On Walkabout On: Pancake Rocks & Horsethief Falls, Colorado

Basic Information

  • Name: Pancake Rocks
  • Range: Front Range
  • Where: Horsethief Park, Colorado
  • Elevation: 11,004 feet (3,354 meters)
  • Distance: 7.5 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,877 feet
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • More Information: EveryTrail.com

Overview of Route

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Topographic Map

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Narrative

A fun hike I did this autumn that wasn’t too difficult, but still was enough for me to work up a sweat was my hike up to Pancake Rocks.  These rocks are an unusually shaped rock formation located on the craggy western slopes of the 14,115 foot Pikes Peak.  The rocks are part of a section of Pike National Forest that is known as Horsethief Park:


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Horsethief Park received its name because this area was once the hideout for horsethieves who once preyed on travelers going to the gold camps at nearby Cripple Creek.  Today this trail is popular recreation area for local hikers.  This trail is not well known outside of the local area and the trailhead is not even marked when driving by it.  However, do not think that this place is unpopular.  Every time I drive to Cripple Creek and pass by this trailhead I see it packed with cars.  There were just a few cars there when I started this hike in the morning at about 9:00 AM, but when I came back it was packed with cars.  The easiest way to spot this trailhead is to look for the old railway tunnel:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

The railway tunnel is the trailhead for the hike.  The railway that passed through this tunnel was the old Midland Terminal Railway that was one of three different railroads that competed to bring goods and passengers to and from the mining camps at Cripple Creek:

The train service operated between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek between 1895 to 1949 before going out of business due to the decline in gold mining in Cripple Creek and the advent of the automobile that once used this tunnel after the railroad when out of business. For those that have not lived in the Springs area for a long time, I can remember many years ago when Highway 67 that runs to Cripple Creek used to pass through this old railway tunnel.  Once gambling became so popular in Cripple Creek this bottleneck that allowed only one car to pass at time was replaced with the current bypass around the tunnel.

From the tunnel the trailhead is pretty obvious since it is marked with a Trail 704 Marker and ascends into the adjacent forest:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Immediately from the start of this hike there are some great views looking west towards the heart of the Colorado Rockies:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

As I hiked up through treeline there were plenty of Ring the Peak Trail signs that designate the trail:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

The Ring the Peak Trail system is a series of trails that nearly make a loop around Pikes Peak that is nearly 80% completed.  The below map shows how Horsethief Park (#6) is currently the end of one part of the ring:

Hopefully one day the Forest Service acquires the proper private property agreements to get this trail completed because I would love to spend a few days hiking it.  Anyway as I continued up the trail I then exited the trees and entered into a large meadow that had a small creek flowing through it:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

From the meadow I also had a great view of the 12,527 foot Sentinel Point:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

I plan on probably climbing this peak sometime in late Spring as a warm up for the summertime 14er climbing season much like I did with Almagre Mountain earlier this year.  Further up the meadow I reached a trail junction where going left lead to Horsethief Falls which is about a half mile walk down the trail:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Going right at the junction leads to Pancake Rocks which is a two mile walk further up the trail:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

I planned to hike to Pancake Rocks first before checking out the falls so I took a right and proceeded up the trail.  From the junction the trail switchbacks steeply up the side of the mountain which ended up being the biggest work out during the hike. Considering all my experience hiking up 14ers I powered up the switchbacks and passed a number of people ahead of me.  Even all the snow on the forest floor covering the trail wasn’t able to slow me down:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

The snow did make parts of the bootpacked trail slippery at times, but it was not bad enough require traction.  I did find that my trekking poles were useful in keeping my balance while crossing particularly icy areas though.  As I ascended higher up the mountain I eventually had a few views through the trees of the mighty Sangre de Cristo Range rising up to the South:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

As I reached the top of the mountain the trail in many areas was actually mostly dirt since it received more sunlight to melt the snow:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

From the top of the mountain the trail drops and ascends a little bit on a well worn trail before suddenly exiting the trees and entering the treeless area of rocky pancakes:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Pancake Rocks ended up being pretty cool rock formations to check out.  All the various rocky pancakes are made up of Pikes Peak granite that has been weathered by the rain and wind over the centuries that give these rocks their unusual look:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

There was plenty of big pancakes to see:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

As well as small ones:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

I even noticed what appeared to be a small shelter under one of the pancakes that somebody used as a campsite:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Besides the cool rock formations, Pancake Rocks also had some great views to the South of the Cripple Creek region and the Sangre de Cristo Range out in the distance:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the modern day gold mining operation outside of Cripple Creek:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the Crestone Group which is a clustering of five 14-thousand foot mountains in the Sanges that could be seen from Pancake Rocks:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

