After seven years of planning the Pikes Peak, South Slope Recreational Area opened in 2014. This Colorado park is a bit of a conundrum to me. On one hand, it is remote, secluded and has three gorgeous high elevation reservoirs full of fish. On the other hand, there are only about 5 miles of total trails available to hikers and bikers, some of which are closed until mid-July for the Bighorn Sheep calving. In addition, it’s only open from the late spring to the early fall, has odd operating hours (7:30 AM – 2:30 PM), no camping allowed and requires a $20/vehicle reservation. I think $20 is pretty steep for only 5-miles of trails.
Cost: $20/vehicle with up to 8 passengers
- Hours of Operation: 7:30 AM – 2:30 PM
- Season: Memorial Day to October 1st.
- Permits: Must be obtained prior to your visit.
- Camping Options: None exist inside the park but dispersed is available on the access road.
- No Cell Phone Coverage
Hiking in Pikes Peak South Slope Recreational Area
Jennifer and I are hikers so we made our way up the full 4.7-mile Mason trail. It starts at the parking area on the western edge of McReynolds Reservoir. McReynolds Reservoir sits at 10,922′ above sea level. When we were here in 2018 the dam had a leak and the reservoir was being kept very low. It is still a beautiful lake, but not as pretty as the other two lakes along the hike.
The Mason Trail
We set out on the Mason trail which parallels and eventually crosses over the entrance road for the first quarter mile. Once crossing the road the trail meanders through some small trees before crossing over Boehmer Creek. Once past the creek, the trail passes through a field with sparse pine trees. It then heads over a small ridge before dropping down and skirting the western shore of Mason Reservoir (10,915′).
One mile into the hike is Mason Reservoir. It is the most impressive of the three lakes. The lake has some very picturesque boulders sitting on the western shoreline. This was the only place Jennifer and I found other humans on the trail and they were all fishing.
The Trail to Boehmer Reservoir
Once taking in the lake we set back out on the trail towards Boehmer Reservoir. What little elevation there is on the Mason Trail is mostly undertaken in the climb immediately after leaving the Mason Reservoir shore. The climb up to the last reservoir starts in a dense pine forest as it leaves the lakeshore and remains dense for most of the way. We saw a deer about 2.5-miles in and were warned that a Moose and her calf had been spotted in the area. We never saw her and also never saw another person until we returned to Mason Reservoir.
The Green Gate
The only thing of note about the trail up to Boehmer Reservoir is that at about 4.5-miles on the trail we arrived at a bridge with a green gate. This is where the park closes the trail for the Bighorn Sheep calving season which lasts until mid-July each year. It would stink to hike this far and be stopped by this gate and not see the reservoir.
Boehmer Reservoir sits at 11,299′ and feels like it is at the base of Pikes Peak. This is the south slope and for us was worth the 9.4-mile round trip effort. The southwestern edge of the reservoir is full of large boulders and picturesque views of Pikes Peak to the northeast.
The Wildlife of Boehmer
When we arrived at the lake we didn’t get to see Big Horn Sheep. We did, however, get to see two bald eagles circle around the lake. The larger of the two flew around the far side of the reservoir keeping his distance from us for several minutes before heading northwest and disappearing into the trees below Pikes Peak. The smaller of the two then shot across the reservoir and over the dam before dropping out of sight. The eagles were replaced by seagulls who seemed to relish the opportunity to take their turn at fishing the waters. We saw one dive in for a nice lunch and then perch on a boulder in the middle of the water.
Pikes Peak South Slope Recreational Area Closing Time
Once we had taken in the views/wildlife and refueled on Cliff Bars, we headed back out the way we had come. We arrived back at the parking area at McReynolds Reservoir with about an hour to spare. We sat at the picnic tables and had a snack before packing up and heading out.
Fishing the Pikes Peak South Slope Recreational Area
The only other recreational activity other than hiking within the park is fishing. We didn’t partake, but we did talk to several fishermen who said this was the best fishing in Colorado. We saw several of them land large rainbow trout in Mason Reservoir. The Pikes Peak South Slope Recreational Area’s website says that this is a catch and release only area, but one of the local fishermen said they allow you to keep one so long as it is over 16″ in length.
Getting to the South Slope Recreation Area
Getting to the Pikes Peak South Slope Recreational Area can be difficult, but this journey can also make the trip worthwhile. There is the long and paved way up from Colorado Springs on Hwy 24 to the town of Divide. That path then heads south on state road 67 towards Victor. From here it is dirt roads on CO8 before climbing steeply, and I do mean steeply, up to the recreational area on CO376.
The more adventurous and dare I say fun way to get to the Pikes Peak South Slope Recreation Area is to take CO368 (Old Stage Road) all the way up from Colorado Springs to the intersection with CO376. This is a dirt road that climbs steeply out of Colorado Springs and into the rough mountainous terrain. For the most part, the road is well maintained and a 4×4 is probably only needed after a good rain. I would, however, recommend a high clearance vehicle as the road was a little rough in areas. We took it very slow and at times the washboard was a bit much, but on a whole, this scenic road makes the entire trip worthwhile.
Another great advantage of taking Old Stage Road is the St. Peters Dome Trail. It is located just off of the road and is a great trail for those seeking a short but challenging climb.
There is no camping allowed in the Pikes Peak South Slope Recreational Area, but shortly after turning onto CO376 from CO378 there is a large piece of land that had campers on it. It looked like a great spot. Further up CO378 after climbing the steep, seemingly never-ending hill the road tapers slightly and there is another great camping area on the left side of the road. We stopped here after leaving the park, had lunch and a siesta before heading on. I would highly recommend camping here the night before to make it easy to get to the gate when it opens at 7:30 AM.
Is It Worth Doing?
So is Pikes Peak South Slope Recreational Area worth a visit? This is a tough one. If you are seeking seclusion in nature or if you really enjoy fishing then this might be the place for you. However, the odd hours and the high price tag for a maximum 7-hour visit will keep most people away. Perhaps that is intentional to keep the seclusion. If you travel in a larger vehicle with a maximum of 8 people than the cost is minimal per person, but for Jennifer and I, we can do a lot more on a lot less.