Canon City, Colorado. To me, it’s home. It’s a small town by most standards, but it’s grown a lot as the years have passed. Still, for most travelers, it’s probably a stop along the way, not a destination. But the people who pass through Canon City without a second glance are missing a wonderful opportunity.
On the west edge of Canon City, sits Skyline Drive, a beautiful scenic drive which overlooks the town. The turn off from Highway 50 takes you up a winding road that reaches the top of the mountain, and on a clear day you can see as far as Colorado Springs.
I’ve been blessed in that Skyline Drive is just a few blocks from my house. I don’t get a chance to hike up it often, but I had the chance to do that with my friend Matthew a few weeks ago, and it reminded me of the reasons why I love my home town.
At the foot of Skyline Drive rest a set of hills which everyone calls the hogbacks. Dirt bikers and motorcycle riders have used the hogbacks for years as a dirt track, and unfortunately, much of the wild brush has been worn away. Canon City recently voted to close the hogbacks, in hopes that with enough time, the land will recover. But, there is a kind of wild, rugged beauty to the area, even still.
As we climbed, the streets and buildings below grew steadily smaller, and the sounds of the city faded into the distance. Large stretches of rock reached overhead, layers of the earth upended and exposed, interrupted only by dried shrubs and small wildflowers that have managed to find a home there.
Every once in a while Matthew and I had to step off of the road to allow a car to pass, and we said hello to a few other hikers — in one case, a brave mountain biker riding downhill — but otherwise it was quiet. It was a beautiful day, warm, but with a nice breeze, the sky a deep, vivid blue you can only find in Colorado. The wind picked up the higher we got, but the warmth of the day kept us comfortable.
Shale, granite and the red rocks Colorado is named for make up that part of the mountain, and a few large boulders line road, adding to the weather-hewn landscape. From that height, even the trees below seem small, the green tops of their branches hiding some of the buildings from view.
But, the view we gained as we reached the top is spectacular. Canon City is surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides, and the lighter blue of the sky and the darker blue-green of the mountains meet on the horizon.
Facing east, overlooking the town, you can stare out past Canon City and into the foothills. Facing south-west, you can see the Greenhorn Mountains in the distance, standing out in sharp contrast against the rocky terrain.
Directly behind Skyline Drive is Sleeping Woman Mountain. Local stories say that Indians who wintered in the area named the mountain because of its distinct shape. On a clear day, the outline of the mountain looks very much like a woman laying on her back. Her silhouette stretches out just beyond Skyline Drive.
A hawk soared overhead as Matthew and I walked along the top of the Drive, and a quail gave us a disinterested once-over before continuing on its way.
Matthew, being a little more adventurous than I am, explored some of the smaller, rougher trails, while I stayed back to simply enjoy the view. There’s nothing quite like standing above the city that way. It’s incredibly peaceful, and each time I’m there, it makes me appreciate the beauty of God’s creation even more. Both Matthew and I were reluctant to leave.
For any one interested in hiking up Skyline Drive themselves, I’d definitely suggest some comfortable shoes, and a water bottle. The road is paved, and relatively smooth, but it’s nearly all uphill, about three miles long, and it does give you a good workout, so if you’re not used to hiking at a higher altitude, don’t be afraid to take regular breaks. The view makes the extra time spent there more than worth it. For safety reasons, the road has a speed limit of 15 mph, but be careful of traffic all the same. As long as you listen for cars, you should have more than enough warning to get out of the way, and while the road is narrow, it is wide enough to stand there comfortably while a car passes.
If you’re someone who’d rather see Skyline Drive without the extra workout, the entrance to Skyline Drive is just off of Highway 50, about three miles west of Canon City itself. There is no entrance fee, so it’s a perfect stop if you’re traveling on a budget. But, if you have some money to spend, they also have a gift shop nearby.
If you’re driving, make sure not to go above the speed limit. It’s a narrow, single-lane road, with some pretty tight turns and no guard rails. For that reason, motorhomes, trailers, campers, and any other particularly large vehicles should avoid it. But, for anyone else who wants to experience Skyline Drive, as long as you use caution, it’s as beautiful a drive as it is a hike. There are a number of areas at the top where you can pull over to the side of the road and enjoy the view, and there are even some fossilized dinosaur tracks at one of the stops along the way.
The trip down Skyline Drive will take you back into Canon City, at Floral Avenue and 5th Street, which is a residential neighborhood. From there, you can head back to downtown Canon City and Highway 50 by turning onto 5th street and following it for about a mile.
I think Skyline Drive one of the most overlooked, and under appreciated spots in the state of Colorado. The views are amazing, and I promise, it’s definitely worth the trip. If you’re anywhere near Canon City, take the time to visit. You’ll be glad you did.
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