You know, there are mountain bikers, unfortunately ill-located trail disciples, that have to drive in order to ride prime singletrack. For some, it’s a short drive; maybe a half-hour or hour, for others, it might be a couple hundred miles. However, for many lucky souls, beautiful, pristine trails can be found right there in their city of residence. Colorado Springs, Colorado mountain bikers are fortunate enough to have just such a place: Palmer Park, a large series of rocky bluffs conveniently located right in the middle of the city. Palmer Park is easily accessed, and well worth the time, for the park’s trail system offers tests for any level of rider.
Named after Colorado Springs founder General William Palmer, Palmer Park is a good-sized (over 700 acres) provider of natural fun. The spidery, twisty trail system ranges from easy maintenance roads to technically difficult singletrack. The trail network regularly intersects, allowing riders to navigate the park at their discretion. The city has done a fine job of marking the trails, yet it’s sometimes more fun to just take a right or left on a whim, just to see where that particular path to the right goes. One can literally play at Palmer Park for a couple hours without riding the same trail twice. The best part about riding in Palmer Park is that if you don’t like the particular trail you’re on, just keep exploring. You’re bound to come across something that’s a bit more to your liking.
Palmer Park is a series of rocky bluffs, bluffs that from the top provide excellent views of the city. These bluffs hide a wonderful system full of rocks, sandstone and dirt, loose sand and trees, and cactus and yucca plants, all of which makes up some 25 miles of roller coaster-fun trails. No wonder Colorado Springs mountain bikers, hikers, equestrians, and trail runners flock to Palmer Park – it’s got practically everything a trail enthusiast could want and then some. Much like a ski area, the trails are rated green (easy,) blue (intermediate,) or black (difficult.) In one single day a rider can navigate everything from easy horse trails to bone-jarring technical routes. As you ride, be prepared for rock gardens, sandstone stairs and drop-offs, waterbars, and areas of soft sand, often, all on the same trail. Those sharp, omnipresent cactus and yucca plants, as if all the obstacles weren’t enough to keep you on your toes, line most trails. Most of the trails in the park swoop, swerve, and slurve through chutes-a-plenty while providing the rider with bobsled-style action, albeit in an often-technical manner.
You won’t find any lung-busting climbs here – it’s only about 1 1/2 miles to the top of the park. Other than the climb to the top, most of the climbing is of the short and sometimes steep variety. However, climbing to the top of any of the bluffs is rewarding for both the ride down, and the spectacular views of Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs. Be sure to bring a camera, as the park offers many great photo opportunities.
You’re likely to encounter other trail users while riding Palmer Park – it’s a haven for hikers and trail runners. Equestrians also use the trails, particularly on the outskirts of the park. Be sure to follow proper trail etiquette at all times.
For other, non-trail-related fun, Palmer Park also has a dog run, lots of picnicking areas, volleyball, and a children’s area.
As of this writing, the closest bike shop to the park is Performance Bicycles (3650 Austin Bluffs Pkwy./www.performancebike.com) for repairs/parts/service. For in-town rentals, see either Criterium Bicycles (6150 Corporate Dr./www.criterium-bicycles.com) or Ted’s Bicycles (3016 N. Hancock Ave.)
Several bars and restaurants are located nearby for after-ride beers and grub. Old Chicago (4110 N. Academy Blvd.) offers 110 beers, pizza, calzones, and burgers; Red, Hot, & Blue (4290 N. Academy Blvd.) has tasty BBQ; On the Boulevard (2855 N. Murray Blvd.) serves up standard bar fare but the nachos are excellent, especially after a long, sweaty ride.
Palmer Park is located in Colorado Springs at N. Academy Blvd. and Maizeland Rd. Go west on Maizeland and then take the first right into the park entrance. A very convenient trailhead is also located on the north side of the park, off Austin Bluffs between Union Blvd. and Meadowland. It’s less crowded and puts you right at the start of some cool trails.
Considering that Colorado Springs isn’t on most mountain bikers lists of places to ride, Palmer Park is a blast to bike, an undiscovered gem chock full of fun, and its convenient location is easily accessed from anywhere in the city. If you ride and plan on visiting the Springs area, be sure to set aside a few hours, and then go ride to your heart’s content.