Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series of articles. A hidden gem in the Front Range of the Rockies that you should put on your trail destination bucket list is Cañon City, Colorado, population 16,539. Written by Ashlee Sack, coordinator for ATRA corporate member Fremont Adventure Recreation.
Cañon City, Colorado
Located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where the Arkansas River runs to the eastern plains, Cañon City has long been a paradise for whitewater enthusiasts. Boasting gold medal fishing waters and some of the finest whitewater in the country, Cañon City has only recently begun to be known as a trail destination. Mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners of all abilities will now find double-track and single-track trails that offer incomparable views of rugged Colorado mountain scenery.
Cañon City has five main trail systems for trail runners to enjoy. Ranging from easy to very challenging, there’s no shortage of trail options for runners of all ability levels.
Easiest – The Arkansas Riverwalk Trail is a 7.5-mile long double-track, gravel trail that winds along the Arkansas River. It connects to nearby Tunnel Drive, which extends into the famed Royal Gorge for two miles. Parking is available at either end of the trail, including the Tunnel Drive trailhead to the west, or the MacKenzie trailhead to the east.
Easy – For a rolling-hill run with an optional ascent to asphalt (but an incredible view of the Arkansas River Valley), try the Hogbacks Recreation Area, including the famous Skyline Drive. Take Greenhorn or Graneros to Old Skyline, and add in Dakota Ridge for a rock-hopping, challenging ascent. Parking at the Floral Avenue trailhead is free, and you can enter the one-way entrance to that point.
Harder – South Cañon is a recently-built trail system that runs along the famous Hogback formation and up Temple Canyon. Find plenty of varied terrain along this single-track system. Start at Eagle Wing Trailhead (free) and head up Mutton Bustin’ for a great warm-up, then into the”tough stuff” for as many miles as you can muster. Turn around and head downhill to return to the trailhead. Lollipop routes include adding on Section 13 and/or the Hard Time and Great Escape sections.
Challenging – Ready to earn an incredible view from a towering cliff overlooking some of Fremont County’s most stunning scenery? Try running at Oil Well Flats, where parking at the upper parking lot (where Anticline and Tectonic Shift meet) and running up Fire Canyon to Island in the Sky will earn you such view. You’ll gain about 600 feet, but you’ll climb from cactus-strewn Juniper fields to Piñon pine forests and see all the way to the next county. Parking and use is free as this is a BLM area.
Way Challenging – For epic views of the Royal Gorge, the Arkansas River, and the 1,000-foot Royal Gorge, you’ll have to head a few miles out of town to the 5,000-acre Royal Gorge Trails system. Now at 18 miles (and counting), the terrain is all single-track and offers elevation gain galore. Start at the main trailhead on CR3A, run down Twisted Cistern, up The Maze, around Canyon Vista and FAR out, then finish on the glorious Canyon Rim Trail. This 6.5-ish mile loop will leave you breathless and inspired.
Coffee, Beer & Food:
When you get off the trails you’ll need to refresh and refuel and Cañon City has you covered. Local coffee favorite The Bean Pedaler will serve your post-race cup of Joe, and you’ll be contributing to Fremont Adventure Recreation’s 1% for Trails program, which puts money back into local trail systems.
Head over to Brews & Bikes for craft Colorado brews and street tacos for the same reason. On a warm day, their patio is the best place to eat a hearty lunch and enjoy a drink. Check out Pizza Madness for the best pizza (and strangely addictive ‘family salad’) in the county. If you’re up for breakfast, try MUGS’s bacon pancakes.
Expect even more trail mileage to be built in the next few years as the City and FAR coordinate new development within the Royal Gorge Park. Check out FAR’s event calendar for a list of great trail-based events or search our (ATRA) Event Calendar to find and participate in events that support trail infrastructure. Fremont Adventure Recreation is the local trail / running / mountain bike advocacy group and prides itself on creating beautiful trail systems for non-motorized use that benefits the community.
The runBlossom – held every year on the first weekend in May – is a seminal event that offers a flat course along the Riverwalk. Mark your calendar for the Point Alta Vista Trail Race on October 10, 2020, which will include running across recently-refurbished train trestles.
See joinFAR.org for more information and a complete, downloadable trail guide. The Adventure Guide is put out in March of each year and includes a complete calendar of outdoor recreation events and updated trail maps.
[Pro Tip:] To find even more trail running races in Colorado beyond Cañon City, check out the American Trail Running Association race calendar.