quartz, the pink Feldspar and the silver or golden to black Micas. The Feldspar and Mica weathers easily.
Quartz Monzonite boulders are Strong
The creek has carved deep into the Pikes Peak Granite and has exposed large, rounded boulders of the gray-colored Quartz Monzonite, which is formed like a solid rock bubble within the more fractured and jointed Pikes Peak Granite. The Quartz Monzonite is more durable with less Mica and Feldspar and more Quartz. The water has smoothed and polished these boulder outcroppings into water slides with steep falls.
Algae and loose gravel on the surface of wet rocks add danger and slippery conditions. Please do not risk your safety--stay on the trails behind barriers and out of the creek!
The First People of Cheyenne Cañon and the Pikes Peak Region
Prehistoric people lived in Colorado at least 15,000 years ago. Palco hunters on the eastern plains are known to have killed mammoth elephants during the ice age. Garden of the Gods city park has artifacts that are 3,500 years old. Some ancient campsites have been found on high mountains above the tree line. Evidence only suggests where those people traveled to, and who their descendants are.
American Indian Territories
The first historical records concerning Colorado were written by the Spanish explorers. The boundaries are not exact but many tribes were known to spend time in Colorado. The mountains were considered Ute territory. The Ute People have no migration story and they know that they have lived here forever. Many different people from the 1500s to the late 1800s occupied the eastern plains. Spanish records document that the Comanche, Apache and the Kiowa lived on the plains before the Cheyenne and Arapaho made it their home.
Place Names Reflect History
Cheyenne Mountain is named after the Cheyenne Indian People. Cheyenne Mountain was noted as a good place to gather teepee poles. Cheyenne and Arapaho people may have been attracted to the Cañons because waterfalls offer spiritual inspiration.
Almagre is a Spanish Name. The name Almagre (AL-MA-GREY) pays tribute to the original Spanish name for Pikes Peak. In 1779, Governor Don Juan Bautista de Anza of New Mexico first mapped "La Sierra Del Almagre." Almagre means red earth and is descriptive of the pink-colored rocks of these mountains. Our spelling of the word Cañon with the ñ is also a tribute to our early Spanish heritage.
Pikes Peak is named after Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike. Pike was sent west by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Purchase. In November of 1806, he made an unsuccessful attempt to climb the mountain that now bears his name.
Ute Indian People called Pikes Peak by the name Tavakiev (Sun Mountain). Sun Mountain was a very spiritual part of the Southern Ute territory. It was honored because it is the first of all of the high peaks of Colorado to greet the morning sun.
The Park's Beginnings
In 1885, the citizens of Colorado Springs voted to purchase 640 acres in North Cheyenne Cañon from Colorado College to be used as a recreation area. In 1907, the city's founder, General William J. Palmer donated 480 acres in the upper Cañon, including Helen Hunt and Silver Cascade Falls, along with the "High Drive," that leads to Bear Creek Regional Park. Fred Chamberlain also donated land to the park.
Known for its stunning rock formations, waterfalls, evergreens and wildflowers, hiking paths, picnic grounds and bubbling Cheyenne Creek, North Cheyenne Cañon Park was dubbed by the Park Commission in 1909 as "by far the grandest and most popular of all the beautiful cañons near the city."
In 1992, the Starsmore Discovery Center opened its doors to the public. The 1918 stone house was moved to the mouth of North Cheyenne Cañon and its transition to a visitor center was made possible with assistance and donations from the Starsmore family and Friends of Cheyenne Cañon. The Center features nature exhibits, a climbing wall and educational programs.
North Cheyenne Cañon Park today remains a popular destination for hikers, picnickers, rock climbers and those who enjoy the view of rugged granite walls, towering pines, rushing waterfalls and the always captivating Cheyenne Creek.
Valuable Work Preserved in Stone
Extensive rock walls and beautiful bridges may be seen throughout North Cheyenne Cañon. Some of the bridges date as early as 1914. The Starsmore Discovery Center at the base of the Cañon is an outstanding example of stone craftsmanship. The 1918 Starsmore Home is now a free Visitor Center for Cheyenne Cañon.
Some of the stonework in Cheyenne Cañon is from the Civilian Conservation Corps Era of the 1930's and the 1940's. The C.C.C. was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" to put people to work during The Great Depression. Their noble mission was to protect the nation's natural resources.
The Walls protect our Resources and our Visitors
The stone stairways and walls along this trail are of historic and artistic value. Walls and fences are designed to protect our natural resources. People cutting across trails and killing the ground cover plants that should hold the soil in place have increased extreme soil erosion. The walls in the Cañon are also to protect visitors from serious accidents. Please protect the park and yourself by staying on the designated trails while visiting Cheyenne Cañon Park.