From the rocks the summit of Pikes Peak could not be seen because it was blocked by the nearby 12,000+ foot ridgeline.  The below panorama picture I took with my iPhone 4S shows that the view of the ridgeline and other nearby rock formations was quite scenic as well:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Here is another panorama photo looking out across the Pancake Rocks with the Cripple Creek gold mine and the Sangre de Cristo Range visible on the left:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

I spent about 45-minutes checking out the rocks, the views, and eating my lunch before deciding to head back down the trail.  Before leaving I took one last photograph of the scenic Pancake Rocks:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

As I left the rocks and descended back down the trail, I found that it was much more slippery going down than it was going up, but once again my trekking poles were helpful in preventing any falls on the trail:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Something interesting I saw as I descended down the trail was this friendly bird:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

He actually flew on to the hand of a hiker going up the trail.  I could not get him to land on my hand, but I have never been on a trail in Colorado with birds this tame before.  Anyway it only took me about 30-minutes to get down the mountain from Pancake Rocks and enter back into the meadow that was backdropped by Sentinel Point:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

From the meadow I then took the trail on the left that followed the frozen creek up into Horsethief Park:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

The creek was frozen over in most areas, but there was a few areas where the water below the ice was visible:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

The trail into Horsethief Park ran adjacent to this creek and was covered with snow the entire way:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

As I walked further up the trail I even saw a few areas of the creek that had small cascades:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

I found the creek to be really quite scenic with all the snow and ice around it:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

After a half-mile the trail reaches Horsethief Falls:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

This is really not a waterfall, but really just a series of cascades going down the rocks:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Regardless it was nice to check out, but unlike Pancake Rocks I did not spend too much time hanging out at the falls.  Pancake Rocks had a lot of sunshine and was quite warm while down here in the forest with little sunlight it was actually a bit cold.  It was in fact cold enough that my camera quit working and I had to put it into my pocket to warm it up again in order to take pictures.  So after taking a few pictures I proceeded to follow the trail back down the creek:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

On the way back I did notice that someone had made a large lean-to shelter with some downed logs:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

It seems like it would have just been easier to bring a tent to camp out in, but to each their own.  After a short walk down the trail I found myself back at the meadow:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

From the meadow I then followed the trail back through the treeline to the parking lot:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

From the trailhead I took sometime to take in the views of the mountains to the west.  I think the prominent peak in the below picture was of the 14er Mt. Princeton with another 14er Mt. Antero to the left:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the mountains:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

The 13ers, the Buffalo Peaks were very easily visible from the trailhead:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

I really want to climb these peaks sometime and I am thinking they would be a great late spring climb next year.  The Buffalo Peaks are the southern most extension of the Mosquito Range with part of the rest of the range visible as well from the trailhead which included the 14er Mt. Sherman:

Picture from Horsethief Park, Colorado

Conclusion

My hike up to Pancake Rocks followed by checking out Horsethief Falls came out to a total distance of 7.5 miles and 1,877 feet in elevation gain.  So the walk was long enough and had enough elevation gain to work up a small sweat, but was not overly difficult.  In total to include the 45 minutes I spent at Pancake Rocks, the hike took me 3.5 hours to complete.  So for me this was a nice easy hike compared to all the 14ers this year I have hiked up.  There were plenty of other people out hiking on the trail the weekend I went with many of them being families.  This trail is a little too much for my now four-year old to hike up, but in a few more months I think she can try it.  This hike was nice enough that I am looking forward to hiking it again when my daughter has built up enough endurance to try it.  For people that have kids I definitely recommend checking out this trail during the warmer months as a good challenging hike for the family.

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2 Responses to On Walkabout On: Pancake Rocks & Horsethief Falls, Colorado

  1. kt jonas says:

    you never mention if you ever see any wild life or not on any of your hikes…you sure do go into some beautiful areas….

  2. Dobbs says:

    On this hike the only wildlife I saw was the bird I mentioned. I do sometimes spot deer during my hikes. However, the last time I spotted a deer was back in August when I climbed up Uncompahgre Peak. I have never spotted an elk, moose, bear, mountain lion, etc. when hiking. I actually see a lot more wildlife when driving down the road in Colorado than when I go hiking. I see plenty of deer and elk when driving down the road and even had a bear run across the road when I was driving to the trailhead for Mt. Antero. However, he ran across the road to fast for me to take a picture plus it was pitch dark out anyway so it would not have mattered. I think the wildlife tend to know the trails where people hike and thus avoid them.

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