Perhaps one of the most popular hikes in the greater Colorado Springs region, the Manitou Incline is a heart-pounding trail at the base of Pikes Peak that is sure to be a challenge. Rising nearly 2000 feet over just under one mile of terrain the Manitou Incline is no walk in the park.
But what is the Manitou Incline and how can you hike it on your next trip to Colorado Springs?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about this amazing hike, so we wanted to clear the air once and for all. Coming up, we’ve got your ultimate guide to hiking the Manitou Incline, complete with all the information you need to get out and enjoy a spectacular day in the mountains.
Let’s get to it!
Okay, okay. At this point, if you’ve never heard of the Manitou Incline, you might be wondering what all the hubbub is about. It’s just a hike, right?
What is the Manitou Incline?
Well, it turns out that the Manitou Incline is actually an incredibly popular hiking trail thanks to its particularly steep grade and stunning panoramic views. Oh, and not to mention, it’s free and a great workout, so what’s not to love?
The Manitou Incline is a 0.95 mile long (one way) hiking trail that gains 1,912 feet of elevation to the summit of Manitou Peak, near Pike’s Peak. The trail is popular among tourists and locals, alike, so don’t expect to be alone as you hike!
Manitou Incline Statistics:
- Mileage: 4.95 miles (0.95 miles up and 4 miles down)
- Elevation Gain: 1,912 feet
- Maximum Elevation: 8.573 feet
- Number of Steps: 2,744
- Average Grade: 45%
- Maximum Grade: 68%
- Difficulty: Hard
- Average Time to Complete: 2-4 hours (roundtrip)
- Trailhead Location: View map
The Manitou Incline starts behind the upper parking lot for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway on Ruxton Avenue in the town of Manitou Springs. The trail starts off by dropping down from the Barr Trail parking lot to an electric substation before making it over to the true bottom of the Incline.
If you parked on Ruxton, you should see a sign for the “Future Incline Trailhead” that directs you to the base of the Incline, where you can start your hike. You can find the exact trailhead here.
Once you reach the bottom of the Incline, it’s all uphill from here – until you reach the top, that is. The trail itself is unrelenting until you reach the summit, but don’t be fooled by the false summit that’s about three-quarters of the way up to the top. It’s disappointed many a first-time hiker over the years.
This false summit is where the Manitou Incline intersects with the Barr Trail, which is a good bail-out point if you’re not keen to continue onward to the top. Should you choose to continue upward, you’ll have to climb some 300 more steps before cresting the summit.
If you make it to the summit – congrats! Sit back and enjoy the amazing view. You’ve certainly earned it.
After you get your fill of the surrounding vistas, it’s time to return back to your car. As all experienced hikers know full well, the uphill is only half of the battle. When it comes to the Manitou Incline, you have two options for getting back to the trailhead.
The first option is to hike back down the entire Incline. This is STRONGLY discouraged by locals and frequent hikers as it only worsens the congestion on the trail. Plus, while this is the most direct route, it is by no means a comfortable descent. Your knees won’t thank you when you get back to your car.
Alternatively, hikers are encouraged to take the Barr Trail back down to the trailhead. While the Barr Trail is about four miles, it has a much more calm grade, allowing your knees a bit of a respite on the downhill. The Barr Trail is your best bet for getting back to your car. Once you arrive at the trailhead, it’s time to go and grab that celebratory beer to cap off a great hike!
Weather on the Trail
Although the Manitou Incline is very close to Manitou Springs and the city of Colorado Springs, it’s important to remember that this is a mountain trail. This means that the weather can change at ANY moment. In fact, it frequently does.
Even the sunniest of bluebird days can quickly turn into a storm, especially in the summer and fall when late afternoon cloud build-up turns into a potentially dangerous lightning storm. So, don’t be fooled by the trail’s proximity to the city. These are the Rocky Mountains and you should be prepared for any weather conditions if you head up the trail.
Manitou Incline Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you understand why the Manitou Incline is so awesome, let’s answer some of your most common questions about the hike:
Where do you park for the Manitou Incline?
As with any popular trail, parking at the Manitou Incline is a bit of a challenge. Parking near the trail is incredibly limited and is really not recommended as it is congested and expensive.
