Have you been on the Old Stage Road? Of course you have, because you are interested in exploring! It is the only link to the Gold Camp Road and then on to the Cripple Creek mining district from Colorado Springs. Two tunnels collapsed in the 1980’s blocking the lower portion of the Gold Camp Road, but more on that in a bit.
The route began as a simple trail called the Cheyenne Mountain Trail traveling to the west flank of Pikes Peak. The trail grew into a lumber road before gold was discovered in Cripple Creek. The Short Line railroad was built through the same valleys that the Old Stage Road used for the most part.
This road was a toll road in the late 1800’s. Before all of the beautiful Broadmoor area homes were built, the toll booth was quite close to where the Broadmoor now stands, at the intersection of Penrose Blvd and Alta Vista Lane. I can assume that you have driven the Old Stage Road many times because it is used by locals more than the tourists, but I’m willing to bet I can show you several points of interest along the way. The Old Stage Road is also know as Forest Service Road 368 (FS 368).
This Old Stage Road is best as a driving exploration. Hiking and biking are discouraged due to the steep grade and the traffic you may encounter on this dirt road. If you are hiking or biking to the Gold Camp Road, start at the dirt parking lot above Helen Hunt Falls. The old railroad bed is the gate on the left side of the parking lot.
The start of the Old Stage Road is accessed from Penrose Boulevard at the four-way stop sign below the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. When you reach the switch back where the paved road turns to dirt, set your odometer to zero.
0.2 Water Line on wooden aqueduct – At the parking area on your left, look up beyond the power lines to see an old wooden aqueduct carrying an iron water supply pipeline. This piece of 1926 pipe is still in use, but most of this water line was replaced in 1934. You can still spot remnants along the way.
0.8 Sunrise Trail – The Sunrise Trail is a historic trail that leads to the lesser summit of Cheyenne Mountain. This trail was also known as the Daugherty Trail. A private property boundary stops the casual hiker before any notable destination is reached. If you encounter a dirt road, you have gone too far.
1.3 Theatre in the Mountains – Find where the road makes a large U-turn to the right inside of a valley. There are two truck size boulders next to a small active stream. Back in simpler days there were performances held on summer weekends at this switchback. The performers would use the road as their stage with the valley behind as the backdrop. The audience would sit on the hillside to your left. There is an active stream that runs under the road that has washed the road out many times, so the configuration has changed somewhat but the existing large boulders were noted in historical writings. Stop, get out of your car and get the feel of what that experience would have been like.
1.7 Zip Lines – The spectacular zip lines of the Broadmoor’s Seven Falls start behind this gate. You may not access them from here, but must purchase tickets and take the shuttle across the street from the Golden Bee. At the end of your zip line adventure your party will be shuttled from Seven Falls back to your start as part of the ticket.
2.2 The Wade Place– On your left you will see a stone wall with stone steps next to the road. Above these steps were a cluster of buildings know as Wade’s Half Way House. Not anywhere near half way, by the way. Around the next bend you can see a fireplace and foundation plus a couple of restored buildings, now a private residence. As an explorer of local history, this place will interest you in a couple of ways. Helen Hunt Jackson mentioned this in her writings stating that she was impressed by the building that is still standing and by the large boulder to its right. Another interesting note is that Mr. Wade was Fred Barr‘s grandfather. On very early maps of the area, this location is actually marked as Wade.
4.9 Old Stage Riding Stables – Previously known as the Broadmoor Riding Stables, there is no ties to the Broadmoor hotel. They are open to the public for horseback riding and have some terrific mountain trails.
