Earlier this week, I went for a hike at the Aiken Canyon Preserve, a 1,621-acre preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy. The preserve is open only on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays and I pretty much had the place to myself on this particular Monday. Unfortunately, the small visitor center is open only on the weekends.
The Aiken Canyon Perserve is located in the foothills ecosystem and is bounded by Fort Carson on the east, the BLM’s Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area on the west, and private property on the north and south. The hiking trails include a 4-mile “balloon” loop with two optional out-and-back spurs, the Overlook Spur and the Canyon Spur, for a total of 6.5 miles.
The narrow but well-maintained trail winds through tallgrass prairie meadows, Gambel oak/mountain mahogany shrubland, pinyon/juniper woodlands, and scattered ponderosa pine stands. It occasionally follows and dips into dry creekbeds and passes by bright red outcrops and spires of the Fountain Formation conglomerate.
The Overlook Spur heads up a rocky and steep path to a promontory which affords the hiker a panoramic view of the surrounding area, including the plains to the east, the southern Front Range, the Wet Mountains, and a small peek at the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo range.
The Canyon Spur takes the hiker across a grassy meadow then enters a pine/fir forest and follows a dry creek drainage into a canyon in the montane ecosystem. The trail ends at the ruins of a historic homestead from the early 1900s. Old boards, metal roofing, the remains of a water system with broken clay pipes and even an old bedspring can be found in the area, but the most memorable thing for me about this site was the plethora of pale yellow irises that were obviously planted by the homesteader.
Spring wildlowers were abundant along the route during my hike, including:
To view additional photos from my Aiken Canyon Preserve hike, click HERE.