Pike National Forest


Buffalo Peaks, in Pike National Forest
The Buffalo Peaks in Pike National Forest
Looking down through a couloir high in the mountains

Pike National Forest is comprised of 1,110,482 acres located in the Front Range and Mosquito Mountains. The Mount Evans and Lost Creek Wildernesses take up more than 140,000 acres of the Forest. Mounts Evans, Bierstadt, Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron, and Bross are on the Forest, as is the most famous peak of them all: Pikes Peak.

The Pike and San Isabel National Forests host about 5 million recreation visitor days annually; placing them in the top five most visited urban national forests. Located within a short drive of three major metropolitan areas, the Forests are the playground for visitors from Colorado (80%) and from out-of-state (20%). Together, they have nearly 500 developed recreation sites, 1,750 miles of System trail, 3,600 miles of System roads, 9 Wilderness Areas (444,000 acres), four Scenic Byways, and half of the 54-14ers in the State. Gold medal fisheries also bring anglers to the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers and various reservoirs offer an experience for boaters and water play.

The landscape of Pike National Forest varies from desert-like foothills littered with pinon and juniper woodlands to majestic Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest in the montane zone. High elevation areas (from about 9,200 to about 11,000 feet) are abundant with Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. Alpine areas (above 11,000 feet) are devoid of trees but are often covered with short scrubby bushes and tough alpine grasses. Wildflowers abound throughout the subalpine zone and mid-summer displays in high mountain meadows are a riot of color. Aspen groves are scattered throughout the forest and bring forth golden bands of foliage during the fall.

Pike National Forest encompasses the upland watersheds for the North and South Platte River systems. These systems provide water for the metropolitan areas along Colorado’s Front Range. Fact is, nearly 60% of the Denver metro area gets its water from the South Platte River. It is important that the US Forest Service manage these systems to provide a balance of clean water, recreational opportunities, fish and wildlife habitat, and healthy watershed conditions. And the 150,000-acre Hayman fire event in 2003 continues to have a prolonged catastrophic impact on these watersheds.

Pikes Peak is named for Zebulon M. Pike, leader of an expedition to explore the southwestern part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1806-07. He attempted to climb the mountain with a small group of followers but was forced back by waist-deep snow. This failure convinced Pike that the mountain was unclimbable but he was soon proven wrong by Dr. Edwin James. There were attempts to rename the mountain James Peak but Pike's name was too firmly stuck. In 1883 a horse-drawn carriage road was completed to the top of the mountain. The Pikes Peak Cog Railroad was completed in 1890. These days, folks who want to drive to the top of Pikes Peak can do so on the Pikes Peak Toll Road, a well-maintained gravel road that also plays host to an annual road race...

Looking north from the upper part of Pikes Peak
Looking north from the upper part of Pikes Peak
The view west from the upper west side of Pikes Peak
The view west from the upper west side of Pikes Peak

In 1859, gold was discovered to the north and northwest of Pikes Peak, leading to the gold rush and the rallying cry of "Pikes Peak or Bust." These discoveries led to the first permanent Anglo settlements in the state. It was 1891 when gold was discovered in the Cripple Creek area on the western slopes. Overnight the area became known as the "Bowl of Gold" and produced nearly a half billion dollars worth of gold before the rich veins played out. Today there is still some mining going on in the area but most of it is done in the low stakes casinos of Cripple Creek.

The Crags, a rock formation on the west side of Pikes Peak
The Crags, a rock formation on the west side of Pikes Peak

Things to see and do on the Forest

  • Barr National Recreation Trail - beginning in Manitou Springs, this trail climbs 7,300 feet and ends after 12.6 miles at the summit of Pikes Peak. Most folks who climb this trail tend to take two days going up and one day coming back
  • Pikes Peak - 14,110 feet of elevation, good climbing.
  • Manitou Park - the premier recreation area of the Pikes Peak Ranger District. 8 miles north of Woodland Park on State Highway 67, there are campgrounds, picnic areas, group facilities, a fishing lake, hiking trails, and a paved bike/hiking trail.
  • Rampart Reservoir Recreation Area - a 400 acre reservoir with 2 campgrounds, several picnic areas, numerous hiking-biking-horseback trails, even a braille trail.
  • Gold Camp Road - this 49.5 mile road follows the historic route of the Short Line Railway between Colorado Springs and the gold rush towns of Victor and Cripple Creek.
  • Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area - Windy Ridge is home to many of those gnarled and twisted trees that lure so many painters and photographers.
  • Boreas Pass - a historic railroad grade that has been converted to a road/mountain bike trail.
  • Buffalo Peaks Wilderness - these 13,000 foot peaks dominate an area with a wide variety of plants and animals. With many trails, this area is a favorite of backpackers, hikers, campers and fishermen.
  • Buffalo Creek Mountain Bike Area - 40 miles of trails developed especially for mountain biking. Mild winters allow riding 8 to 10 months of the year.
  • Guanella Pass Road - a 22-mile road that travels between the historic towns of Georgetown and Grant through Guanella Pass (11,669 feet).
Pikes Peak Toll Road
The Pikes Peak Toll Road
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway winds past Echo Lake high on the mountain
Echo Lake, along the Mount Evans Scenic Byway
 
