Here we are now in the middle of July. The Tour de France has less than a week to go, the temperature is reaching the high-80s/low-90s on a daily basis, and you’re looking for somewhere new to ride your bike. You could try and follow some of those hammerheads you see riding around town: the ones in matching sponsorship kits riding in large groups, heading out for a hundred-mile ride. Of course, you’ll need to be able to stay with them during their training ride, and those gents are sometimes opposed to newcomers attempting to butt in to their ranks. So maybe it’s better off if you try to find your own ride, maybe something fun. Well, have I got one hell of a fun ride for you to check out…
If you’re in the market for a fun-filled bike path-style ride, consider the Foothills Trail, a scenic route that runs north/south from Colorado Blvd to just past Wilson Ranch Park in Rockrimmon. Foothills is well worth riding for several reasons: with a round trip length of around twelve miles, it’s one of the longer bike paths in the Colorado Springs area, and it’s full of incredible scenery. It’s also a very steady climb as you ride north, which allows the average rider to get in some nice training – and the return trip is, frankly, a blast.
Because of the climbing involved, I’d recommend riding from the southern beginning of the route rather than starting at Wilson Ranch Park, unless you enjoy paying for your downhill by climbing back up what you’ve just screamed down. The trail starts at Colorado Blvd and 31st St in Old Colorado City. Be aware, however, that there really isn’t any legal parking nearby, unless you happen to know the owners of the Mason Jar or the nearby Safeway. I usually start my ride downtown anyway, so this isn’t a problem for me, but if you plan on driving to the route, it’s something to bear in mind.
Anyway, the Foothills Trail starts out on a nice, wide bike lane up 31st St. As long as you remain in the bike lane, there’s plenty of room for both you and vehicular traffic – until you get to the four-way stop at Fontanero St. At that point, especially on a weekend, you’ll encounter the typical mentality of Colorado Springs motorists, whose ideas of “sharing the road” consist mainly of cutting you off and then slamming on their brakes, all so they aren’t delayed from making their right-hand turn by a couple of seconds. Once you’ve navigated the intersection, you’ve got clear sailing all the way into Garden of the Gods, which you’ll enter at the end of 31st St.
You’ll also notice that you’ve been climbing steadily – not a difficult climb, mind you, but a steady, false flat. You’ll also notice that first part of the Garden of the Gods section of trail turns into gravel – the same small, loose stuff you’ll find on the Monument Valley Park Trail. If you look to your left, you’ll also notice a quaint, tiny white church that looks as though it was built back in the 1800’s (The American Mothers Chapel, which is available for small weddings according to the plaque on the door) and happens to have a handy bench in front if you need a break. If not, keep riding, because the path soon becomes cement and offers a couple more benches for you to soak up the scenery, which is fantastic: Great, grand red rock formations seemingly erupting from the Earth, small bluffs littered beautifully with evergreen trees surrounded by brush, while clouds work their way over Pikes Peak – it’s simply magnificent and I’d recommend taking it all in as you ride north, because you’ll be much too busy on the return trip to notice much of anything.
Eventually (note that you are still climbing steadily,) you’ll come to an underpass with a very low clearance – the signs recommend dismounting, most people I’ve seen simply duck and ride low. Upon exit, keep going straight (going left only leads to a trailhead.) A short climb will put you onto an asphalt path – this is where Foothills hooks up with the Palmer-Mesa Trail. Going right (south) will take you back to Uintah and Mesa via the Palmer-Mesa Trail. Going left (north) will continue your journey on the Foothills Trail.
At this point, you’ll notice that your climb becomes a little more difficult for a short period of time, however, you’ll be rewarded with a fast coast down to Garden of the Gods Rd. It’s here (sort of) that Foothills hooks up with the Sinton Trail – it’s not marked, and technically you’ll need to make a right either onto the frontage road in front of the gas station or on GOG Rd. (either way will take you to the same place) and ride to the old Intel building, where you can pick up the actual Sinton Trail between the building and the parking garage (again, it’s not marked, but it’s clearly a bike path so you should have no trouble recognizing it.
If you wish to continue your adventure on the Foothills Trail (and believe me, you do,) cross GOG Rd. and keep riding until you come to Flying W Ranch Rd. Again, this isn’t marked very well (the road is, but the trail is not) and there’s no light or crossing, so it’s up to you to find the best way over, because you’ll want to make a left onto Flying W Ranch Rd. At this point, you’ve got a couple options: you can ride on a nice, wide bike lane in the street, or you can grab the trail about a half-block after you make your left turn – you’ll recognize it because the trail becomes gravel again. Keep climbing steadily until you reach Wilson Ranch Park, then go ahead and take a deserved break and admire the bluffs and foothills overlooking the Rockrimmon area. Also note that you have a couple more options: you can turn around at Wilson Ranch and ride back the way you came, you can ride east on Allegheny Dr. and pick up the bike lane on Centennial Blvd, ride it back to 30th St. and make it a loop (or, instead of taking a left on Flying Ranch, keep riding on 30th to Centennial and take the bike lane to Allegheny, then ride to the park – all three options are quite fun on the return trip so you can’t really go wrong.)
By the time you’ve reached Wilson Ranch Park, you’ve put in a few good miles of climbing, and are probably in a foul mood at worst, tired at best. Well this is where all the good times I’ve been referring to come in. All that climbing you just did is now going to pay off in spades on your return ride. Think of it as being like the times you’ve spent waiting an hour or longer for an amusement park thrill ride that lasts all of a minute and a half or a minute and 45 seconds. Even though you waited in that unseemly line, that 90-second timeframe ended up being one of the most intense, thrilling minute and a half’s of your life, so much so that you can’t wait to do it again. That’s what the return ride back down Foothills is like: other than the short climb after Garden of the Gods Rd. (remember your easy cruise down on the way north?) you can literally scream down this thing so fast that it’ll make your eyes water, even with eye protection. If you hit it on the right day with no pedestrians or novice cyclists, you really don’t have to scrub speed at all other than before a couple tight curves – yes, it’s that much fun. Other than The Chutes, this is probably the most fun downhill I’ve done in town. Much like that intense roller coaster at the theme park that ends all too soon, it’s over in a matter of minutes – but holy moly was that a blast! By the time you’ve screamed through Garden of the Gods and popped out onto 31st St., you’ll be so full of gravity-assisted adrenaline that you won’t know whether to hammer back down 31st or just coast down and try to take fully into account what you just did. It makes the hour or so climb so worth it that you can’t wait to do it again – at least, I couldn’t. I recently rode this thing three days in a row. My legs were ready to declare mutiny by the end of the third day, but it was worth it.
And that is why Foothills Trail ranks among my favorite Colorado Springs-area rides that aren’t singletrack. It’s got good climbing, maximum scenery, and a twisty downhill that I’d ride everyday if I didn’t have other things to do. Really, if you’re looking for a bike path-type ride, this one is one of the better ones in the city. Just be sure you’ve got some climbing mileage in your legs, and then go have some fun!