Rampart East Roadless Area

There’s not much traffic this Sunday morning as I cruise south on I-25 toward the town of Palmer Lake.  Though most of the week has been warm for January, an arctic front will be moving in tomorrow bringing in snow and wind chills well below zero.  At the last minute, I gave up on a planned overnighter and decided to explore Rampart East as a day trip.  Most of the Rampart Range has been given over to motorized recreation—ATVs, dirt-bikes, and the like—so I’m very curious to see this area that has been set aside for quiet use.

There are only a few vehicles at the trailhead.  The morning is still cool.  A mountain biker rides by on the dirt road followed by his golden lab.  A GMC Suburban pulls up beside me and three guys dressed in camo pile out.

The road up to the Lower Reservior is steep and icy, and I’m happy to have brought trekking poles and ice cleats.   A young couple come into view, both with long hair and carrying camping gear.  They have just spent the night above the Upper Reservoir and seem to be in a great mood.

Turning north onto an unmarked trail, I climb up the very steep side of Sundance Mountain.  Hearing a noise, I look up to see a trail runner slide down an icy patch,  followed by his dog.  At the top of the ridge, I stop to listen to the silence and breathe the cool mountain air.

Scrub Oak

The trail runs level for a while, offering glimpses of the surrounding landscape, then plunges downward.  Rock formations that remind me of the Lost Creek Wilderness come into view.

Evergreen and Granite

Descending lower, I cross a stream that has a trickle of water running beneath the ice and snow.  Just beyond, there are a two men warming themselves by a campfire.  One of them tells me that cat tracks outnumber dog tracks near here, and sure enough, there are mountain lion in the snow just beyond their camp.

Soon after crossing Ice Cave Creek, the Winding Stairs Trail appears to the west.  Another steep climb puts me in view of the rock formations on the north side of the creek.

Along Ice Cave Creek

Ice Cave Creek Canyon

The sky darkens, and a cold breeze stirs in advance of the arctic front.  Still, it’s thrilling to be here in the presence of such beauty.  Hiking through the ankle-deep snow,  huge granite boulders appear to my right.


Near and Far

“Now where should I put this down?”

Climbing higher through the snow, I reach a point where the Winding Stairs Trail descends again.  The day is getting late. Reluctantly, I turn around and hike until intersecting the Swank trail, then head south toward the Upper Reservoir.

Winter Aspen

Aspen Boles

Snow on Boulders

A dark, green forest highlights the beauty of the reservoir.  In the waning light, I spot two groups of ice fishermen on the lake, one in the open, the other enclosed in a big red shelter.  Back at the trailhead, I’m feeling physically tired but filled with the exhilaration that only a day out in the wilds can provide.  I promise myself that next time, I’ll spend the night.



The Colorado Mountain Club maintains an excellent site that tells more about the Rampart East Roadless Area.

There is also a Rampart East facebook page complete with photos and maps.

Here’s more about Tom Mowle who generously took to time to answer my questions.  He probably knows more about Rampart East than anyone alive.


4 thoughts on “Rampart East Roadless Area

  1. Hi, Dondo.

    Love the photos, again.

    Thank you for putting me on to Saucony footwear. I ended up with a pair of Xodus trainers, which have a weird, neoprene half sock slightly constricting the toe area but I have been able to run without adding to my list of injuries, which is quite something given that I’ve never had the discipline for a snesible, little and often program.

    What’s happening with the Roadless Areas? Will they all be resorts and strip mines if I don’t get there this year? (There’s an article in Dirt Rag which I have not read properly yet.)

    • Hi, Zed. Nice to hear from you again. Thanks for turning me onto the article in Dirt Rag about Roadless Areas. It’s great to see that the mountain bike community is tuned into the issue. What’s going to happen with Colorado’s Roadless Areas? Your guess is as good as mine. As you know, the mining, drilling, and logging interests never sleep. Ideally, everything would be covered by the federal 2001 Roadless Rule but I’m not sure that it’s going to happen here. The forest service has asked me to photograph Roadless Areas for a proposal they will be making to the new governor this year, so I’ll be following the issue closely.

  2. Glad I came across your post about the Rampart roadless area. Nice to find out and support something for an area I live close to and enjoy. Cheers!

  3. Hi Randy, It’s great to see you showing up here. You’re lucky to live close by. At the time I did the trip, the forest service was planning to send me on assignment to photograph roadless areas throughout the state. So I got out the maps and starting researching. This one intrigued me because it was so close the the population centers of the Front Range, and I had never hear of it. Nothing ever came of the USFS assignment, but I’m happy I got to visit this gem and plan to return for an overnighter.

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