The Hike – General Barr Trail Info
Most visitors to Barr Camp hike up Barr Trail from the trailhead in Manitou Springs. The 6.5-mile hike gains 3,800 ft, with most of the elevation gain over the first 3 miles of the trail. Do not be discouraged by the first part of the trail! While the trail continues to gain elevation to Barr Camp, the next 3 miles are less steep.
We recommend an early start on the trail. In the summer months, the bottom part of the trail can be brutally hot. A cool morning start will get you up higher before the heat of the day, and will get you to Barr Camp in time for a nap, deck sitting, or a short hike to a great overlook.
Colorado weather is dangerously unpredictable. Thunderstorms develop very rapidly, and lightning kills many people in the mountains each year. Hike early in the day to avoid dangerous and common afternoon thunderstorms in the summer, and make sure you carry raingear in your supplies. Turn back if thunderheads develop to try to get back to shelter before a storm breaks. If caught in a thunderstorm, avoid open spaces, under lone trees, shallow caves, or the edge of cliffs. In an electrical storm, crouch on the balls of your feet, throw metal objects away from you, find spots between boulders, or in well-forested areas. In the summer season, you should plan to be below tree line by 1 p.m. Expect winter weather on the summit of the peak year round and dress for it. Even in the summer, snow and sleet may be encountered above timberline. Temperatures can be as much as 40 degrees lower on the top of the mountain than they are at the base. Hypothermia usually sets in between 30 and 40 degrees F to those who are ill-dressed.
Do not underestimate Pikes Peak. Hikers not accustomed to the high altitude and physical demands of the trail are advised to plan on a minimum of two days hiking time. The more time acclimating to altitude, the better off you will be. If you have not hiked at high altitude you will find it is a different experience. Most people become winded more easily, especially carrying a backpack up the steep sections of the trail. The lower oxygen levels make it harder to take what is normally a simple step. Many strong hikers are surprised by how difficult the hike is. Hikers have found themselves in serious trouble by overestimating their capabilities, underestimating the mountain, or by being unprepared. How are you planning to get off the top? Remember that attaining the summit is only halfway.
- Important Pikes Peak Toll Road information – If you plan to use the toll road as part of your journey.
The Pikes Peak Toll road may not be open to the summit. The summit house may not be open at the top. You should also consider that it may take longer to get to the top than you planned. You should not expect there to be space without a reservation. Hitching rides may not work, and the road may be closed by severe weather. Please be prepared and don’t rely on others to get you out of a jam. Never hike higher than you are willing to hike back down. See the Toll Road link above for information on fees for a ride back down the mountain.
Hiking – Trailhead to Barr Camp
When departing the trailhead parking lot, be careful to start on the correct trail. Barr Trail is near the bathroom building on the south side of the parking lot, at the large wooden Barr Trail sign. On the other side of the lot is an unmarked trail that takes you to the Manitou Incline. The Incline should not be attempted unless you are aware of what you are getting into. Barr Trail is well traveled and maintained. There are not many directional signs along the way.
The trail climbs quickly up from the parking lot over many switchbacks. Once you climb into the trees, the legs of the switches are slightly longer and a little less steep. At about 2.5 miles, you will come to a “key-hole” or rock overhang. Look for the “Man of the Mountain” carved into a protruding tree root on the left side of the trail just after the right hand switch back. Look closely, he is only about five inches long! A few hundred yards above this spot, you will come to a sign that points to the top of the Manitou Incline and down to the Cog Railway. Continue straight and enjoy the short downhill before the small but steep uphill that will take you to the next sign at No-Name Creek. You can normally find a pool of water just upstream to filter or treat water. You are now halfway to Barr Camp. The sign here reads “Pikes Peak Summit 9.5, Barr Camp 3.5” It also mentions Fremont Experimental Forest. You will go left at the sign.
