I was always the kind of person who makes plans in advance and sticks to them, but lately I’ve had to become a lot more flexible as time and again my plans are foiled by weather, global pandemics, or who knows what else. I’ve found that it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan, just in case.
Allie and I set off on a long drive down south. We left early since we were planning on a 10 mile hike (and about 6 hours of driving). This was during the pandemic when places were closed and there were rumors that law enforcement was turning out-of-towners away from certain trailheads. We did our research ahead of time to make sure that the trail we’d be visiting was open and okay for us to visit.
After 2 hours of driving, we turned off the pavement onto a dirt road. We still had about an hour before we reached the trailhead. A ranger was parked at the intersection and got out when he saw us turning. Uh oh. Are we going to get in trouble?
“Sorry, this road is closed today due to a forest fire. We have fire trucks coming in and out and we can’t have people in there blocking access.”
Oh. Allie and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. What are we going to do now!?
I’ve only been to this area once (and Allie never had), so ideas didn’t immediately spring to mind. We didn’t have phone service but I knew we would if we drove 30 minutes to Woodland Park, the nearest town. We thanked the ranger and set out, hoping to find something, just desperate not to head home totally skunked.
Once we got phone service, we were able to look up various trails we’d had on our lists. We racked our brains for ideas. And once we came up with something, there were always questions. Was it open? Was it clear of snow? Are dogs allowed? I think we went through at least 8-10 options before we found two short hikes (and a scenic drive) that would work perfectly!
Vindicator Valley Loop | Pike National Forest
Cripple Creek, CO | 04/26/20| 2.57 miles | 349′ gain
First stop, Vindicator Valley outside Cripple Creek. I actually visited with my brother last summer, so I didn’t take too many new pictures, but it’s definitely fun to check out and Allie was really glad we stopped!
Even though there’s a ton to explore, the hike went by quickly and then we were on the way into Cripple Creek, where we turned onto Shelf Road. Shelf Road is a dirt road that leads from Cripple Creek to Cañon City. I was really concerned that this was going to be an actual shelf road (ie. terrifying). This wasn’t helped by the huge warning signs that read “4wd only”! But the road was super easy, and we saw a number of standard cars along the way.
Cactus Cliff Trail | The Bank Campground
Cañon City, CO | 04/26/20| 1.79 miles | 339′ gain
We turned off of Shelf Road on the southern side and parked at The Bank Campground. This is a really popular climbing area and they were everywhere. We of course weren’t going to be climbing, but hiking along the Cactus Cliff Trail. This trail works its way around the cliffs above Shelf Road and provides access to popular climbing routes. We were just a little too early, but the cacti here are supposed to be amazing when they flower.
From the parking lot, we hiked down and crossed a dry wash before heading back up to the cliffs on the other side. We followed the trail (sometimes a road) around the cliffs for a short ways before it was time to leave. We still had quite a drive to get home! (I think we only finished about half of the trail!)
This is such a unique area with great views all along the way. If I ever find myself back in Cañon City, I might just have to come back to finish this trail!