- Difficulty: Moderate
- Type: Out and Back
- Distance: 6-8 miles
- Elevation gain: ~800 feet
Without turning off of US 24, you wouldn’t know about that charming gazebo that sits by the pond in the center of town, the cute “mom and pop” restaurant – The Pantry, or the enchanting forests that encompass Green Mountain Falls. The town sits at the base of a mountain range that hides many trails, twining paths ridge over ridge.
One of those hikes is Catamount Trail and leads to North and South Catamount reservoirs on Pikes Peak. The trail system was established in 1997 and has undergone some major work, thanks to Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado.
This trail has been my personal favorite for years because of the views I’m rewarded after the consistent, steep, incline. The trail is rocky, but systematically built as steps that create a path where I swear no boot ever makes the same print. The trail is very well-marked, but finding your way around each rock and root is unique to every hiker.
The trail begins at the base of Crystal Falls, then splits off to various trails, depending on difficulty. The blue is the easier option that features switchbacks up the mountain face, but away from the waterfall. The yellow marked trail follows the waterfall up the mountain, but you’ll use both hands and feet to climb up in some spots.
*Note: All trail information below regards the blue-marked trail.
Before you dive into the trail, you have to walk about a mile up one of the few residential roads to reach the trailhead. There is no hiker parking on the roads, which are clearly marked. Don’t let this steer you away from the trail! The houses you walk by are historic and beautiful. You’ll follow a creek the whole way up the road and each house is unique. Some are dark-wooded cabins and others have white picket fencing. A lot of the houses have bridges over the creek that lead to the front door, so the aesthetics of the homes will have you day dreaming of mountain living during this first mile.
There is parking in a dirt lot off of Ute Pass Avenue. From here, cross the street and turn right to walk up Belvidere Avenue, a paved, winding road with a constant uphill. Or you can cross to the dirt road, Hondo Avenue, for an up-and-down road that features a home where a sign sits in front, warning hikers of aliens and Bigfoot.
Either way, after about a mile, you’ll reach the water tank and the base of Crystal Falls. Here is a good place to sit and catch your breath before you get on the trail. There are several trail maps and some information about volunteering for trail work.
The beginning of the trail will be rockier than the rest of the way and the trail has many branches you can peer over the waterfall from.
The switchbacks begin after about a quarter-mile and you’re neck-deep in the woods. The view of the highway and the city disappears and you’re on your way to the Garden of Eden.
After about a half-mile, you’ll see an intersection for another trail — Thomas Trail Loop. Continue up the switchbacks and to the reservoirs. Your elevation will start to add up, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. Keep an eye out for both signs that direct to “Town Overlook.” I highly suggest taking these few extra steps to check it out, because the views are motivating to keep going forward.
Once you end the switchbacks, you have several options. You can turn back if you’ve had enough, continue west along the range and explore, or follow the trail markers to the Garden of Eden.
The garden is exactly how it sounds – peaceful and divine – with golden meadows, an enchanting creek and brilliant wildflowers. Stay alert through this area especially, because you’re in mountain lion territory. It’s important to keep your eyes up, rather than down at the trail. A massive rock wall towers above you, and you can’t help but feel like a big cat is watching from above.
The trail is well-marked through the forest and ends at a fire service road. I know what you’re thinking, where’s the water? Follow the dirt road and you’ll reach the reservoir!