The trail continues to be wide, and then narrows down to a single track in about 200 yards. Follow the single track straight past the wide path. DO NOT TURN LEFT and go uphill on the wide path; this is the most common wrong turn on the lower part of the trail. A couple more switchbacks and you leave the steep climbing behind you for a while. Enjoy the rolling, gradually climbing trail over the next two miles through the pine forest. The next sign you will see will be “Summit 7.8, Top of Incline 2.5” These signs were placed many years ago, and, while not exact, give you some idea of location and distance. After passing this sign, you will enjoy your last flat section of trail before a gradual climb. The trail rolls along for about a third of a mile before the next climb. There is a right-hand turn at the top of the hill. This is Lightning Point from which you have a spectacular view of Pikes Peak! Take a breather and enjoy the view. You are now one mile from Barr Camp. Enjoy this little downhill. The creek along the left side of the trail is the last water option before Barr Camp. After crossing the wooden bridge at the end of the flat section, you begin your last leg to the camp. The trail is gradually uphill to a sign that reads, “Barr Camp .5 mile, Summit 6.5, Elevation 9,800 ft” You will gain 400 feet of elevation over the next half mile, so it will seem longer than “two laps around the track”! There are only three switchbacks over the last half mile, and the trail looks relatively flat. However, it is a continual climb all the way to camp. You can smell the garlic bread by now, so keep on hiking! The camp is on the right of the trail. As you cross the bridge and under the Welcome sign to the deck, pat yourself on the back for the 6.2 mile hike and the 3,800 ft of elevation you have accomplished!
Hiking – Barr Camp to the Summit
The trail out of Barr Camp is a gradual climb for the first two miles. You will come to the Bottomless Pit trail turn off about 1 mile above Barr Camp. The next switchback is a long one, nearly 2/3 mile. You will find bigger rocks on this section which require more effort to climb. You will leave the aspen trees behind as you ascend. The mile below the timberline/A-frame shelter becomes steeper, and tighter switchbacks will bring you to the a-frame sign. There is a stream below the trail (to your left as you face the summit) where you can treat water. The A-frame is across this stream and below the trail. Built by the Forest Service in 1964 as an emergency shelter, the A-frame is a good place to return to if bad weather moves in during your hike. Hikers often overnight in the shelter; it is first-come first-serve and well used in the summer. Plan on a tarp or a tent in case you get there and it is full. It sleeps about six people. This is an unmanned shelter. Just a couple of switchbacks above the A-frame you will see the “Three Miles to the Summit” sign. You will be awed by the view of the peak ahead of you. Stop and take your photo, then find the narrow trail to the right – a very sharp right, just past the sign. DO NOT go straight up at this point. Things change drastically from here to the summit, especially your breathing and the time it takes to travel one mile! Take your time, stand up straight and breathe using your diaphragm. People tend to hunch over and lean forward pinching off the bottom of the lungs. Big exhales are important to clear out the CO2 that builds up in the bottom of your lungs. The next half mile offers great views and you will find less switchbacks and a gradual climb up to the Inestine Roberts memorial – celebrating an 88 year old lady who died on her fourteenth hike to the summit. Let her be your inspiration through the next switchbacks, rocks and gravel to the “Two Miles to Summit” sign. At the switchbacks, stand up straight, breathe deep, and look around at the specially adapted alpine plants. Listen to the chirp-like bark of the marmots and try to locate them among the rocks.
Seeing other hikers on the trail above you gives you an idea of where the trail goes and how quickly the switchbacks take you upward. You will begin the ‘grand-traverse’ which takes you from the north flank across the entire east face to the south flank. The trail looks flat but it is deceiving, as it climbs UP to the “One Mile to go sign” and “The Cirque” on the south shoulder. The Cirque is a 1500-foot drop. Looking upward, you have one mile to go. Ravens often catch the updrafts, soaring about effortlessly, and sometimes you may see a pair of Golden Eagles. If you are very lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep as well. The trail climbs via switchbacks for about a half mile. As you make the last long switchback before the 16 Golden Stairs, look back down to see the ribbon of trail below you. In Gerry Roaches “Colorado Fourteeners” the author describes a ‘Golden Stair’ as a switchback pair. There is much disagreement about how many stairs, Golden or otherwise, there are and how to count them. Perhaps the rock falls and other changes over the years have changed it from the Fred Barr days. Do not expect actual stairs; do plan to take your time as the higher steps through the rocks will quickly make you wonder if there is any oxygen to be had! Once through these tight steep steps, you will have a slight downhill. Catch your breath and get ready for the last 200 yard push to the summit where you will most likely encounter tourists who either drove to the summit or rode the cog railway. They will be amazed to hear you climbed up the mountain! Enjoy the moment; you made it to the 14,110 ft. summit of America’s Mountain – Pikes Peak!