The Pueblo Mountain Park Pavilion in Beulah, Colorado. (Photo PULP)

The allure of small parks like Pueblo Mountain Park

If you thought the only officially sanctioned outdoor recreation area that Pueblo had to offer was Lake Pueblo, think again. When imagining Pueblo, visions of pine-covered mountains and thick evergreen forestry don’t necessarily come to mind. There really isn’t a place in Pueblo where you can go hiking – in the traditional sense. Unless you count dodging rattlesnakes out on the trails around the reservoir “hiking.”

But I’m talking about the kind of hiking where pine needles crunch beneath each step, where the bark of ponderosas makes the air smell like vanilla. Hiking that involves changes in elevation, in surroundings and in heart rate. And if you too crave this breed of hiking experience but suffer a loss of enthusiasm knowing you may have to travel 30+ minutes to satisfy it, then you’re in for a treat to savor an old favorite.

Nestled in the southern foothills of Colorado just outside of Beulah is Pueblo Mountain Park: a 611-acre piece of land owned by the City of Pueblo and managed by the Mountain Park Environmental Center (MPEC). The drive is 20-25 minutes and while making it a conveniently close hiking spot that eases the stress of planning around travel time.

There are approximately six miles of hiking trails through the Wet Mountains in Pueblo Mountain Park that connect with and loop around one another to give you options for a shorter or longer hike. Two of the trails at the west end of the park connect with San Isabel’s Squirrel Creek Trail on which you may access the nearly 17,000 additional acres of San Isabel National Forest land.

There are four main trailheads at Pueblo Mountain Park. Devil’s Canyon Trail is the most popular, following the path of a seasonal drainage called Devil’s Dribble. After about a half a mile of easy hiking beneath the shade of the pines, this trail cuts directly through a small canyon, requiring hikers to scramble up jutting sandstone rocks and fallen trees along the Dribble to reach the checkpoint to link up with either Mace Trail or Northridge Trail.

On Mace Trail, you can get to Lookout Point where all that stands between you and the panoramic views of the valley below, the mountains above and San Isabel beyond is a guard rail fixed to the edge of a cliff. Northridge Trail is the longest trail in the park and one that connects to San Isabel’s Squirrel Creek Trail. The terrain of Northridge Trail changes rapidly: one moment in the dry and rocky semi-desert plains freckled with juniper and pinyon, another gazing down from above the treeline at a green sea of Douglas firs huddled shoulder-to-shoulder. Tower Trail is another that accesses Squirrel Creek Trail, but its main attraction is Fire Tower: built in the 1930’s as a fire lookout but never officially used. Fire Tower marks the highest point in the park at 7,400 feet.

Pueblo Mountain Park has been around since 1920, when the City of Pueblo was convinced to purchase the piece of land by the San Isabel Public Recreation Association. The association was made up of Pueblo citizens and led by a man named Arthur Carhart. Considered a radical at the time, Carhart believed that Colorado’s forests should be more to the population than just a source of timber, and that certain areas should be reserved for recreational pursuits such as hiking, fishing and camping. If it weren’t for visionaries like Carhart and those who shared in his beliefs, Pueblo Mountain Park would have never came to be, and Colorado would cease to be the outdoor recreation wonderland that it is today.

By the late ‘90’s, the City of Pueblo was considering liquidating Pueblo Mountain Park. For this reason another dedicated group of Pueblo-area individuals who perceived the park as an overlooked but ideal opportunity to educate the public about their local environment established the nonprofit organization Mountain Park Environmental Association (MPEA) to save the park.

By 2000, MPEA officially become MPEC when they opened their center on the park grounds in March. In the summer of 2008 MPEC took over management of Pueblo Mountain Park from Pueblo’s Parks and Recreation Department. They have since gone on to receive many awards and serve thousands of people by “promoting societal ecological literacy through environmental education.”

Ecological literacy is essentially an understanding of the Earth and humans’ place in it. Numerous educational programs are available through the park for children and adults alike that encourage consciousness of our impact on the Earth as well as a sense of connection to the natural world. Driven by their dedication to promote ecological literacy, Pueblo Mountain Park now has a lot more to offer than just hiking thanks to MPEC.

At the Horseshoe Lodge and Retreat Center where MPEC’s headquarters are located, visitors are able to rent one of 11 nature-themed bed-and-breakfast style rooms for an overnight stay or weekend retreat. The lodge features an interpretive center that includes various hands-on displays of the natural and cultural history of the area. There are also lower-cost dorms available for rent at the park that sleep up to 60 or more, as well as a pavilion located on the grounds that would make for a stunning wedding venue.

A visit to Pueblo Mountain Park is an opportunity for locals to learn about and engage with the ecosystems native to this region. It’s also an opportunity to take pride in and support the outdoor recreational facilities available to them through their city, and that their own predecessors made possible. Pueblo Mountain Park is a true hidden gem of Pueblo with all its history, versatility and easy accessibility. Mark it down for a visit the next time you get a jones for some local hiking, or are in need of a getaway that’s not so far away.