Dec 4, 2020 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Kristen Richards | Illustration by Bibi Powers

I stand along the ridge of the Palmer Trail, watching the sun melt the speckles of snow from the mountains of North Cheyenne Cañon Park. There are red rocks to my right, still warm from a long morning of sunshine, and the dirt trail waits to my left.

I could stay here forever, watching the cycle of day and night undulate, the mountains changing with the seasons. Section 16 of the Palmer trail has a way of suspending time, letting its explorers exist in the dreamlike state of wilderness bliss.

Section 16 begins a few miles up Lower Gold Camp Road, about 15 minutes southwest of campus. The first mile of the trail climbs gently up sun-soaked switchbacks and oscillates up and down through a sage and scrub-oak field. In the late morning, the exposed trail is cracked dry from the rising sun.

Hiking counterclockwise, the trail begins a steep ascent about a mile from the parking area. The climb is short but breathless, while also rocky and merciless. At this point, the Palmer Trail is shaded by pine trees, one of the many places on the trail where sunlight barely shines through. This mile-long section of trail is likely to be snowy throughout the late fall and winter.

After a handful of switchbacks and another steep climb, the trail reaches 7,844 feet, the highest point, about a mile and a half from the trailhead. This ridge overlooks the beautiful green mountains of North Cheyenne Cañon Park. The trail circles along the mountain ridge for about half a mile before slowly ascending again. There is a distant view of Colorado Springs from this section of the trail, tiny buildings in a tiny city. 

At the two-mile mark, the long, three-mile descent begins. Retreating into the forests again, the trail weaves through places that the sunlight has never seen. I have found the greatest joy in this section of the trail, letting gravity run me wild through these winding trails.

The type of freedom found in these trails is one that only exists in the pockets of time I spend in the wilderness. It is here where my best ideas are formed, where I can think clearly through problems, and where, sometimes, I can choose to think about nothing but my next step. This trail lets me escape from myself and find myself all at once.

Section 16 of the Palmer Trail is the most beautiful trail I have ever run. It is the highest highs and the lowest lows, the coldest mornings and warmest afternoons, the good and the bad and everything in between. On the trail, I feel like the truest version of myself.

I have come to know Section 16 the Palmer Trail like a home. It is familiar and predictable without failing to give me something new every time I run it. I want to share my love of this 5.7-mile-long trail in hopes of helping other adventurers see the beauty and wonder of our local trails.

Leave a Reply