4.9 McNeill Trail – This trail leads to the location of the Cheyenne Mountain Lodge, now the home to The Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp. Charles McNeill was partner of Spencer Penrose. The unmarked start of this trail is to the left behind the Stage Stop sign. The first three miles are on public land and may be explored, but plan on being stopped by a Private Property sign for an anticlimactic ending and turnaround quite close to the summit. Although this easy trail goes to the top of the mountain, the Old Stage Road has already done most of the climbing for you, thus providing a gradual grade for this 6 mile round trip hike. Before it ends you will encounter an overlook with a view to the west. This is the top of Fischer Canyon. Below you will see the Fort Carson area and beyond. At the base of the canyon is a flood retention pond that is very near to the top of the old Broadmoor Ski facility. Look up and left to see Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp. Your dead-end will be about 1/4 mile beyond this overlook. For me, the highlight is the old gas-powered water pump left over from the 1920’s that supplied water to the original Cheyenne Lodge. About 100′ directly above the pump is a decrepit pond supplied by a natural spring. The McNeill Trail follows this pipeline for the rest of the hike. If you encounter structures on the trail, you have gone too far.
Branching off of the McNeill trail is the Swisher Trail that leads to a large meadow near the transmitter towers on the summit. To locate the unmarked Swisher Trail from the McNeill , retrace your steps a couple of minutes from the old water pump. On the downhill side you will spot a flat point of land. On the uphill side you will find the cairns that mark the steep Swisher trail.
A grueling ascent (that seems much longer than it is) will lead to an open grassy meadow that should not be on the top of a mountain. It is an odd but beautiful sight. According to a knowledgeable source, this unusual grass is an Asian species of seed brought by Mr. Swisher for his grazing stock.
Again, although you are very close, you cannot reach the towers located on private property, but the unique meadow is your reward for the work of the climb.
4.9 Transmitter Way (FS 369) is the road to the left of the Broadmoor Stables. Have you wondered how they get to the transmission towers that you see on top of Cheyenne Mountain? This is it! You may drive the first public mile before reaching a gate. I have been told that this is public land but you may not drive beyond this gate. The new Dixon Trail reaches the summit near the antenna farm from the eastern face of the mountain starting in the Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
5.4 Emerald Valley Ranch (FS 371) – Forest Service Road 371 leads to Broadmoor’s Emerald Valley Ranch and to the hiking trail up Grayback Peak. Explore this road 1.5 miles to the dead-end, but watch for horses on the road.
Grayback Peak – The unmarked parking lot (on the left) for the unmarked trailhead is only 2/10 of a mile on FS 371. You just found a spot that others would drive by! A little over a mile long, this climb is worth it for the view. Easy at first, a bit of a scramble near the top. You can look directly down upon Emerald Valley Ranch and across the valley.
6.1 Gold Camp Road FS 370 and the end of the Old Stage Road. We have finally reached the Gold Camp Road. This is an old railroad bed and you will appreciate how near-level it is after ascending the winding Old Stage Road. Following the road to the left will take you to St. Peter’s Dome and Cripple Creek. Visit the Gold Camp Road page of this website for exploration opportunities along the way. But we must explore here first! Turn right at this intersection of FS370 at the top of Old Stage Road. Just a few hundred fee on this lesser road will dead end at the caved in tunnel that closed the lower portion of the railroad. For the more energetic explorer, to the right of the tunnel is a roadbed that was built to go around the tunnel. At this gate, you can walk or bike to the intersection approximately 7 miles just above Helen Hunt Falls. A simple 2% grade going down makes for a more challenging 7 mile ascent back to your starting place. Your reward for this exploration is the little used road bed still in great shape. About a mile in you will reach an intact train tunnel on your walk. In the valley just beyond is the Mt. Rosa Cascade. Stop at the wide pull-out just before you enter the tunnel for a full view of the waterfall. Depending on snow melt, this is quite seasonal and a real reward if you time it right. The tall slender waterfall is most spectacular in the spring and early summer. This is a beauty that can’t be seen from too many places but you get the honors.
If you don’t plan on continuing on to Cripple Creek, it would still add to your adventure to drive a short 8/10 of a mile to St. Peters Dome overlook before you turn around. You will appreciate a one of a kind view of the city from this parking area. Down the narrow dirt road on the right of the overlook’s parking lot is another collapsed train tunnel. You will also find easily accessible diggings for fluorite, a purple mineral.