7.0 miles, 1-3 hours
The Waldo Canyon Loop hike is one of the most popular hikes in the Colorado Springs area. Accordingly, you’ll find a large parking area at the trailhead. Even with all the space available, you may have to park across the highway if you arrive later than the normal start time. I’ve hiked this three times and have found that many people arrive early in the morning. Since the canyon opens to the east, this provides the best light for photos, and, in the summer, the best chance for staying cool. Hikers starting after 1600 during the summer will find the long shadows of the setting sun add a dramatic tone to their trek. The hike divides itself naturally into three parts, the approach to the loop (about 2 miles), the loop (3.5 miles), and the return. This adds to 7.5 miles, despite the trailhead sign’s declaration of 6.2. One guy I encountered ran up to the loop, ran the loop twice, and ran back. “Great 10 mile run,” he said, as he loped past me, not even breathing hard.
Long ago, way before I was born, the land that is now the “Front Range” of the Rocky Mountains was a seabed. The upper level of the seabed, which became limestone, rests on top of a layer of Peerless Dolomite, on top of the Sawatch Sandstone, which lies on a bed of granite. Geological forces caused a bulge in this formation, exposing the rock layers to the weather. Waldo Canyon was one of the results of the erosion that followed. So as you hike up and around the canyon walls, you’ll cross all of these formations. Be sure to take time to notice and enjoy the differences as you encounter them.
Directions: Exit I-25 in Colorado Springs at the Cimarron St exit (141). Turn left (west) and drive up through Manitou Springs. About a mile past the exit for Cave of the Winds, you’ll approach a right curve in Hwy 24. On the right side of the road is a hwy marker indicating a trailhead. As you round the curve, you’ll see the parking area on the right – but you can’t see it before you round the curve; so be alert and be careful.
This is a dry hike during much of the year. If you’re hiking with a dog, take water for both of you.
The trail surface is either decomposed granite or broken rock and dirt. If your dog has tender paws, I’d recommend dog-boots.
When you arrive at the “loop” portion of the trail, I recommend turning right and walking the loop counterclockwise. Going this way decreases the severity of the climb. Also, most mountain bikers ride clockwise; so they’ll be easier to spot coming toward you.
Hiking in the late spring and early summer will provide you with abundant opportunities to enjoy wildflowers. The color changes of fall arrive around the beginning of Oct.