What is going on in North Cheyenne Cañon?

Colorado Springs mountain bike riders cherish North Cheyenne Cañon (NCC). It provides some of the most exciting and challenging riding opportunities in the area. It provides a feeling of remoteness that many of us ride to, right from HOME. Some days it provides hours of inspiring trail experiences, including uninterrupted descents with few other trail users. (And on the wrong day, there can be plenty of hikers, motorcyclists, other bikers, and equestrians to chat with!) 

In response to a recent Gazette article, riders and trail users have been asking MedWheel about upcoming changes in NCC.  The answer is contained in multiple city master plans that MedWheel helped shape over the last decade. 

This is a good time to give a hearty THANK YOU to all the trail users and other stakeholders that have joined MedWheel in these and other public processes over the years, leading to many new trails and the vision for upcoming improvements in NCC. These upcoming changes underscore the need for consistent engagement in public land planning processes. As in any negotiated process with competing interests, the NCC master plan contains many wins for mountain bikers along with some concessions. 

How City Master Plans Guide the NCC Trail System

The 2014 Colorado Springs Park System Master Plan (PSMP) provides a community vision for recreation resources on existing and aspirational city property. One key principle outlined in 2014 is the Colorado Springs trail system should generally be accessible to a wide variety of users, but also in places cater to the needs of specific populations, such as mountain bikers:

“While most trails within Colorado Springs’ parks and open spaces should remain under the City’s multi-use trails policy – serving diverse interests while minimizing user conflicts and environmental damage – some areas may be considered for implementation of new design strategies or modifications and trail planning to accommodate specific user groups such as mountain bikers… Trail designs that accommodate the needs of different types of riders and ability levels such as classic cross country and back country rides, flow trails, gateway trails, and gravity and purpose built directional trails can expand the diversity of the network, creating a system that people want to return to again and again.” (PSMP, 2014, p. 136, emphasis added)

Way back in 2014, Cheyenne Cañon “was identified through the public process as a potential area to expand mountain bike specific trails” (PSMP, 2014, p. 136). The goal wass to provide mountain bikers with enjoyable and sustainable trails that would mitigate riders’ desire to create social trails that have the potential to degrade natural resources in specific areas. The Park System Master Plan specifically recommends:

Address the demand for emerging mountain/extreme sport facilities by establishing designated areas on properties where the environment will not be negatively impacted and where new uses are compatible with existing park and open space uses. Some of the emerging trends to accommodate include: mountain bike park(s), disc golf course(s), downhill skateboarding, BMX biking, fat bike trails, dog-friendly parks and trails, rock climbing, challenge races, and places to access natural waterways for fishing and boating.” (PSMP, 2014, p.139, emphasis added)

MedWheel fully supports the principle of creating exciting trail experiences while sustaining our natural resources so that our children seven generations into the future can enjoy the trail system just as we do.

What is Happening in the Cañon? What happened to Daniel’s?

The concept of sustainably expanding gravity-driven MTB experiences in NCC takes shape in the 2018 North Cheyenne Cañon Master and Management Plan (NCCMMP). 

During the NCC master planning process, it was proposed to eliminate the old Daniel’s downhill, replacing it with 6 miles of new singletrack, Sweetwater Canyon, that has better two-way connections and conforms to the city’s sustainability requirements. 

Many riders in our community experienced the reconfigured Daniel’s Pass downhill trail as a profound loss, after decades of using a fun, fall-line trail in a remote location.

The compromise that was reached was to improve the DH-MTB experience elsewhere in the canyon in a few ways: 

  • First by turning Chutes into a single direction DH (and adding a multi-use ascending trail, the Ladders, as well as a hiking-only option). The new Chutes trail was designed by MedWheel and constructed by contractors in 2018. It includes a rocky fall-line option line at the top, inspired by Keystone’s Cowboy Up trail.
  • Following significant encouragement from gravity-oriented MTB riders, the plan also proposed to systematize two existing downhill trails, Captain Morgan’s and Gravel Gutter. 
  • The proposed addition of the Corley bypass (now known as Upper Ladders) parallel to Gold Camp Road necessitated at least 2 grade separated crossings. Morgan’s and Gravel Gutter are well-established trails, known as Willard Heights on old maps.

From the plan:

The Plan recommends the Willard Heights Trail (commonly called Captain Morgan’s Trail), The Chutes, and a purpose-built bike-specific trail extension to Ridgeway Trailhead be designated as downhill bike travel onlyA transitional area for stopping prior to crossing Gold Camp Road is essential for safety.” (NCCMMP, 2018, p. 62, emphasis added) 

The Plan provides further specifications regarding Captain Morgan’s: 

Build downhill-oriented, very challenging sustainable mountain bike trail with two new routes from the Captain Jack’s Trail to the Chutes Pullout. Utilize sustainable features from the existing rogue alignments. Provide level or uphill trail to slow riders and allow stopping prior to crossing Gold Camp Road.” (NCCMMP, 2018, p. 148, emphasis added) 

photo credit J Gardiner

MedWheel has provided input on the design that the city has proposed for the grade-separated crossings. MedWheel’s position on Captain Morgan’s continues to be that it should be altered as little as possible to meet the city’s requirements for erosion control, and in no case should its features be made “easier”. We support the new Corley/Ladders trail and the grade separated crossings,  subject to some modifications.

In Summary

While we are always sad to lose an old friend like the Daniel’s downhill, we agree that Chutes, which has already become a one-way downhill, and the two lines at Captain Morgan’s provide needed downhill trail opportunities, while meeting the city’s sustainability goals. We think the new Sweetwater Canyon network is a substantial addition to the trail riding experience here, including challenging features accessed in either directions. Many riders also report that the new Daniel’s trail from top to bottom rides like a blue/intermediate downhill trail that might be found at a bike park, and was a popular addition to the Pikes Peak Apex race.

Through master planning processes and consistent advocacy with public land managers, we can achieve great trails but we do not always get everything we want as mountain bikers. Overall the North Cheyenne Cañon master plan provides positive and inspiring trail experiences including DH opportunities for today’s riders and for future generations. These great outcomes would not have happened without the many trail users that joined MedWheel in public planning processes – thank you again to those who participated in them. 

MedWheel is excited about the new work currently planned in the Cañon and we cannot wait to shred the new trails with you.