Managed by the Nature Conservancy, there are no signs on the nearby highway, and the preserve is only open three days a week, so even on a Saturday in mid-April we saw only one other group of hikers here.
Aiken Canyon Preserve protects 1,600 acres just off Highway 115, south of Colorado Springs and across from Fort Carson (directions below).
From the parking lot, walk toward the signboard. Depending on what time you arrive, the Field Station/Visitor's Center may not be open. If it is, go inside for a hand-created map. If not, the trail starts behind the signboard.
The trail starts as a single-track, dirt trail through the prairie. Because this is desert, you'll see lots of cactus next to the trail. Don't go off trail here. It not only damages the fragile plants, but you could end up with a foot full of painful cactus needles.
Soon the trail stops at a wash (it's possible the trail had been washed out in this section.) We turned left to go up the wash. If you see a trail split of sorts in the wash, take the right fork. (When we visited, that fork had the most footprints and was the correct direction.) While we hiked in the wash for a short time, you should soon see a trail above the wash. Get back on the trail as soon as possible. (Hopefully this section may be repaired when you visit.)
As you hike, you'll pass several weathered signs that explain the trees, the birds and other animals that live here. The trail winds in and out of the wash and past some large trees until about 0.7 miles from the trailhead. Here we came to a split with a post that had two arrows on it.
We decided to go left first. As we hiked this next section of trail we started seeing more of the red rock formations in the area. While many are hidden behind and under the green trees and shrubs in the area, you will spot some of the rocks. The red is very striking in the green flora, with the blue sky.
About a mile from the loop split, there's a short climb that takes you to the next valley and a saddle. After a break at the saddle, we spotted the turnoff for the overlook. It's a steep hike up several switchbacks to get to the top, but it's worth it. At the top, you can see the foothills west and the valleys below you. Consider walking out to the end of the overlook for a good view across the Front Range.
Back on the main trail, it wasn't far to another trail split -- this time for the canyon trail. While the trail starts in a wide, open meadow, it soon enters a canyon. The trail in the canyon is a bit intermittent at times, you may have to do a little searching to stay on the trail, but it's a nice side trip. It's about .9 miles from the start of the spur trail to the spot where it ends at the ruins of an old cabin. An information sheet at the Field Station says a man named Donald F. Jones obtained a government patent on the land in 1927 and applied for water rights to Aiken Spring (or Akin Spring as it appears in the records). Jones constructed a water system in the canyon and you can still see some of the pipes today. If you hike up canyon a bit more, you may spot the remnants of the spring.
A 1937 map shows an Ira Waterman homesteaded the land where the cabin was built, the information sheet explains. It says Waterman and Jones were likely friends.
Mary Catherine Smith of the Nature Conservancy said the cabin had 5 or 6 rooms, running water in the kitchen, an indoor bathroom and sliding glass windows. The cabin ruins were still standing in 1994, but were taken down for safety reasons, the information sheet explains.
The rocks near the cabin ruins are a good place to take a break and marvel at how someone would find this canyon and decide to build in the canyon. There's no information on what Waterman or Jones did for a living on the information sheet.
When you're done exploring the canyon, return to the main loop trail. From here, it's about another mile to end of the loop trail and then another .7 miles to the parking lot.
In the area, check out Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Don't miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page. Get more ideas on this list of 200+ hikes in Colorado.
Details: The hike around the loop, to the overlook and to the cabin ruins and back is 6 miles with about 1,100 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
Directions: From Interstate 25, take exit #135 (South Academy) and turn west. Drive 1.9 miles to Highway 115 and turn south. It's about 11.7 miles (just past the mile marker 32 sign) to Turkey Creel Ranch Road, the turnoff for the Aiken Canyon Preserve. The road appears to go to a gated community, but you should see the Aiken Canyon parking lot on your right.