The nearby Barr Trail parking lot will cost you around $20 for the day and you’ll need to make a reservation before arriving. You can try parking at the Iron Springs Chateau if you’re willing to pay $5 for four hours, but there are only 50 spots available. As you can imagine, these spots are hard to come by.
Others try to park along Ruxton Avenue, but spots on the road are very limited. These spots cost about $10 an hour and are really only available on the weekdays as local residents have reserved most of the spots on the weekend. There are plenty of “No Parking” signs along Ruxton Avenue and if you fail to listen to them, you’ll almost certainly get a ticket, or worse, have your car towed.
The best option? Park at Manitou Springs’ free public parking lot at Memorial Park. The parking lot is located at 10 Old Man’s Trail and is completely FREE.
Plus, the town runs a free shuttle to the trailhead and the entire ride is just a few minutes long. Yep, that’s right: if you park at Memorial Park, you won’t have to pay a single dollar and you can get a free ride to the trailhead. What’s not to love?
How do I prepare for the Manitou Incline?
The Manitou Incline is a challenging hike, to say the least. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for all but the most experienced hikers. Indeed, anyone that’s in decent shape can make it up the Manitou Incline, with a bit of preparation beforehand. Here are our top tips for hiking the Manitou Incline:
Tips for hiking the Manitou Incline:
- Pace yourself. You’re not racing up the trail, so don’t feel discouraged if others are passing you by. Walk at your pace and find the speed that allows you to keep moving upward. Don’t burn yourself out by hiking faster than you’re comfortable with.
- Drink lots of water. It can get hot in Colorado during the summer months and hiking up the trail is exhausting. So, bring plenty of water for the hike up and the hike down. Don’t forget to hydrate!
- Take a break. The trail isn’t long distance-wise, but it is tiring. It’s always better to stop for a quick breather than to push yourself too far. If you’re feeling tired, step off to the side of the trail for a few minutes before deciding whether to continue upward or head back down.
- Go on a few practice hikes. If you’re new to hiking, don’t make the Manitou Incline your first adventure. Go out and enjoy a few warm-up hikes before you test yourself on the Incline. Your body will be grateful.
- Take the Barr Trail descent. Although you might be tempted to go back down the Manitou Incline after you reach the summit, DON’T. It’s incredibly steep (as you know) and is just plain bad to walk down. You’ll likely trip over the old railroad spikes and do a number on your knees. Save yourself the pain and go down the Barr Trail.
How long does it take to climb the Manitou Incline?
The Manitou Incline may not be very long distance-wise but it can take a while, thanks to its steep grade. While it’s impossible to give you a specific time that it’ll take you to hike the Manitou Incline (everyone is different), most first-timers take about an hour to an hour and a half to get to the summit, unless you’re a very fit and experienced hiker.
But, don’t forget that the ascent is only half the journey. You’ll have to return back down to the parking lot via the Barr Trail, which can take you an hour or two, depending on your energy levels. So, most people can complete the Manitou Incline within 2-4 hours.
What is the record for the Manitou Incline?
While most people take about an hour to an hour and a half to get to the summit of Manitou Peak, the world record for the climb is just 17 minutes and 45 seconds. The record, which was set in 2015 by Colorado Springs resident and professional mountain runner, Joseph Gray, is impressive, to say the least.
If you want to time yourself, the official starting point is at the first railroad tie and the official endpoint is the last railroad tie. But, the fastest runners on the incline have done the trail dozens of times, so don’t be discouraged if they’re a bit faster than you are on your first attempt!
How many steps are in the incline?
The Manitou Incline is home to 2,744 steps, 300 of which are after the false summit, which indicates the intersection with the Barr Trail. But, who’s counting?
How many floors is the Manitou Incline?
If we estimate that there are about 21 steps per floor (in your standard building with 10-foot floors and 7-inch steps), we can estimate that the Manitou Incline has 130 floors.
However, since the steps of the incline aren’t all exactly 7 inches and uniform in size, it’s better to estimate using the total elevation gain of the hike. If we figure that a floor is 10 feet tall and the trail gains 1,912 feet of elevation, we can estimate that the Manitou Incline has about 190 floors worth of elevation.
