The state of Colorado has a whopping 53 fourteeners, but our favorite (yes, we’re biased) is absolutely Pikes Peak, which sits like a gorgeous crown upon the panorama of our royally awesome region. There are many ways to reach the summit, like hiking via Barr Trail or riding the Cog Railway (and some people even run up it), but we’re rather fond of a different route, the Pikes Peak Highway. Why? Check out the top five reasons we like to take the high road!
1. You Get to Drive through 4 of Colorado’s 6 Life Zones
One of the best parts of driving the Pikes Peak Highway is the freedom you have to stop on your own time and check out all the sights, especially the changing landscape. Starting in the Foothills Zone, the highway takes you on a steady climb through four of Colorado’s six life zones, allowing you experience the plants, animals and climate of each at various pull-outs along the way. In the Montane Zone, you’ll meet a lot of deer and, in the summer, see an enormous variety of wildflowers. You may even see a bear or mountain lion. Hopefully, from afar. Far afar. Up in the Sub Alpine Zone, you’ll see the trees and plants start to change as they adapt to low water and harsh altitudes. The final zone, the Alpine Zone, is where tree line stops and the plants get short and sparse. The most unique animals you may spot there are the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which sometimes like to wander across the highway, much to the delight of drivers. Maybe you’ll be one of them.
2. You Can Stop and Fish at 9,200 Feet
Just a few miles past the tollgate lies the North Slope Recreation Area, a pristine outdoor space home to Crystal Creek Reservoir, South Catamount Reservoir and North Catamount Reservoir. The waters are calm and unmarred by gas-powered, motorized boating, allowing you to fish peacefully from the shore or in canoes, row boats and belly boats. All manner of trout can be found in the lake, including rainbow, cutthroat and brook. At Crystal Creek and South Catamount, you can fish with bait (no minnows); at North Catamount, you can use flies and lures. During the summer, the recreation area opens at 7:30 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m., which means you can get a few hours of great fishing in before or after heading up to the summit. You’re allowed to take home four fish, which leaves plenty of room for lying about the bigger ones that “got away”. Don’t forget your fishing license!
3. You Can Stretch Your Legs on Scenic Hiking Trails
As we’ve mentioned, you can hike up Pikes Peak on foot using Barr Trail — but there are also many other trails to be found along the Pikes Peak Highway that offer much shorter jaunts. They range in distance from two to five miles and the trailheads can be found at various pull-outs on the drive to the summit. It’s important to remember that the higher on the mountain you are, the more challenging the terrain. Trails around the North Slope Recreational Area and below are probably best for beginner-to-moderate hikers, while trails above the tree line are more suitable for those with experience. No matter the trail you chose, you will witness incredible Colorado views. Make sure you bring water and dress appropriately. One other tip? Hiking trails that start on a downhill always return uphill. What feels easy going down is definitely not so fabulous going back up, so plan for that as you hike.
4. You Can Bring Your Mountain Bike
At the same recreation area where you can fish and hike the day away, you’ll also find another unexpected treat — several miles of mountain biking trails. Park in the North or South Catamount Reservoir lots and discover logging roads, single track trails and gravel roadways. You’ll even be able to ride right alongside the South Catamount Reservoir, which makes for an amazing experience. Some of the trails are multi-use, so be sure to watch for hikers. And because the area is still untamed, even with all the visitors, you’ll want to watch for wildlife crossing your path, too. You don’t want to be that cyclist with the deer collision video on YouTube. The best part? After a few hours of riding, you can drive up the rest of the way to the summit and reward your massive calorie burning with some of the tastiest donuts in existence. Speaking of donuts …
5. You Get to Enjoy Hot Donuts and Cool Views at the Top
Donuts have been served on the Pikes Peak summit for over 100 years, which is why we think their choice to call them “world famous” is well-earned. That and their appearance on the Food Network. The bakers have to use a special formula to accommodate the 14,115-foot elevation, but we’re pretty sure that’s part of the yummy goodness. Or maybe it’s that you can score them for a $1. Good deals always taste better, right? While you’re munching your sugary ring of carbs, you’ll be treated to views that feel like they extend to the edge of the earth, although it’s been said in community lore that you can “only” see five states. We suggest taking tons of photos. After all, you’ve technically summited a 14er!
There are many ways to reach the summit, but driving gives you the most freedom to truly explore all that Pikes Peak has to offer. Gather up your favorite folks and hit the Pikes Peak highway for an unforgettable journey.