Waldo Canyon is one of the most popular trails in the region, and for good reason. It has moderate grades, views of both city and mountains, cool dark forest, and (mostly) good running surfaces. Much of the trail faces south, making for reasonable conditions year round. Waldo provides trail connections to the Ute Pass Trail, Longs Ranch Road, Williams Canyon, Rampart Range Road, and the town of Cascade. It must have good vibes, since several members of the Incline Club have chosen it for the location of their wedding!
Section 1: Highway 24 to Waldo Canyon
(7 Miles total for the loop)
Waldo Canyon trail begins at a well-marked trailhead on Highway 24 about two miles west of Manitou Springs. The parking lot often fills on a nice day, so you can choose to run from Manitou via the Ute Pass Trail (See long route below). To reach the trailhead from the junction of Ute Pass Trail and Longs Ranch Road, turn right and run down the well-maintained road to the highway. The trailhead is directly across the highway.
The Waldo Canyon trail begins with some switchbacks and stairs, but believe me, this is much less intimidating than the old stairs that used to march straight up the hill in two long flights. It soon straightens out and traverses eastward along the south-facing hillside, quickly climbing away from the noise of the highway.
It winds in and out of some ravines, crossing over a ridge into Waldo Canyon proper after about one mile. At this ridgeline, an obscure trail heads straight up the hill for a connection to Cascade.
The trail descends and rolls gently into the bottom of Waldo Canyon where you will find a nice meadow followed shortly by the start of the loop trail.
Section 2: Waldo Canyon Loop
The loop begins at a sign indicating the 3.5-mile loop running either direction. In winter I always go clockwise (stay left of the sign) because there is often ice in the canyon bottom and I’d rather ascend icy patches than slide down on my butt! Also it is much easier to stay warm in this icebox while running uphill. This description takes the clockwise direction.
The trail follows the creek up Waldo Canyon, crossing it five times. This section is wooded, which provides a welcome respite on hot days. About 120 meters after the fifth crossing (you’re on the right side of the creek now as you head upstream), it takes a sharp switchback to the right. There are a few stairs here and usually a sign to keep you on track. However, many have still missed this turn and continued upstream! If you continue on the wrong trail you will eventually pop out on Rampart Range Road or you can connect into the trail that goes to Cascade.
The trail ascends out of the canyon bottom, making one more sharp switchback to the left (you’ll know if you miss this one because you’ll squeeze between a couple of boulders and find yourself suddenly looking out over the treetops). Another creek crossing follows a nice level section.
About 3/4 mile after the creek, the trail reaches a forested pass and begins to descend. This is the high point of the trail. It takes a right turn in the forest and quickly breaks out into open country. The footing deteriorates here due to limestone chunks – stay alert!
A switchback leads to a long descending traverse across a south-facing hillside to a ridge. You’ll know you’ve reached this ridge because the footing gets really abysmal on deep red sandstone chunks. As you descend this ridgeline, watch for the switchback toward the left down into the next valley. There is sometimes a small cairn here marking the obscure “Bail Trail” down into Williams Canyon.
If you stay with the Waldo trail, you will descend into a small valley, then face a 1/4-mile climb up to the next ridge. From there it is all downhill through a series of nine switchbacks to the bottom of Waldo Canyon and the sign marking the start of the loop trail.
Section 3: Back to the Highway
From the loop trail sign, turn left (south) to return to Highway 24, reversing the route in Section 1 above. One interesting thing is that it seems like it is a lot longer running out than running in. The total distance of this run is about seven miles. To turn this run into a great 15 mile long run, keep reading.
Long Run Addition (15 Miles Total)
If you want to make this into a long run of 15 miles, then park at Memorial Park in Manitou Springs (off Businees 24). Run west on Business 24 and turn left on Ruxton. Many will recall that this is the same route as the first mile of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon.
When you are about to reach the Cog Railway station, there is a road to the right. Take this road, then turn right at the gate onto the Ute Pass Trail. Follow this trail for about 3 miles, passing the turn off to Cascade. The trail will make a turn to the right and then run into Longs Ranch Road. Turn right and run down Long’s Ranch Road to the gate at Highway 24. Cross 24 and follow the directions above.
When you get back to Highway 24 on the return trip, cross over 24 and follow Longs Ranch Road up to the left turn onto the UPT.
Randy Lindsey is a member of the Incline Club, a Colorado Springs based running club. To learn more about the club and their runs, visit their website at www.inclineclub.com.