Photo of Echo Lake courtesy of byways.org
Other photos courtesy of TheArmchairExplorer, CCA-by-SA 4.0 License
 

Campgrounds

Number of sites Campground Name District Comments
81 Colorado Campground Pikes Peak RD ReserveUSA
17 Crags Campground Pikes Peak RD Non-reservable
Crags Trailhead Pikes Peak RD
19 Meadow Ridge Campground Pikes Peak RD ReserveUSA
18 Painted Rocks Campground Pikes Peak RD ReserveUSA
64 South Meadows Campground Pikes Peak RD ReserveUSA
13 Springdale Campground Pikes Peak RD Non-reservable
21 Thunder Ridge Campground Pikes Peak RD ReserveUSA
Pike Community Group Campground Pikes Peak RD Up to 150 people
Red Rocks Group Campground Pikes Peak RD Up to 125 people
Manitou Lake Shelter Pikes Peak RD Maximum 100 people
Day Use Areas Pikes Peak RD
Manitou Lake Picnic Area Pikes Peak RD $25 for Commercial buses, School Buses and Vans
Rampart Reservoir Recreation Area Pikes Peak RD $25 for Commercial buses, School Buses and Vans
19 Horseshoe South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 25'
14 Weston South Park RD Max RV 25'
18 Buffalo Springs South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 30'
15 Selkirk South Park RD Max RV 25' - No Water On Site
7 Kite Lake South Park RD No Trailers - No Water On Site
10 Happy Meadows South Park RD Max RV 22'
27 Spruce Grove South Park RD Max RV 35'
9 Twin Eagles South Park RD Max RV 22' - No Water On Site
12 Lost Park South Park RD Max RV 22' - No Water On Site
21 Blue Mountain South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 35'
16 Round Mountain South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 35'
Campgrounds with * below are the only camping areas within the 11 Mile Canyon Recreation Area.
19 *Riverside South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 30'
15 *Springer Gulch South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 25'
4 *Cove South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 16'
23 *Spillway South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 25'
11 Mile Picnic Area South Park RD
O'Brien Gulch Picnic Area South Park RD
Messenger Gulch Picnic Area South Park RD
Idylwild Picnic Area South Park RD
Campgrounds with ** below are the only camping areas within the Jefferson Lake Recreation Area.
Jefferson Lake Recreation Area ** South Park RD
12 **Aspen South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 25'
35 **Lodgepole South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 30'
17 **Jefferson Creek South Park RD Available on ReserveUSA - Max RV 25'
Beaver Ponds Picnic Area South Park RD
Jefferson Lake Picnic Area South Park RD
13 Michigan South Park RD Max RV 25' - No Water On Site
10 Big Turkey South Platte RD  
41 Buffalo Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 22'
14 Burning Bear open year-round, weather permitting South Platte RD Max RV 20' - No Water On Site
13 Deer Creek Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 20'
21 Devil's Head no winter access South Platte RD Max RV 22'
19 Flat Rocks no winter access South Platte RD Max RV 20'
26 Geneva Park Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 20'
10 Goose Creek Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 20'
6 Green Mountain Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 20'
9 Hall Valley Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 20'
11 Handcart Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Tents Only
11 Indian Creek Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 20'
9 Jackson Creek no winter access South Platte RD Max RV 20' - No Water On Site
18 Kelsey Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 20' - No Water On Site
25 Kenosha Pass open year-round, weather permitting South Platte RD Max RV 24'
18 Lone Rock open year-round, weather permitting South Platte RD Max RV 22'
Two Areas (up to 150 each site) Meadows Group Area South Platte RD Max RV 28' - No Water On Site, 25 vehicles max per site
18 Meridian Memorial Day - Labor Day South Platte RD Max RV 20'
  Molly Gulch South Platte RD  
13 Osprey open year-round, weather permitting South Platte RD Tents Only
13 Ouzel open year-round, weather permitting South Platte RD Space for two small tents
11 Platte River open year-round, weather permitting South Platte RD Tents Only
Two Areas (up to 100 each loop) Timberline Group Area South Platte RD Max RV 28' - No Water On Site, 10 vehicles max per site
5 Whiteside open year-round, weather permitting South Platte RD Tents Only - No Water On Site