Take a Hard Hike: The Incline
Trail level: difficult
Round trip distance: 5 miles (1 mile up the Incline, 4 miles down Barr Trail)
No dogs, please!
If you’re looking for a convenient way to get your ass kicked, the Incline is the obvious choice. Manitou Springs has made this infamous climb super accessible: just take the short drive to Manitou for free parking and a free shuttle right to the base of the hill. The only hard part is actually tackling the hill!
Of course, I’d heard all sorts of stories about this giant staircase… so naturally I decided to climb it for the first time with an avid runner who was training for the Pikes Peak Ascent… just the teensiest bit intimidating. (The Ascent is a 13.32-mile run up Pikes Peak on Barr Trail that gains about a million feet in elevation).
But, since I was told all types make the climb, we picked a random Monday and got to work. The free shuttle from the park in Manitou was a breeze: the bus promptly dropped us (with about 15 other hikers) off directly below the Incline, and after a quick stop at the port-a-potties, we were ready to climb!
The Incline is stairs. Just a whole freakin’ load of stairs. The first part of the Incline isn’t very steep, so hikers have a bit of a warm-up before things get challenging. Since the trail faces east and is lined but not covered by trees, the climb is pretty bright in the morning—sunscreen is a must. Although I was paying attention to the stairs more than my surroundings, I couldn’t help but appreciate the fresh air, beautiful trees, and bright sunshine as we stepped our way higher and higher.
About two-thirds of the way up the Incline, we passed the bail-out trail that connects to Barr Trail. While turning downhill here wouldn’t have been quite as satisfying as climbing all the way to the top, I still would’ve felt that I’d accomplished a decent leg workout—getting to the bail-out was still quite a bit of work, so it’s is a great option if the Incline is a little overwhelming. The trail gets really difficult after the bail-out exit. The steps get tall and steep and there’s a false summit to trick the faint of heart. Lucky for me, my hiking partner warned me about the false summit so my soul wouldn’t be crushed when the trail continued to climb.
Physical challenge notwithstanding, the Incline is a beautiful hike and an excellent way to a summer day. Even though the people around us were working hard, everyone had a smile to share. The vibe was friendly and chill, with people chatting, pausing in the shade, or just breathing hard as they took one slow step at a time. At the top, strangers catching their breath cheered our summit, and we did the same for the people behind us. Of course, the sight from the top is stunning with clear views over Colorado Springs and out to the prairie.
The walk back down Barr Trail was easy, shady, and refreshing with picturesque views and friendly squirrels—easily my favorite part of the hike. While the Incline was a legitimate workout, the hike down Barr Trail was a lovely stroll and, combined with the views, made the accomplishment totally worth the effort.