The Manitou Springs Incline is immediately apparent when driving into the hamlet of Manitou Springs, CO (home of witches, geode shops and Clayfest). It is a vertical scar up the front of Mt. Manitou, once hosting train tracks for a pulley-operated train car/tourist attraction. Summer floods sent boulders into the track more than a decade ago, resulting in the tracks being removed by the company that owns the land. In their graciousness the company left behind the railroad ties, essentially creating a huge StairMaster. A brutal, never-ending, incredibly steep StairMaster with lots of people that are ill prepared to climb it mixed with an equal number of incredibly fit and attractive people. Awesome, and good for Olympics training.
The hike is all uphill. There are no downhill sections of the ties, so be prepared for very little in the way of breaks. Breaking the Incline into thirds, the first 1/3 is fairly gradual with a few flatter sections, the second 1/3 is typified by a 50% vertical grade that makes the Incline a brutal wildabeast of a workout (this middle section is where the Barr Trail bailout is), and the last 1/3 that is more similar to the beginning with a final short and steep section to the summit.
Once on the summit, and slightly recovered, a common question often arises; “how in the fuck do I get down?”. There are a couple of ways – which one you choose depends on the shape of your knees and how much time you have. The quickest way down is a well-worn trail that begins immediately to the left of the summit and runs into Barr Trail (the light blue line on the map). The longer way down is found by continuing to walk as if the Incline kept going. You will eventually run into a trail that heads steeply up before heading downhill and running into Barr Trail (the dark blue line on the map). Both of these routes put you onto Barr Trail which will bring you to the trail parking lot (the green line on the map), or to the creek and Ruxton Ave. On a hot day the cutoff to the creek is a great way to cool down before climbing back in the car. Lastly, and most painfully, you can just go back down the Incline, either all the way to the bottom or to the Barr Trail bailout (the pink line on the map). I used to do this a lot and there are various arguments against it. One, it hurts and two, it contributes a lot to the erosion, and I have seen hikers heading up get pretty annoyed at those coming down.
The company that owns the Incline, and the nearby Cog Railroad, ostensibly prohibits people from accessing the climb. I have not heard of them ever attempting to enforce the “No Trespassing” prohibitions, and from what I’ve read lately it appears that the town and the landowner are attempting to create some sort of easement in order to allow legal access to the Incline. Once you see a Manitou cop or two, you’ll quickly realize that nobody is going to chase you down to give you a ticket.
Distance: about 1 mile from the start of the ties to the summit, and about 3.5 miles from the summit to the parking lots
Time: anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your fitness
Directions: From downtown Manitou Springs: take Manitou Avenue west and take a left on Ruxton Avenue. The start of the Incline is right above the Cog Railroad’s upper lot. Park along Ruxton or in the Barr Trail parking lot.