There is a pay parking lot at the Manitou Springs Melodrama, and a pay parking lot at the very top of the road, next to the Manitou Incline. Both lots fill up before sunrise. It is recommended you take the shuttle from the city park in town, or, park in one of the town’s free parking areas and run to the trailhead, which will add about 3-4 miles round trip (and make for a very long day).
The Barr Trail starts on a steep switchbacky section that takes you beside huge rocks, bright pine forests, and rises with views of the city behind you. The first few miles are exposed to sun and can be very warm coming back down. The first 2.5 miles can be very busy as people return from climbing the Manitou Incline, which sees many hundreds of climbers per day in peak months. After you cross the Manitou Connector trail (stay to the left) you’ll see very few people.
Near mile 3.5 you’ll reach a stream that flows pretty consistently through the year. This can be a good spot to filter water or cool down. Immediately beyond this the trail forks left. A sign marks either Barr Trail or Experimental Forest (straight/right).
Near mile 5.8 is a rock outcropping that you can scramble up to. This will provide clear views of a still distant summit and the colorful, rocky forest all around you. Near mile 6.9 you’ll reach Barr Camp after a bit steeper section. Water is constantly flowing here, but must be filtered. Barr Camp is staffed and has basic foods, supplies, and first aid and year round reservation-based shelter. Tell these amazing folks thank you when you stop by and consider a donation.
Continue climbing toward treeline. Near 11,700ft you’ll see the A-Frame shelter just off the trail. This is the last shelter (other than the summit gift shop) and there is still 3 more miles of trail above you. Lightning is frequent in the summer, and we have had to use the A-Frame during a freak storm before. Keep an eye and ear out. Go prepared. The trail to the summit gets rockier and there are some big steps, though, the trail maintains an easy class 1.
At the summit, celebrate with a donut and coffee at the gift shop if it is open! Return back the way you come. Note: the shuttle and cog rail do not always run, and may not summit in inclement weather or if road conditions are poor. Plan to return on foot if you have not specifically made reservations for transportation.
Climbing your first mountain or 14er is an exciting and rewarding experience! You’ll get the achievement of seeing the world from above and the feel-goods of the endorphins from the exercise. However, the mountains aren’t a walk in the park, and getting down is mandatory. Some situations require extra caution and a little know how. With a bit of preparation, you’ll be able to get to the summit and back safely.
Whether you are training for a race or simply indulging in all the wilderness has to offer, there are a variety of factors, some constant, and some changing, that are likely to have an impact on your journey. Knowing these factors can help ensure your safety and get you back to the trailhead safely.