El Paso and Teller County hikers seeking a moderately rigorous hike on Pikes Peak well away from the traffic and crowds of the city will find refuge on the Horsethief Park Trail #704 to Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks on the west face of the great mountain. The trail heads up the mountainside at Horsethief Park, approximately halfway between the mountain towns of Divide and Cripple Creek on Highway 67. In addition to the advertised falls and rock formations, the trail offers some nice views of Sentinel Point and the Continental Divide to the west.
The trail leads up from the old Little Ike Tunnel with a steep ascent over a couple of switchbacks before finally leveling out and heading eastward along Horsethief Creek. There are a couple of inviting places to cross the creek onto the Ring the Peak Trail, but resist the urge to go north and stay on the main trail along the creek. At about the half mile point the trail comes close to the creek with access to the shoreline of some picturesque beaver ponds. Not too much further up the trail is the sign indicating the junction of the Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks trails. It is only about a half mile to the falls and the easy stroll along the creek is well worth the extra effort. The falls are a very nice diversion on a hot day and can easily be combined with the journey to Pancake Rocks.
The Pancake Rocks trail is a bit more difficult. The sign indicates that it is only 2.2 miles but it is almost all uphill and the elevation gain is relentless through a series of long switchbacks. The trail is a ‘shroomers paradise with a large variety of mushrooms of all sizes and colors dotting the trail from the bottom to the top. As you traverse the switchbacks don’t be surprised when you encounter the incessant chatter of tree dwelling pika along the way. If you are lucky you will spot some of them peering out at you from the dense brush. As you near the top of the trail a rock formation above and to the left has the appearance of the destination rock formation, but don’t be fooled as the trail leads past there and towards the south. The true Pancake Rocks formation will be obvious and is impossible to miss. The trail ends on a beautiful rock outcropping with views of the mining operations to the south. The rocks are a wonder to behold and well worth the tough climb.
To get to Horsethief Park and the trail system, head east from Colorado Springs through Woodland Park to the town of Divide and turn south on Highway 67. Drive up the pass until you see an abandoned tunnel. The nice paved parking lot is just on the other side of the tunnel, so at this point get ready to exit the highway to the parking lot on the left. The trail system is easy to spot from the parking lot and is wide and well maintained at the trailhead. Colorado summers are hot and dry, so be sure to bring along plenty of fluids to drink. I never recommend getting water from the streams even if they look clear and pristine. There is no technical climbing required on this trek so a pair of light hikers or trail runners will suffice for footwear.