A quaint hidden reservoir peeks out of the shallows of Pike National Forest area northwest of Colorado Springs passed towering Pikes Peak on the way to Divide. Veer off of Woodland Park’s bustling business roads on a four-mile adventure into a wooded area and you’re sure to find the lake – as still and clear as a pane of glass. In October, visitors may even be able to catch a glimpse here of the fast-fading fall colors that fill social media feeds with their sunset shades of gold and orange.
Through the maze of trees, small circular clearings sit near the edge of a path carved through the heavy forestry where people set up camp. Rampart Reservoir consists of two main campsites: Meadow Ridge Campground and Thunder Ridge Campground. They stay open from early May to mid October and cost approximately $23 a night. Between the two campgrounds, there are 40 campsites available for use. As I drive the dirt road leading into the reservoir, I recall someone once telling me how the campsites are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. So it’s best to get there early.
Rampart Reservoir is busier in summer and fall when the weather is prime for camping, hiking, and fishing. It’s more ideal in warmer months when the insides of tents won’t crystalize from frozen condensation. Some might find this reservoir’s climate in summer and fall comparable to lower elevation reservoirs with high temperatures, especially when the sun is high and its rays are blazing.
Mornings are excellent times to visit Rampart Reservoir, when the sun is slowly rising up out of the vanishing navy night in a brillant blood orange fade. As I walk the dirt path of Rainbow Gulch Trail, it’s quiet enough that I can hear the lures and plastic bobbers rattling around in my tacklebox – the one with the 25 year-old Super Mario sticker still stuck on it: a hand-me-down from my brother.
There are two trailheads near the reservoir for those itching to stretch their legs and stomp around in their hiking boots through dirt trails and short, wild grass. Rampart Reservoir Trail is one – a 13.2 mile loop known as being a moderately difficult and unforgettably scenic hike around the lake’s perimeter.
The other easier hike (the one I usually take) is Rainbow Gulch Trail – just 3.4 miles out and back. The trail, although easy and short in distance, takes you from the parking lot to the reservoir along a rushing creek, passed a teepee, and across a bridge that will lead you to a small gulf known by many as a great fishing spot. Rainbow Gulch is a perfect trail for those looking to make a short day trip to the lake.
Once reaching the crystal-clear lake waters, don’t get too eager to dip your feet in. Wading and swimming are prohibited in the area. Instead, stand and marvel at the reservoir spread out before you with mighty Pikes Peak in the background. You’ll hardly be able to believe this place is man made – besides the anglers filling the granite banks near the end of the trailhead, and an occasional boat or two floating idly by in the distance.
While it may be getting a little chilly at Rampart Reservoir in October, sitting at 9,000 feet, fishermen are never in short supply. The reservoir is well-stocked by the Colorado Division of Wildlife with Rainbow, Cutbow, and Lake trout being the most common species of fish swimming around beneath the surface. I’ve found that they tend to bite well on Gulp artificial minnows, Powerbait, and Kastmaster lures.
Due to the ever-growing population of south-central Colorado, the city of Colorado Springs elected to open Rampart Reservoir to the public in the 1960s for recreational use of close to 500 acres of Pike National Forestland. Two years after the project commenced in 1967, Rampart Reservoir’s dam was built – spanning 3,400 feet across. In 1974, the reservoir was filled to its 13 billion U.S. gallon capacity, and officially opened to the public. The devastating Waldo Canyon Fire in the summer of 2012 temporarily closed the reservoir to visitors. But it was opened up again less than a year after.
To find Rampart Reservoir, turn on Baldwin Street off Highway 24 in Woodland Park and travel three miles to Loy Creek Road. From there take a dirt road to find Rampart Range Road. Once turning right on Rampart Range Road, proceed four miles to the Rampart Reservoir entrance.