“Rocks, flowers, trees, and views on this diverse trail system through one of Colorado Springs' beautiful open spaces.”
— Matt Bone
Birding · Fall Colors · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This hike will take you past UCCS's Heller Arts Center and through parts of Austin Bluffs Open Space and Pulpit Rock Park. The trails are accessible year round and feature changing scenery, juniper and pinion pine forests, patches of scrub oak, beautiful geologic formations, and epic views of northern Colorado Springs, UCCS, and the surrounding open spaces.
The area offers a multitude of trails that vary in elevation change and terrain. Beginners will find manageable trails with beautiful scenery to get them hooked on hiking. Experienced hikers will be treated to a diverse outdoor area with a selection of unique trails that are challenging, surprising, and keep you coming back week after week.
Need to Know
The satellite imagery is out of date, and there has been significant construction since the photo was taken. None of the trails are obstructed by the construction, but the parking lot can get crowded with large trucks and machinery. There is a red dirt trail that runs adjacent to the gravel road from the parking lot to the Heller Center, and this path safely bypasses construction and crosses the dry creek bed at about 0.7 miles from the parking lot. The best parking is UCCS lot 580, which is the parking lot for the new UCCS baseball field. Parking in this lot is free. The address for the Heller Center is 1250 N. Campus Heights Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80918.
Be careful with dogs in the summer! Rattlesnakes make their homes on the south-facing slopes of this area where the sun is plentiful. Avoid bringing pets on narrow trails, as rattlesnakes can hide in short grass and under rocks and stumps, avoiding detection close to the trail. Keep your ears open!
Beginning in the parking lot, this hike gives you a nice warmup on a wide dirt and gravel trail that runs straight and gains elevation slightly for about 0.75 miles.
After crossing a dry creek bed, the trail splits into two directions. Continuing straight will take you into Austin Bluffs Open Space, a beautiful canyon with several miles of trails. The hike shown here turns left at this point and passes by the Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities. If you need a break at this point, enjoy some of the art displayed on the lawn and cool off on the shaded grounds.
At the northern edge of the small dirt parking lot there is a narrow path that runs directly toward the rock formation that towers above the Heller Center. Follow this path, and you'll be on your first ascent, just less than one mile in.
Following this ascent for about two hundred yards will bring you to a fork in the trail. The trail to the right leads to Austin Bluffs Open Space; going straight will take you on a more strenuous route to the top of Pulpit Rock. More advanced hikers might want to take this option. The route shown here, however, turns left (west) for a short hike (about 0.2 miles) and then again turns north to run under the cliffs of the Pulpit formation.
The trail rises and falls through a forested section under these cliffs for about 0.5 miles and then starts to climb the main Pulpit Rock formation. Be careful on the ascent after bad weather, as the trails can get washed out easily at this point.
At 1.5 miles, you'll be at the top of Pulpit Rock and treated to one of the best views of Colorado Springs. Reaching the top of the rock requires some climbing and sure footing. If you want to take a break from your hike at this point, you can try some rock climbing, tie up a hammock if you brought one, or watch a UCCS baseball game on the weekends in the spring.
Next, you'll retrace your steps to the point where descending the formation is safe. Going east along the top of the formation, keep your eyes on the right side of the ridge for the trail, as it can be easy to miss going down. You'll be descending rapidly, about 200 feet in 0.15 miles. Be careful on this part, as rocks can be loose and the trail is steep.
From this point to the parking lot, the trail is mainly descending. You'll run toward the baseball field until you reach flatter ground, where the trail widens and forks. Take the trail going south that runs behind the large silver building (the UCCS indoor track and field). This section runs through meadows and patches of scrub oak.
When you exit the scrub oak area, there is a narrow intersecting trail that turns right and goes up a short hill. After this short ascent, turn right on to the trail that it intersects. This intersection is just before reaching two miles, and you'll be looking toward Nevada Ave. and the parking lot. This trail will cross the construction road, and will put you back on the red dirt trail where you started. Enjoy the last 0.25 miles of easy hiking with Pike's Peak smiling on your accomplishment.
Flora & Fauna
This hike takes you through meadows of prairie grass and yucca plants and under the shade of juniper and pinion pine. In the spring and summer, wildflowers bloom in the meadows, and the fresh grass attracts large grasshoppers which like to warm themselves on the trail. These can be pretty annoying, jumping wildly as you approach.
The area is also frequented by deer. Keep your wits about you as you might round a corner and find yourself in close proximity to them. They are easily startled but seem to be used to people, so just keep your distance and be aware of corners and blind areas.
Rattlesnakes are common in the area during warm months. They might be under tree stumps, shrubs, rocks, in the grass, or directly on the trail. It can be difficult with the beautiful views, but it is a good idea to keep your eyes and ears on the trail during the warm months.
History & Background
The Pulpit Rock area was the site of Native American vision quests. There are a few structures that look like old pioneer houses that are now reduced to their foundations. The Heller Center itself is made out of renovated structures.