The Wildlife Preserve of Aiken Canyon
For a quiet retreat into nature visit the 1,621 acre Aiken Canyon preserve south of Colorado Springs. It is named after the ornithologist Charles Aiken. I'd go here for a change of pace and the possibility of spotting wildlife early in the morning (golden eagles, wild turkeys, bears, cougars, fox, rattlesnakes, etc.). The views and workout are average.
This is a destination for birders since over 100 species of birds have been seen in the area. I saw perhaps 10 different types of birds when I went twice in December of 2008, but I wasn't looking too hard.
Directions: From I-25 take exit #135 (Academy) and go west to Hwy 115. Go south for 11.5 miles and just past mile marker 32 turn right (west) onto Turkey Creek Ranch Rd., then a right into the parking lot.
Hours: The park is open all year from dawn to dusk Sat., Sun. and Mon. The visitor center is open Memorial Day - Labor Day 9 - 3 Sat., Sun. and Mon. and only on Sundays the rest of the year.
Difficulty: Easy. There's a 4 mile loop with 400' elevation gain. You can also take an easy 1 mile branch off the loop that heads west through the canyon and gradually disappears.
After less than a mile the path splits to begin the loop. I like to go left to reach the high point first and enjoy the views. The path starts out fairly flat following a dry rocky river bed bordered by high bushes.
As the path climbs gradually, views of the eastern plains and mountains to the south open up. The third photo below shows the Wet Mountains toward the right and the Spanish Peaks behind them (center).
Soon after the highpoint is a meadow bordered by hills through which a one mile branch heads toward a stream and follows it to the remains of a cabin. We didn't quite reach the cabin. It was in this area that we saw three wild turkeys making their way up a hill. They were quite leery of us and kept scuttling along as we got closer until we lost sight of them.
During my first time there I noticed these bear paw prints on the loop path soon after we passed by the one mile branch. One print was so clear and undisturbed that I wondered if it was fairly fresh. I pulled out my bear mace and continued walking with my finger on the safety release as I searched the bushes for movement. I never spotted anything.
Near the end of the loop we saw a couple of deer. During both hikes I only saw two other people. It's a nice preserve for an occasional leisurely hike.