Regardless of how you figure the number of floors in the incline, it’s still more than climbing the entire Empire State Building, which has just 103 floors.
What time does the incline open?
The incline is only open during daylight hours, from 6am to 6pm. DO NOT try to use the trail outside of these hours. Part of the trail is on private land so disregard of the rules can have negative consequences for everyone!
Is the Manitou Incline open?
The Manitou Incline has closed for multiple periods throughout its history to carry out important repairs, most recently in 2017. If you’re wondering whether or not the trail is currently open, ManitouIncline.com usually has some up-to-date information.
How many calories do you burn climbing the Manitou Incline?
While calories burned is a very person-to-person statistic, if we estimate that a 160 pound person burns about 2 calories per flight of stairs climbed, we can figure that they will burn 380 calories going up the Manitou Incline.
However, the actual number is likely higher as the estimate of 2 calories per floor doesn’t account for the high elevation of Colorado Springs, the weather, your fitness levels, or the pack you’ll be carrying. Plus, you’ll need to hike back down, which burns calories, too.
Alternatively, you can figure that the average person burns about 440 calories per hour of hiking, so if you take two to three hours to hike the Manitou Incline, you’ll burn around 880-1320 calories during the trek.
How long is the Barr Trail descent from the top of the incline?
The Barr Trail is the preferred descent option for anyone hiking the Manitou Incline because it offers a much more gentle grade for the downhill. This gentle grade is much easier on your knees than the average 45% grade of the Manitou Incline.
Plus, since the Manitou Incline is so popular, trying to hike downhill can actually be dangerous for both you and the hikers around you. So, please take the Barr Trail on the downhill.
The Barr Trail is about 4 miles long from its intersection with the Manitou Incline. Do keep in mind that this is pretty much all downhill, so it won’t be as cardiovascularly challenging as the uphill, but it will take time, so plan accordingly. Most people can make it back down to their car within an hour to an hour and a half with ease.
Are dogs allowed on the Manitou Incline?
Although people are free to use the Manitou Incline, four-legged friends are not. Remember, the trail is very busy and is technically on private land, so please respect the rules. This steep, popular trail really isn’t appropriate for your pup, so please leave the doggos at home.
Is there a Manitou Incline Shuttle?
There is, indeed, a Manitou Incline Shuttle. The best part? It’s completely FREE. To take the shuttle, simply park your vehicle at Memorial Park in Manitou Springs and take the Cog/Incline shuttle to the trailhead.
This free shuttle is designed to relieve congestion around the trailhead and is a great option. Since parking can cost upwards of $40 at the trailhead, this free alternative is certainly worth the short shuttle ride and is highly recommended.
When was the Manitou Incline built?
The Manitou Incline actually started out as a funicular railway in 1907 under the ownership of a Dr. Newton N. Brumback. Originally, the Manitou Incline was designed to help provide access to water tanks that were placed at the very top of Pikes Peak. The hope was that these tanks would create gravity-fed water pressure to supply water to the nearby towns of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs.
Soon enough, however, the funicular turned into a tourist attraction – the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway, to be exact. The railway ferried tourists up to the summit of Mount Manitou, but the railway was closed in 1990 after a rock slide damaged a large section of the track.
Because of the damage, the railway company removed the rails that the trains ran on, but they left the rail ties in place. These rail ties actually created what is essentially a gigantic staircase, which some locals started using as a challenging workout.
From there, the rest is history. Even though you can’t take a tram up to the summit of Manitou Peak, you can get some quality exercise hiking the trail to the top.
Interestingly enough, however, the Manitou Incline is not on public land. In fact, three different companies own sections of the current trail. In the late 1990s, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway actually posted “No Trespassing” signs in response to the parking issues it was experiencing with hikers taking up valuable spaces meant for railway passengers.
As you can imagine, this was infuriating to local hikers and tourists, alike, who challenged these signs and even tore them down. After years and years of legal battles, local officials finally managed to come to an agreement with the landowners, on February 1, 2013, when it became fully legal to hike the entirety of the trail to its summit at 8,573 feet.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.