The Columbine Trail is a 8.2 mile out and back that climbs through North Cheyenne Canyon Park right outside of Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is known far and wide for the Garden of the Gods, but North Cheyenne Canyon is a must visit for those in the area. The Columbine trail offers a quick half or quarter day hike that provides seclusion, beautiful views and is not terribly taxing on the body. Although the trail does start at the Starsmore Discover Center, I would recommend starting higher up towards the middle Columbine trail. The one downside to this hike is the big parking area at the base of Helen Hunt Falls which in my mind is the reward for this hike. For me, there is nothing worse than working up a good sweat summiting a trail only to have people climbing out of their cars with ice cream cones in hands enjoying the same views as you.
Columbine Trail Quick Facts
Rating: ★★ (2/5 Stars)
Distance: 8.20 miles RT (starting from lower Columbine TH)
Elevation Start: 6,250 ft
Summit: 7,303 ft
Total Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft
Estimated Time to Complete: 3.5 Hours RT
Difficulty: Moderate What does this mean?
Class: Class 1
Season: Year Round (Expect some snow during October – March)
Directions to Columbine Trail
Trailhead: Starsmore Discovery Center
Getting Here: Starsmore Discovery Center in North Cheyenne Canyon Park
The easiest way to access the Columbine Trail is through the Starsmore Discovery Center. Once you are in Colorado Springs, follow W Cheyenne Road until you reach S Cheyenne Canyon Road. Take S Cheyenne Canyon Road, then take your first left into the parking/picnic area. The Discovery Center will be right across the road and the lower Columbine TH starts behind the building.
If you do not want to start at the lower Columbine TH you can view the complete trail map here
Dogs: Dogs are allowed in the park and this hike is great as far as trail conditions go. Keep in mind this trail is frequented by mountain bikers in case your dog does not jive with them.
Camping: There is no camping allowed in North Cheyenne Canyon Park and camping in general near Colorado Springs is not ideal. However, if you need to camp in the area you can try Golden Eagle Campground. I personally have never stayed there, but it is an option for you.
Make it a Loop: This trail is not a loop, but their are several options to make a larger loop if you want. The map here shows all of the trails in the park. You might easily pair the Columbine trails with Buckhorn Cutoff or Lower Capt Jacks trails. This trail is also easily paired with the Helen Hunt trail (link) which is an easy addition to this hike.
Trail X Factor: The biggest X Factor for the Columbine trail is the trail itself. Although the total elevation gain is only about 1,100 feet, the trail has many switchbacks, climbs and drops into numerous valleys on the way to the summit. I would recommend bringing a good pair of hiking shoes or boots because the loose gravel on the trail can be hard to grip at times, especially if you are rocking Nike’s on the hike. The Columbine trail is heavily used by mountain bikes, so keep this in mind if you are looking for an alternative way to climb this trail.
Hike Tip(s): The Columbine trail is broken into three parts: lower, middle and upper. You can park at either the lower or middle section of the trail and begin your hike. However when Jackie and I hiked, we decided to tackle the whole trail. Just kidding, we honestly did not know that you could park higher up or we probably would have.
Best Views: The Columbine trail provides great views into the Cheyenne Canyon and Colorado Springs once you get a bit higher on the hike. There are ample opportunities to photograph the valley on the way up to Helen Hunt Falls. If you are looking to take some long exposure shots of the waterfall, be sure to bring filters and a tripod to maximize the photo opportunities around the river and falls themselves.
My Trip to Columbine Trail: May 2016
When we were driving to find the trailhead, we did have a bit of trouble. My advice is to take S. Cheyenne Road and park in the first lot/picnic area on the left. This area is directly across the street from the Starsmore Visitor and Nature center where the lower Columbine TH starts (behind the building). Once we found the trail it was very easy to follow all the way up to Helen Hunt Falls.
The trail itself stays flat for about a mile or so and then begins a steady climb with several switchbacks along the way. I was glad I wore hiking boots because while the trail was never wicked steep, it did consist of loose gravel which I imagined could be very hard to grip with sneakers. For the first 2 miles or so, the trail follows the access road which brings lazy people cars, up to Helen Hunt Falls. It was a great to see the trail peel away from the road after a while so that some of the traffic noise melted away into the aspen trees around us.
The middle section of the Columbine trail provided great views into Cheyenne Valley and of the Broadmoor. This part of the trail can be mentally taxing as it drops into a few valleys and then climbs back up the other side of them with many switchbacks along the way.
Once we reached the upper section of the Columbine trail it was a short 15 minutes or so until we encountered the Helen Hunt parking lot which was chock full of cars. I fully realize it is a smug attitude to have, but I always take satisfaction in hiking to see views that others drive to. We enjoyed the beautiful waterfalls in the area, snapped several pictures and headed back down.
As always, the hike back down to the car was a lot easier and quicker than the hike up. However, this hike did prove to be a bit of an anomaly because of the many switchbacks that we had to climb on the way back to the parking lot.
Overall, I would recommend this hike, but would probably start from the middle section of the trail. The lower portion does not add much to the hike and takes away about 2 miles RT.