Pike National Forest stretches across the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado, a stone's throw from Denver and Colorado Springs. It's managed as a single unit with the San Isabel National Forest, opening up millions of acres of pristine wilderness to adventurers and leisure campers. Spend your days summiting a "fourteener" — the national forest has 23 peaks over 14,000 feet tall — or relax in your campsite and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. With some of the most exciting hiking, biking, fishing, rock climbing, and winter sports in the United States at your fingertips, you can find a different activity for every hour of the day.
Hike to the largest set of dinosaur tracks in all of North America on the Picket Wire Trail. It's located in one of the far-flung sections of the national forest; you'll need to head east of Pueblo along US-50 to reach the Withers Canyon trailhead in La Junta. However, the hike itself isn't challenging. After a short descent to the bottom of the Picket Wire Canyon, it follows the Purgatoire River. Bring plenty of water, as it can get hot in the summer. When you reach the dinosaur track site, you'll find more than 1,300 tracks preserved in the rock. They were left millions of years ago by allosaurus and brontosaurus dinosaurs. As you hike, look for the prehistoric artwork on the rocks.
Length: 11 miles round-trip
If you're up for a big challenge, you can hike to the top of Pikes Peak on the Barr Trail. It's a long, strenuous day hike with an elevation gain of nearly 7,400 feet. You should only attempt this route if you're fit and acclimated to the high elevation. Start early in the morning and pack plenty of layers; the weather can change dramatically as you climb. At the top, you can officially claim that you've conquered a fourteener — the summit stands 14,115 feet above sea level. Make sure to book a shuttle or bus for the way back. For an easier hike, get a ride to the summit and hike down the trail.
Length: 13 miles one way
For a beautiful day hike, head to the St. Mary's Falls Trail. It travels along Buffalo Canyon Creek, climbing through the forest to a gorgeous waterfall. The river cascades down a granite cliff, creating a picture-perfect mountain setting. This trail is very popular, especially in the summer, so arrive early to get a parking spot and avoid the crowds.
Length: 1.6 miles one way
Take your family on a hike of the Crags Trail. It's scenic and relatively easy, so kids can manage comfortably. This relatively short path runs up to a collection of stunning rock formations that emerge from the evergreens. The trail itself is well-maintained and easy to navigate; in the winter, it's a popular cross-country skiing route. Keep an eye out for the ancient bristlecone pines along the way.
Length: 3 miles round-trip
As you might guess from the name, the Lakes of the Clouds Trail takes you up into the mountains to an alpine lake. Make sure you're ready for the elevation; this trail travels up to 11,500 feet above sea level. Hike along Swift Creek, climbing steadily and clambering over rocks. At the end of the trail, a lovely lake is framed by evergreens and rocky peaks. If you're brave, hop in for a bone-chilling swim. You can also continue up to the Lakes of the Clouds summit.
Length: 8.4 miles round-trip
Intensity: Moderate to Difficult
Looking for a fast, educational hike? Check out the Hard Rock Interpretive Trail. You'll find brochures at the trailhead that explain each site you find along the way and help you learn about the geology, flora, and fauna. For a slightly longer hike, take the side trail that leads to a viewpoint overlooking Eleven Mile Canyon.
Length: 0.9 mile
The Seven Bridges Trail, which is also called the North Cheyenne Creek Trail, is a popular day hike located close to Colorado Springs. It packs a great deal of natural beauty into a short distance; you'll hike across bridges over streams, through sunlit forests, and along rocky cliffs. Usually breezy and cool, this hike is a great option on hot summer days. It's kid-friendly, and you can even do it in the winter with sturdy boots or snowshoes.
Length: 3 miles round-trip
For those who enjoy birdwatching, the best spots include Crystal Lake, Bear Lake, and the Mingus Ranch cabin. You'll also want to check out the Kenosha wildlife viewing observation site.
One of the most popular activities in Pike National Forest is fishing. Anglers can cast a line from the banks or a boat at Twin Lakes, Manitou Lake, the Salida lakes, Bear Lake, and Lake Isabel.
Geocaching is permitted outside of designated wilderness areas.
Address: 2840 Kachina Drive, Pueblo, CO 81008
Fee: Entry fee $0
Packed with mountains, forests, lakes, and canyons, Pike National Forest has adventures to spare. Visiting the forest means days filled with hiking, biking, scenic driving, fishing, and more. To ensure that you always have a comfortable place to sleep, upgrade your camping trip by renting an RV.