If you’re visiting Colorado Springs, you’ll inevitably hear about the Incline. Located in the next door town of Manitou Springs, the Incline is, in a word, a challenge.
The Incline is a .88 mile ascent made up of 2,768 steps with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
How steep is that? Well, depending on the section of the Incline, it’s between a 40-68% grade! What used to be an old cable car track is now a tough and scenic workout for locals and visitors.
I’ll tell you everything you need to know to hike the Incline, like how to get there, where to park for free, how long it takes to climb, and what to do once you’ve made it to the summit.
There’s a Google Map at the bottom of the post with the Incline, parking, and shuttle stops marked.
How to Get to the Incline
Hiking the incline on its own is free, but what will cost you is the nearby parking. But I’m going to tell you where to park and how to get to the Incline for free so you can save that money for a beer after you summit.
You’re going to want to park right off of Old Man’s Trail, which is next to Manitou Springs Memorial Park. There will be signs advertising the free parking lot, and the park is a nice green space with a little view of the Incline! It’s the snowy strip coming down the mountain in the middle of the photo below.
Once you park you’re going to want to take the free shuttle to the base of the Incline. You’ll look for shuttle #33, and the stop is right next to Memorial Park. Depending on the day of the week the shuttle runs every 20 or 10 minutes. For specifics see the Manitou Shuttle schedule here.
The shuttle will drop you off right by the Iron Springs Chateau Dinner Theater, and from there it’s a short walk to the base of the Incline.
What You Need to Hike the Incline
You really don’t need much to hike the Incline, but you want to make sure that what you do bring is the right stuff.
- Shoes – I wore road running tennis shoes for the climb, and since it was January there were still patches of snow and ice where I wished I had more traction. My recommendation is to wear trail runners or another light, yet sturdy pair of shoes that have some traction to them. Low ankle hiking shoes are a nice option. I don’t recommend any footwear that is heavy, like hiking boots that cover the ankle. You have to lift your feet up A LOT of steep steps, and heavy shoes will make it even harder.
- Water – Even if you’re an amazing athlete who can climb the Incline in under 25 minutes, you still have to go down Barr Trail (more on that later) and take the shuttle back to your car once you finish. So if you don’t bring water with you, you won’t have it for over an hour at least. More like 3 hours. Yes, you could buy it at the coffee shop that’s at the start of the Incline, but that costs money! And we’re all about doing this for free. So I recommend bringing water with you, and preferably hands free. A hydration pack is the perfect way to do this. Then you can also stuff your car keys and phone inside and really use those arms to get up the steps.
- Sunscreen – If you’re a local you already know that being in a high elevation area like the Springs means the sun’s rays have less atmosphere to travel through to reach you, and affect you more intensely than in areas of low elevation. And everyone in the Springs likes to tell you how much sunshine there is (over 300 days a year!). So be prepared and put some sunscreen on before you hike. My favorite is this one from Alba Botanica.
Other than these three things, I think the rest is self explanatory. You probably know to wear comfy clothes, bring a camera for pictures, and maybe a small snack for when you summit. And generally leave the rest in the car or at home.
How Long Does it Take to Climb the Incline
Well, according to the sign posted at the Incline the fastest time is 16:42. But unless you’re a world class athlete you probably won’t finish in under 30 minutes…sorry to burst your bubble!
Even though it’s not far in distance, the steepness of the steps and sheer amount of them will really get your legs burning and your heart rate going. As a semi-regular runner who was new to the higher elevation I finished in 51:26. I took around 3 breaks that were about 1 minute each, and tried to convince myself to just keep stepping (like Finding Nemo’s ‘just keep swimming’)!
If you’re a fit person who is into endurance workouts, I’d say that somewhere in the 30-40 minute range is doable, but if you’re not really into fitness I would plan on over an hour. Especially if you’re hiking with a group.
You should know that there is a turnaround point around halfway up the Incline that connects with Barr Trail, which will lead you back to the parking area. If you start hiking and just don’t think you can make it, it’s okay to take the turnaround. It’s much safer than going back down the Incline steps.
How to Get Back After Climbing the Incline
So you reached the summit! After a few selfies, sips of water, and chance to sit down and enjoy the view at the top, you’re ready to head back. And after going up those super steep steps you’re probably thinking it would be crazy to go down them. And you’re right (although I did see people do it). The safest and preferred way to head down after climbing the Incline is by taking Barr Trail.
If you’re facing the Incline steps, like in the picture above, the trail will be off to your right. There will be a sign with trail rules and an arrow pointing you in the right direction. Be a good person and don’t take shortcuts (it erodes the landscape), smoke (it stinks), or leave trash (nature isn’t a garbage bin).
It does take a good amount of time to hike back down Barr Trail to the main parking lot– at least an hour if you’re walking leisurely. So something you need to think about when planning your free day at the Incline is the first 15 minute shuttle bus ride to the Incline, how long it will take you to hike up, how long it will take you to walk down, and then another 15 minute shuttle ride back to the free parking area. You should anticipate spending around 4 hours of your day conquering the Incline.
Some other things you should know about the Incline are that it’s open from 6am to 6pm, dogs are not allowed, and it’s enough of a workout to justify eating an entire pizza to yourself. At least that’s what I tell myself anyway.
Enjoy your time hiking the Incline!
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