Just to the west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a short, but epic hike/climb known as Colorado’s St. Peters Dome. It’s located on an old dirt road leftover from the gold rush of 1859. I think this formation is called St. Peters Dome, because if you don’t watch your step and stay vigilant the next person you see will be St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. It isn’t that the trail is all that tough to transit, but rather that the terrain is loose and the exposure to steep drop-offs is high in certain spots.
At 0.7 miles (one way) and only 337 feet of elevation gain, this trail looks easy on paper especially compared with other mountainous trails in the area. However, don’t underestimate this trail.
Getting to the Trailhead
The trail up Colorado’s St. Peters Dome starts in the small parking area located on the side of CO 8 (Gold Camp Rd). The dirt road out of Colorado Springs starts out as Old Stage Road and seamlessly turns into Gold Camp Road without travelers knowing it. The parking area for St. Peters Dome is located in a bend in the road with a dramatic and steep overlook about 7 miles west of where the asphalt road ends. The lot itself has pretty good views back down the mountainside towards Colorado Springs.
Starting our Ascent of St. Peters Dome
There is a sign positioned on the edge of the parking area pointing to the left and indicating the direction for hikers to summit St. Peters Dome. Jennifer and I headed down this dirt path for a very short distance before finding the path washed out. We then made our way back up onto the road which allowed us to get around the washed out area and once again head down the rather wide trail. There is a small vertical sign located just off the road restricting use to hikers only, but nothing to indicate that this is the path to Colorado’s St. Peters Dome.
About fifty feet from the road we found ourselves at a split in the trail with no indication as to which direction to go. We correctly choose to stay left as I knew that St. Peter’s Dome was located to the left… I still have no idea where the trail to the right leads.
The easy part and the switchbacks
Once past the split, the path becomes large and well-defined as it passes through a thick evergreen forest. It is fairly straight with a steady grade for about a quarter-mile before narrowing and entering switchbacks with an ever-increasing loose terrain. These switchbacks are not well maintained and a variety of switchback cutting trails have been etched into the earth. The path at times has been nearly washed away because the vegetation can’t hold root for all the switchback cutting that has taken place. To add to it there is graffiti here as well. Sad really. Jennifer and I did our best to stay to the main trail as we made our way up the moderately steep terrain, but in areas, it is hard to distinguish between the real trail and all the cuts.
Before long we found ourselves up against a cliff wall staring at a climbing rope. I hadn’t read anything about needing to rope climb any sections of this trail before heading out.
I found a second trail that led to the right of the cliff wall and precariously dead-ended on a boulder overlooking the city far below (the image at the top of the post). This is an excellent natural seat for contemplating one’s fragile human state. I did just that… and took a selfie at the same time. I’m a multi-tasker. I don’t recommend attempting this section unless you are very sure-footed.
We then returned back to the rope and I contemplated the climb up… Jennifer was having none of that. Deciding that I didn’t have the proper gear to attempt the climb Jennifer and I reluctantly headed back down the trail towards the truck.
Look for the Cairns
Shortly after turning back I saw a cairn leading me to the right away from the path we had come in on. This path leads up a slanted granite rock that was easy enough to scramble up. From here I saw another cairn leading me into a small wooded area on a wide terrace. Again the path seemed to disappear, but there was another cairn beckoning me closer to the cliff wall. Here I passed under a leaning bolder and onto the other side where I found another scramble up a larger granite slope with a lot more loose pebbles to make it more challenging. This was definitely the most dangerous section of the main trail’s hike.
The Final Push
Once at the top of the granite slab the terrain tapered as I crossed over the top of a lower part of the dome. This area has a lot of foliage and the path isn’t well defined. Finding no cairns in the area, I aimed my path towards the highest point to the right and after scrambling up yet another albeit wider and safer feeling granite slab I found myself at the top of the dome.
Summit of Colorado’s St. Peters Dome
The top of Colorado’s St. Peters Dome seems to be a two-part undertaking. The part I summited is separated from that which we would have summited should we have undertaken the rope challenge. The views from my side were great and I think the jagged rocks rising in front of our otherwise panoramic view added to the majesty of this spot. The rugged mountainous terrain unfolds around this great vantage point as it falls away onto the plains and the city of Colorado Springs. A bonus is that from this vantage I was able to take in the entire terrain we had crossed over. I could see YOLOM (my truck) waiting in the distance.
Once taking it all in we cautiously headed back down the loose and steep terrain the way we had come. The trail is only 0.7 miles one-way but has some hair-raising moments and should only be undertaken by those who have acclimated to the environment and are well versed at hiking on loose terrain. If you have vertigo, you might also want to sit this one out. You might also take on the rope challenge if you have the proper gear. Let me know how it goes if you do.