Photo credit: Ultra Rob
If you’re reading this, you’ve decided to embark upon a distinctly Colorado journey, climbing 2,000 feet in elevation using one mile of stairs just to say you did it. The Manitou Springs Incline was once a best-kept secret for locals, but has grown in popularity over the last decade. As such, many travelers now come to Manitou just to try it. However, this isn’t the easiest hike in the world and it comes with challenges. We’re sharing some basic tips to help you survive your first trip and live to brag about it.
Incline Tip #1: Bring water. Lots of it.
Yes, we do indeed harp on the need for water quite a bit in Colorado. It’s super dry here! Pair that with altitude and exertion and you’re begging for dehydration. The Manitou Incline is particularly tricky because there’s no water to be found along your climb, there is no shade on the stairs and it’s difficult to navigate up and down. So, let’s talk about how much to bring. If you think one of those 16.9 oz. bottles you picked up at 7-Eleven is going to cut it, think again. Remember, this is one mile to the top and then a 4-mile hike or jog down Barr Trail. You will burn through that tiny water bottle mid-way up (as you should) and end up sad and thirsty. Bring a water backpack, a large canteen, a backpack with multiple bottles of water — whatever suits your fancy. Drink often and pack out any trash. No one was ever sorry they left the Incline with leftover water, we promise.
Incline Tip #2: Park with care.
Manitou Springs has done a serious crack-down on parking in the last two years, in part because of Incline traffic. Residents were coming home to find every spot on their streets filled with the cars of hikers for hours on end, which was pretty frustrating. The city has created rules and very large fines to combat this. (Quick note: The Pikes Peak Cog Railroad parking has also closed to Incliners.) As such, your options are limited. So, where should you park?
– Close and cheap: Park at Iron Springs Chateau for $10. There is an attendant there from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. If there is no attendant, do not park there. These slots fill fast, so a lot of people get there first thing in the morning to secure one.
– Free and easy: Free Hiawatha Gardens Parking lot at 10 Old Man’s Trail with a free shuttle to the base. Shuttles run about every 10-20 minutes, 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.
– Free and a bit of work: Park on the street on the outskirts of town near Briarhurst Manor (avoid restricted curbs), walk to a free shuttle stop, or be extra exercise-y and hoof it all the way to the base.
If you park in the residential area, you will get a ticket. If you park in a short-term spot and miss your time to get back, you will also get a ticket. Since hiking the Incline can take multiple hours for people who are not experienced, use the options above and save lots of money on fines.
Incline Tip #3: Try to go uphill-only.
Etiquette has always been that the Incline is an uphill-only kind of hike, particularly now that it’s so crowded. Climbers are looking down at the steps, not up for oncoming traffic. Vertigo is absolutely an issue when you’re facing downward, impacting your balance and your grace. Falling down is hard and painful and it’s difficult to stop your downward trajectory on a giant stairway. Also of note: The aftermath of tippy-toeing for a mile down stairs is that you’ll awaken with a heck of a spiker in each of your calves. If you do decide to buck etiquette and go directly down the steps, go slow, yield to climbers and minimize potential post-hike pain by drinking lots of water. Did we mention you should have water?
Incline Tip #4: Leave your pets at home.
Yes, you will indeed see dogs on the Incline, but it’s against the rules outlined on manitousprings.gov. There are many practical reasons for this, including the safety of your pet, who may not have the stamina that you do. Altitude and dehydration impact dogs, too, and your loyal best friend doesn’t have a lot of options for communicating to you that they’ve had it. There are plenty of other less-crowded, gentler trails for you to hike the day away with your pet.
Incline Tip #5: Watch the weather.
Colorado is known for its rather … quirky … weather. One minute, you’re roasting like a rotisserie chicken in the sunshine, the next, you’re taking cover from hail under a pine tree. When hiking the Incline, it’s important to remember that escaping the bad weather isn’t as simple as hopping off the trail and going indoors. Check the weather report before you go and then watch the sky as you climb. Take cover if lightning is close by and stay on higher ground if heavy rains occur (Barr Trail becomes a bit of a creek in some areas and flash floods are possible at many points). Alternatively, for the nice days, pack sunscreen and other protection, including, you guessed it, water.
Incline Tip #6: Be kind to Mother Nature and the Incline.
Keep our beautiful trails clean by packing out your trash: empty bottles, food wrappers, cigarette butts, pet waste, etc. Be a good steward and collect the trash of less courteous visitors when you find it. Be gentle with Barr Trail, too, as it’s taking on way more traffic than it was ever built to handle — don’t pry up rocks/boulders, move fallen trees around, dig holes, etc. Don’t cut through the switchbacks and form new trails, as these new “trails” create issues down the road during rainstorms or other types of erosion. In short, try to leave it better than how you found it.
These are just a few of the basics for making your way up (and back down) the Manitou Springs Incline. This is a challenging hike with a huge endorphin reward at the end. With courtesy and common sense, you’ll proudly be snapping a finisher selfie at the top!
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