Canon City’s Tunnel Trail

This level hike is a two mile long trail above the Royal Gorge Route Railroad and the Arkansas River.

The Colorado Railroad War was fought all the way up to the Supreme Court in 1878, but the court’s judgement was for one company to build the line and the other to lease the rails. As you can imagine, this didn’t last long and the war began again. Dynamite was used, granite boulders were released onto the competitor’s tracks and tools were thrown into the river. Several small stone forts are still standing farther down the line than where we will be exploring.

Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday were there. More than just TV and movie characters, they were real people. Bat was a sheriff in Dodge City, Kansas, when he was hired to protect a roundhouse in Pueblo during the conflicts and he brought in a crew including his buddy, Doc Holliday. The court’s ruling attempted a compromise, but not before Bat took a civil war cannon from the memorial in front of a government building to use at the roundhouse! At the end, both gentlemen maintained their Colorado connections because Bat Masterson’s grave is in Trinidad and Doc Holliday is buried in Glenwood Springs.

Now, with all that fun information, the trail we are taking that parallels the railroad line appears to be train tunnels, but they are not. General Palmer built his attempt to starting on the WEST end of the gorge.

The parallel route that you will be exploring runs not far above the operating rail line. Only two miles long, this route was originally built as an irrigation ditch to supply the orchards of Canon City. A pipeline was later added. Then a roadway was built on top, and the tunnels enlarged for a scenic drive above the river. Three tunnels were blasted into the granite, two iron bridges were built and then the project was abandoned. Today it is a level gravel trail that provides a nice wide surface for a foot trail.

Immediately inside the canyon, you will parallel the rushing Arkansas River and may even witness a trainload of tourists as they pass beneath you.

tunnels

Getting There: From Cañon City, head west on Highway 50 through town, also called Royal Gorge Boulevard. As you near the end of town, get in the left lane. You will see the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility on your right. As the highway takes a quick curve to the right, watch for a left turn lane for Tunnel Drive immediately to your left as you finish the curve. Follow Tunnel Drive for one half mile to the dead end in the paved parking lot and public restrooms.

The hike is a four mile round trip that can get surprisingly chilly, breezy or uncomfortably hot. Be prepared with light layers and water. Shade and shelter are scarce. There is a steep but short paved trail to ascend but it levels out from there.

The three tunnels on this trail are at the very start of the hike. The first two short tunnels lend themselves to some great photos when the light is right. Dynamited through the hard granite these are typical of tunnels found throughout the Rocky Mountains. The third tunnel is a little longer. In contrast to the many other railroad tunnels from the early days of railroads, the ceilings are unmarred by the smoke of steam engines.

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Remember to look up when hiking. Not only for safety but also rewards like this as seen on Tunnel Trail.

This hike is detailed in our book Easy Hikes to the Hidden Past – Pikes Peak Region Edition Available on Amazon.

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