The Scenic Crags Trail
The first time we tried to reach The Crags trailhead was in April of 2008 in a Neon. We were new to Colorado and unaware of typical spring road conditions at 10,000 ft. I could barely breathe as our low clearance car scraped and struggled along the snowy and muddy dirt road. We were so fortunate that we didn't get stuck before we turned around in defeat. Our next try was slow, but smooth sailing in the same car in July.
However, once we got a Jeep, a mid-May trip through deep snow ruts was a breeze. I was surprised that we were the first car in the trailhead lot at 10:30 on a Sunday morning. We soon saw more people on the trail within the hour. Typically, this is a well populated trail from late spring through fall.
Directions: Take Hwy 24 just west of Divide, then go south on Hwy 67 for just over 4 miles. Turn left at a sign, "Crags Campground 3.5 miles" (Forest Service Rd. #383). After about 1.5 miles you pass the Mennonite Rocky Mt. Campground. Continue on through the Crags Campground to the end of the road where the trailhead lot and pit toilets are. There's no fee to park there.
UPDATE - The last time we returned, there was a $5.00 fee to park in the Crags campgroud. There is a free parking lot just before turning into the Crags campground.
Difficulty: Easy trail, but the elevation could make it feel moderate as you climb more towards the end. The roundtrip distance is just over 3 miles. Crags campgroud trailhead elevation: 10,150'. Endpoint elevation: 10,950'. Total gain: 800'.
The trail starts out fairly flat, but there were many sections of slippery melting snow and ice through the dense pines, making travel slow for me.
Soon you will come to a split in the trail where a sign notes that you are on trail #664 (below) if you continue toward the left for The Crags. Go right over a wood plank bridge to reach the summit of Pikes Peak going through The Devil's Playground (trail 664A, 11.5 miles roundtrip and 4,200' el. gain).
A stream follows the path through the woods and into an open meadow that is dotted with many wildflowers and butterflies in the summer, especially in July. I had so much fun capturing the butterflies with my camera one summer and was surprised at how close they let me get.
At one point a narrow path goes off to the left toward the south end of The Crags. We have not tried that way yet.
Below is a shot in July showing the summer growth where we are about to cross the stream.
Logs are laid across a stream to aid in crossing, but we went a little farther upstream where we could easily jump across.
Large smooth rock formations and boulders appear here and there, beckoning hikers to climb them.
When we entered the woods again, I was surprised to see cross country ski tracks. It looked like a challenging run, but the skier didn't have trouble navigating around the trees judging by the smooth continuous tracks. It was here that we put on our Yaktraks because the path started to slope upwards.
As the trail veered left and started to climb toward the first overlook, it was hard for me to see the path clearly because some people have made little detours that head straight up to the trail's end.
The trail got even steeper with a few snow drifts and some post holes from those who didn't stay on the hard packed sections. We were so glad to have our Yaktraks coming back down this section as we watched a couple of teens slipping all over in their tennis shoes.
It wasn't long before we were crossing over long sections of smooth rock, veering slightly to the right. If you see this narrow cut through in the rocks (below), you know you are heading directly to the top.
First the view to the south opens up with The Crags to the right and the snow capped Sangre de Cristo Mts. off in the distance (crop below).
Passing a few bristle cone pines, we are just about at the top where the views are surprisingly impressive.
The first photo is of the snow capped mountain range to the west (Shavano, The Collegiate Peaks, Democrat, Sherman and Quandry are the fourteeners to the west), then the views to the northwest and north with the Catamount Reservoirs (followed by reservoirs crop).
Below are The Crags to the south, then the view southeast (the snow capped mound upper left of photo is the beginning of the Pikes Peak massif) and then looking east.
Many people take this trail repeatedly because it's short and kid friendly with nice picnic spots at the top. Some people climb around on the rocks and head towards the tall pinnacles of The Crags. It's fun to see a hiker's eyes widen and hear their exclamation when they see the fantastic views for the first time. I think summer is the best time to go because of the butterflies (though I did see one mid-May) and the road is more passable then.