“In about 1996, a few of us started at the top near Fremont Peak and walked down trying to find where a trail could go,” said Brady, Parks and Open Space Director for the City’s Parks, Forestry, and Cemetery division. “We couldn’t find one. It wasn’t an enjoyable walk. We knew we needed to find the right trailbuilders, and we weren’t it.” When the City hired Steve Thomas of Terra Firma Trails in 2016, however, Brady knew that they had found a trailbuilder who could complete the vision. Thomas has contracted with the City for the last few years and has helped the area build more than 22 miles of trail in the Royal Gorge Park alone. Royal Cascade has been one of the more difficult to complete.
Thomas notes that the hardest part of building Royal Cascade was “getting through the significant amounts of bedrock.” Pikes Peak granite is predominant in the rugged Arkansas River canyon, and poses a challenge to Thomas with any project in the area. He also noted that there was also a constant risk of exposure or steep drop-offs on one side of the trail. Thomas uses a mini-excavator to cut most of the trail, then returns to finish with hand tools. Despite the degree of difficulty in building Royal Cascade, Thomas notes that the vistas are worth it. “It’s beautiful around every turn,” he says, “…it just gets better.” With assistance from trailbuilders Andrew Mesesan and Cat Gruener, along with City employees including Parks Foreman Jesse Young, the trail was built over the course of two years, halting for poor weather and seasonal closures. Some financial assistance, through the 1% for Trails initiative (see joinFAr.org for more information) and support for the project was provided by local group Fremont Adventure Recreation.
For those mountain bikers who are not in EXCEPTIONAL shape and have ADVANCED skills, this trail may be best used in a downhill direction with a shuttle to avoid climbing up. There are numerous switchbacks, the trail is extremely steep, and there is continual climbing.
This trail is of a more difficult caliber than many other trails in Fremont County, and trailbuilders and City officials note that it will be important to recognize and respect some of the differences. The seasonal closure is a cooperative effort with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management to help alleviate the stress on bighorn sheep during lambing season. It is closed to all users during June and July for lambing, then open only 9:00 am to 5:00 pm to trail users in September and October (licensed hunters are excepted and should check appropriate restrictions). All other times it is open to all appropriate users. Due to the steep terrain, the trail is open ONLY to human-powered traffic, to include runners, hikers, and mountain bikers. No motorized vehicles are allowed on Tunnel Drive or Royal Cascade, to include e-bikes. Thomas noted that it is also important not to use the trail when muddy, as this causes damage to the trail that will have to be repaired. “The more time we spend on maintenance, the less time we have to move forward with future projects,” he said. Users of the Tunnel Drive trailhead are also reminded to observe the speed limit – 30 mph – along the road. It’s also important for any mountain bikers – especially on Tunnel Drive – to slow when approaching walkers / joggers and call out “on your left” when passing.
While the Royal Cascade may be just one of over 22 miles of singletrack trail in the Royal Gorge Park, Brady says, “It is special. It’s a work of art.” And on Saturday’s event, surrounded by community members of all ages and as part of the City’s 105th Sesquicentennial celebration, cutting the ribbon was certainly worth waiting for.
Trail information can be accessed via COTREX, Colorado Parks and Wildlife's recreation app. It's free and easy to use! You can even filter by activity to find trails that are appropriate for each trail type.
Ditch system to provide water from Arkansas River to Cañon is proposed.
Construction halts as blasting damages neighborhoods and St. Scholastica.
Governor James Peabody issues order to halt all progress on ditch system.
Congressman Guy U. Hardy petitions the federal government to cede 5,000 acres of the Royal Gorge park to the City of Cañon City.
City of Cañon City proposes the unused ditch system as a scenic drive and
water line. Money is collected from the community to enlarge the tunnels.
Inmate labor completes the ditch system and treated water flows into city lines. Scenic drive is completed and called “Royal Gorge Boulevard”.
The Royal Gorge Bridge is built for $35,000 and opened to the public.
1990 Deemed unsafe, Tunnel Drive is closed.
After renovations, City and CCRD open Tunnel Drive to foot and bike traffic.
City obtains a State Trails Grant to open the entirety of Tunnel Drive.
The Royal Gorge Fire burns over 3,218 acres in and near the Gorge.
Canyon Rim Trail construction begins - 1.7 miles along the rim of the Gorge.
Eastern Fremont County Trails and Open Space Master Plan completed, identifying the Royal Cascade connection.
Canyon Rim is completed. Design efforts begin for Royal Cascade.
Design work for Royal Cascade completed and submitted to BLM.
Roughly 15 miles at the Gorge completed: Maze, Darkside, Dreamweaver.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and Cañon City agree on management strategies to support coexistence between wildlife and trail users.
One Track Mind is completed, bringing the total mileage at the Gorge to 22 miles. BLM approves Royal Cascade Trail construction. Funded by the City of Cañon City (assistance from 1% for Trails funds), construction begins.
Completion and ribbon cutting of grand opening of Royal Cascade.
Zach Holder, Linda Skinner, Sean Reynolds, Rex Brady, Jesse Young, Steve Thomas, Andrew Mesesan, Leah Quesenberry, Mike Smith, Dave Walker, Ryan Stevens, Bob Carochi, Kalem Lenard, Keith Berger, Mayor Ashley Smith, Cañon City’s City Council Board Members, Shawn Weatherill, Adam Hartman, Megan Numsen, Joan Sindler, Brian VanIwarden, Brian LeDoux, Thom LeDoux, Leticia Buswell, Vicki Meier, Jon Banker, Ashlee Sack, 1% for Trails Contributors
A great number of others have contributed to these efforts, and we thank them (and you!) for helping to encourage outdoor recreation opportunities.