May 2-3, 2015
Garden of the Gods
Location: 5 miles northwest of Colorado Springs
Location: 45 miles west of Colorado Springs
Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rock Trailhead
Location: 9.4 miles north of Cripple Creek
Roundtrip: 7.6 miles
Location: 6.5 miles west of Colorado Springs
Just sixty miles south of Denver a national natural landmark, Garden of the Gods is a unique, free park to visit. David and I stopped in the visitor center to find out the best trails to follow for cool views of the rock formations, but also to get in at least a four mile hike.
Upon the instruction of the ranger, we walked from the visitor center under the road to Gateway Trail which we connected to all or portions of three more trails; Chambers/Bretag/Palmer Trail, Siamese Twins Trail, and Perkins Central Garden Trail. The trails led us along the dusty path past twisted trees and small shrubs, between a variety of rock formations, and beneath many climbers enjoying a sunny day.
After completing the four mile loop, we drove to Cripple Creek, an old gold mining town. In its heyday, over 10,000 prospectors lived in the now sleepy town of 1,100. Now the main street is lined with casinos. The casino just on the outskirts of town has the cheapest craps table in the state (only $1), and from what I understand, good odds. We spent a few hours learning how to play. It only cost us $20 each. It was a fun time filler while we waited to watch the Kentucky Derby.
Cripple Creek is also home to a few museums and a theatre. I wouldn’t mind coming back for a theatre production, as I’m told actors come in from all over. Only a movie was showing, Three Amigos, while we were there. For a small $5 contribution, we visited the Cripple Creek District Museum operated by an enthusiastic married couple. We mostly wanted to take our picture in the cut-out board, but then enjoyed seeing all the old pictures and maps of the town and gold mines. It was worth a visit!
The weather put a bit of a damper on walking around the town, but we got a glimpse before we left the next morning to hike Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks. The trailhead is located at the closed Little Ike Tunnel. If hiking to both Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks, the overall distance is 7.6 miles. It is also possible to just hike one or the other for a shorter distance, 2.2 miles or 6.6 miles respectively. The trail also offers a detour to the left on Ring the Peak Trail that goes into the nearby meadow and towards Pikes Peak (this is actually the first trail junction).
While the weather was rather crappy the last few weeks of April, we were surprised to see how much snow was still on the trail. I expected some, but much of the path was snowpacked. Micro-spikes would have been a nice addition for the hike that began at 9,700 feet of elevation and gained another 1,200 along the way to Pancake Rocks.
The hike to Horsethief Falls was relatively simple though most of the falls were covered in snow, so I was a little bummed to only see a trickle of water. The hike to Pancake Rocks was a bit more challenging. Our poles helped us climb up the icy switchbacks to some neat rock formations. I’m uncertain if we made it all the way as the path somewhat ended into a mass of snow shortly after we stopped to admire some of the rocks. As the day warmed up, we alternated between post holing and sliding down the path on our return.
On our way back to Denver, we stopped for lunch in Manitou Springs and to wander around the town. I would have liked to wander around the town a bit longer, but we made a poor lunch choice by visiting BooDad’s. We saw our waiter twice over 1.5 hours…to bring us a beer and to bring us the bill. We had to order our meal from the young girl cleaning tables, our beer from the waitress handling the table next to us, and then ask for our bill from the person seating people as our waiter was no-where to be found on the balcony or inside the restaurant! I would not recommend, though Manitou Springs is worth a visit. ETB