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Hiking at Lake Pueblo State Park: History, high points and canyon country

Gazebo at start of the trail
Gazebo at start of the trail
Deb Stanley

While Lake Pueblo State Park may be best known for its lake, it also several fun canyons to explore.

Canyon Country at Lake Pueblo State Park
Deb Stanley

The hike into canyon country starts at the South Shore parking lot (directions below). A small gazebo with a sign says “Welcome to the Arkansas Point Trail System.” Walk to the left of the display and follow the trail down a small hill. You are now on the South Shore Trail. It is a wide, dirt road. As you start your walk, you’ll have a view of Lake Pueblo.

Walk to the left of the display and follow the trail down a small hill. You are now on the South Shore Trail. It is a wide, dirt road. As you start your walk, you’ll have a view of Lake Pueblo.

The South Shore Trail heads toward the water, then veers left and climbs a small rise between the hills. As you come around the bend, stay on the wide road as it turns left up a canyon. The smaller trail that branches off to the right is the South Shore Trail. We will be coming back to this stop. But for now, lets go up this first canyon.

About 0.4 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to a trail split for the Conduit, Water Tank and Hooters Canyon Trails. Take a look around here. This is the start of canyon country – there are several canyons to the south. You can head up Hooters Canyon and get right into the canyons, but I recommend a detour first.

First, look up above the Conduit Trail to the rock formations. Let’s go up there.

The Conduit Trail is a change from what you’ve been hiking. After the flat, dirt road, the Conduit Trail is only single-person wide and it is covered in rocks – lots and lots of shale rocks that are a bit slippery to hike over.

You’ll hike up a hill to a saddle and a view point. There’s a bench here and a sign explaining the C.F. & I Arkansas Valley Conduit remnants across the lake from this overlook. In the early 1930s, a conduit (pipeline) was built to bring water from the Arkansas River to the C.F. & I Plant to be used for smeltering. After reading the history, take a seat on the bench and enjoy the view of the lake nearby and Pikes Peak in the distance.

Continue on the Conduit Trail as it wraps around the rock formation above you. As you hike by next pile of rocks, look closely. My hiking history book, Walking Into Colorado’s Past said the small, orange, tubular markings are fossilized worm tunnels.

There’s a short hill with a view just past the pile of the rocks or stay on the main trail. Just past the hill is a trail to your left with a bench -- ignore that and continue to the next trail split and turn right on the Staircase Trail. Like its name says, this trail has some staircases of wooden steps as you climb up to the top of the rocky outcropping. Near the top, you’ll come to another trail split, and see a bench. Walk to the bench. However, you’re not done yet. You can sit at the bench and enjoy the views. Or you can continue on the Arkansas Point Trail to the end. This next section of trail has some ups and downs and ends over that very first three-way trail split we saw between the Conduit/Watertower and Hooters Canyon Trails.

If you’re adventurous and have some skills, these rocks can be very fun to explore. However, be very careful with children and adults, because this crumbly rock can give way and you could fall. I walked as far as I was comfortable and return the way I had come.

Back at the bench and then the three-way trail split, I headed toward the solar panels/weather station and the top of the next hill. Once again I found a bench, this time, with a good view of the Lake Pueblo Dam. After a photo, continue on the Arkansas Point Trail to canyon country. This is where you will really need your map. I passed the Steep Tech Trail turnoff, the Watertower turnoff, and then it was time to pick a canyon. Based on names only, I decided to take Rollercoaster to Bones to Skull Canyon.

Just a short distance down the Rollercoaster Trail and I was seeing canyon country -- the paths cut by water and the surrounding the rocky buttes.

I passed Pinball and Free Ride and came to Rattlesnake. While there was no way I wanted to hike a canyon named Rattlesnake, it looked too good to pass up. I headed down the streambed and found tumbleweeds on the trail – maybe because it was the lowest spot in the canyon, maybe because not many people want to a hike a canyon called rattlesnake. At one point, a hiking trail diverted from the streambed trail so I took the hiking path.

The trail drops down into Skull Canyon, which looks much like the canyons on Colorado’s Western Slope, near Fruita. However, these canyons are not as deep. I liked both Rattlesnake and Skull Canyons. However, they were short. After just about two-thirds of a mile hiking in the canyons, I was back on the South Shore Trail. Here you can continue up and down more of the canyons to the south or return back to the parking lot.

Details: The hike to the Conduit history marker, to the overlooks on the Arkansas Point Trail and through Rattlesnake and Skull canyons is 3.2 miles with about 420 feet of elevation gain.

Admission: The entry fee to the state park was $7 in 2014. Click here for the Colorado State Park's website.

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Directions: From I-25 in Pueblo, take exit 101/Highway 50 and go west. Drive four miles to Pueblo Blvd/CO45 and turn left/south. Drive about 3.7 miles to Thatcher Avenue/CO 96 and turn right/west. From here, it’s about 3.8 miles to the park entrance on your right. Take So. Marina Road past the entrance station and turn left on Arkansas Point Road. You’ll see the parking area up ahead and to the right.