This spectacular loop (one of my favorite in the Springs) starts at the Section 16 trailhead, to be found on Gold Camp Rd.
This trail is also frequently referred to as the "Section 16/Palmer Loop
", but so long as you follow signs for Palmer Trail
, no matter what else is written, you'll be fine.
The trail begins with a gentle incline that winds its way up through red rock and scrub oak, affording some great views of Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Open Space to the north (right).
There are a couple of unmarked trails that lead off to the right heading to Red Rock Open Space. Stay on the trail that leads uphill and generally looks more used, and you'll be fine.
After .7 miles, the trail intersects with the Intemann Trail
, which connects to Red Rock Canyon and heads into Manitou Springs, where it can be used to get to The Manitou Incline
, Barr Trail
, and Ute Pass Trail
For this run you'll continue straight and, shortly after the Intemann Trail
intersection, the Palmer trail climbs into the trees. In the summer, this is a relief from the brutal sun. In the winter, expect to start hitting snow and ice.
The incline picks up at this point, becoming too steep for all but the hardiest of souls to run. The trail is well marked in the forest and, wherever there might be confusion, there is a marker pointing in the right direction. They will be marked "Section 16 / Palmer Trail
" (Ring the Peak Trail).
Just over 1.5 miles from the TH, the ridge is reached, opening spectacular views to the south. I am always startled when standing at this point, where I see nothing but mountains and trees, that I am standing on City property.
The trail continues to the right (west) where it flattens out. There are some ups and some downs but all tend to be fairly mild. Eventually the trail begins a sustained drop that is less steep than the climb and a blast to hike as you allow gravity to do its work.
After about three miles, the trail reaches the valley and you continue around to the left towards High Drive
, which can be seen when higher up on the trail as you are coming down.
To get back to the trailhead, take High Drive
downhill for about .5 miles to hit paved road. Take the one furthest to the left/the highest (this is Gold Camp). The trailhead will be a few hundred feet up on the left.
To continue, you can take a left up High Drive
to connect with Bear Creek Trail (#666)
, Jones Park Trail (#667)
, Captain Jacks, and other great local trails.