Distance: 6.85 miles - 1.69 to loop Y, 3.47 for the loop, 1.69 from loop Y
High Point: 8,085'
Total Gain/Loss: 1,310'
Soda Springs Park to Waldo via UPT: 3.71 - Waldo Trailhead to UPT .42
Bail Trail to SSP: 3.03 - Bail Trail .8
Loop Y to Bail Trail: CCW .87, CW 2.6
Halfway point for the SSP CCW Bail Trail option: The Ridge
First ridge: 1.00 (4.71 from SSP)
Loop start: 1.69 (5.40 from SSP)
Turn: 2.53 (6.24 from SSP)
Top 3.53 (7.24) from SSP
Bail Trail 4.29 (8.00 from SSP)
Bail Trail 2.56 (6.27 from SSP)
Top 3.32 (7.03 from SSP
Turn: 4.31 (8.02 from SSP)
By Randy Lindsey
Waldo Canyon is one of the most popular trails in the region, and for good reason. It has moderate grades, views of both city and mountains, cool dark forest, and (mostly) good running surfaces. Much of the trail faces south, making for reasonable conditions year round. Waldo provides trail connections to the Ute Pass Trail, Longs Ranch Road, Williams Canyon, Rampart Range Road, and Cascade. It must have good vibes, since several ICers have chosen it for the location of their wedding!
Section 1: Highway 24 to Waldo Canyon
Waldo Canyon trail begins at a well-marked trailhead on Highway 24 about two miles west of Manitou Springs. The parking lot often fills on a nice day, so we skip it and run from Manitou via the Ute Pass Trail :-) To reach the trailhead from the junction of Ute Pass Trail and Longs Ranch Road, turn right and run down the well-maintained road to the highway. The trailhead is directly across the highway.
The trail begins with some switchbacks and stairs, but believe me, this is much less intimidating than the old stairs which used to march straight up the hill in two long flights. It soon straightens out and traverses eastward along the south-facing hillside, quickly climbing away from the noise of the highway.
It winds in and out of some ravines, crossing over a ridge into Waldo Canyon proper after about 1 miles. At this ridgeline, an obscure trail heads straight up the hill for a connection to Cascade.
The trail descends and rolls gently into the bottom of Waldo Canyon where you will find a nice meadow followed shortly by the start of the loop trail.
Section 2: Waldo Canyon Loop
The loop begins at a sign indicating the 3.5 mile loop running either direction. In winter we always go clockwise (stay left of the sign) because there is often ice in the canyon bottom and wed rather ascend icy patches than slide down them on our butts! Also it is much easier to stay warm in this ice box while running uphill:-) If you want the shortest route to the Williams Canyon Bail Trail, go right instead (you wont encounter the icy section for this route). This description takes the clockwise direction.
The trail follows the creek up Waldo Canyon, crossing it 5 times. It is always in forest which provides a welcome respite on hot days. About 120 meters after the fifth crossing (youre on the right side of the creek now as you head upstream), it takes a sharp switchback to the right. There are a few stairs here and usually a sign to keep you on track. However many have still missed this turn and continued upstream! If you continue on the wrong trail you will eventually pop out on Rampart Range Road or you can connect into the trail that goes to Cascade.
The trail ascends out of the canyon bottom, making one more sharp switchback to the left (youll know if you miss this one because youll squeeze between a couple of boulders and find yourself suddenly looking out over the treetops). A nice level section is followed by another creek crossing.
About 3/4 mile after the creek, the trail reaches a forested pass and begins to descend. This is the high point of the trail. It takes a right turn in the forest and quickly breaks out into open country. The footing deteriorates here due to limestone chunks stay alert!
A switchback leads to a long descending traverse across a south-facing hillside to a ridge. Youll know youve reached this ridge because the footing gets really abysmal on deep red sandstone chunks. As you descend this ridgeline, watch for the switchback toward the right down into the next valley. There is sometimes a small cairn here marking the obscure Bail Trail down into Williams Canyon.
(For those who are taking the direct counter-clockwise direction on the loop to reach the Bail Trail, note that the above ridge is the second ridge you encounter not the first after your initial climb. There is a prominent (1/4 mile) descent and climb between the two ridges.)
If you stay with the Waldo trail, you will descend into a small valley, then face a 1/4 mile climb up to the next ridge. From there it is all downhill through a series of 9 switchbacks to the bottom of Waldo Canyon and the sign marking the start of the loop trail.
Section 3: Back to the Highway
From the loop trail sign, turn left (south) to return to highway 24, reversing the route in Section 1 above. One interesting thing is that it seems like it is a lot longer running out than running in.
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