The Manitou Incline, visible from nearly any vantage point in the Colorado Springs area, is a 2,744-step hiking trail rising nearly 2,000 vertical feet in 0.9 miles with grades of 43% to 68%. The trail attracts local runners, Olympic athletes, and military personnel looking for an extreme challenge. Hailed as the “crown jewel of outdoor recreation in Manitou Springs,” the Incline has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region drawing hundreds of thousands each year.
Before the Incline became a popular hiking trail it first functioned as a 3-foot narrow gauge funicular railway built in 1907. The railway serviced a hydroelectric plant and gravity-fed waterline that provided water to both Manitou and Colorado Springs. After several years, the track was sold to Dr. Newton Brumbach who turned the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway into a tourist attraction. Advertisements for the Incline boasted a 16-minute ride to the top that promised the visitor the opportunity to behold “scenic splendors” and claimed to be the “longest and highest incline on the globe.”
A rockslide in 1990 destroyed a large portion of the railway exposing rebar and mangling the track. The Incline was then closed and was not repaired. Shortly after several locals tried it as a hiking trail. Two-thirds of the way up is a false summit called “the Bailout” which connects to the popular Barr Trail. Even though the Incline quickly grew into a favorite trail, it was illegal for recreational use as it was private property. The Incline is owned by three separate entities: Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pikes Peak COG Railway, and the U.S. Forest Service.
The three entities along with the cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs raised several safety and environmental concerns regarding the trail’s use. Erosion from human and natural forces raised concern about the trail’s stability and the U.S. Forest Service wanted the trail closed for revegetation. The impact on the local neighborhoods and parking disputes also heated the debate. A Site Development and Management Plan brought all the entities together with the local community to decide how best to manage the land and benefit hikers and Manitou Springs.
On February 1, 2013, the Incline became officially legal and open to the public after the Manitou Springs City Council voted 6-0 for the resolution allowing the trail’s recreational usage. In a dedication ceremony, city councilman Scott Hente broke a bottle of sparkling apple cider on the infamous “No Trespassing” sign to inaugurate the Incline. The sign served as a favorite photo spot for hikers and was donated to the Pioneers Museum.
One important event that takes place on the Incline is the annual September 11th climb done by local firefighters to honor their brethren who gave their lives on September 11, 2001. Organized by R.J. Gerry of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in 2015, the event has continued each year since. Firefighters, first responders, and Ft. Carson soldiers don 60 pounds of gear and hike the Incline to simulate the strenuous task of climbing the floors of the Twin Towers to save American citizens.
Incredible athletes have set numerous and astonishing records on the trail. The fastest male ascent which was verified by satellite belongs to Joseph Gray who ran the Incline in 17 minutes and 25 seconds on September 25, 2015. Olympic speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno was only 20 second behind Grey at 17 minutes and 45 seconds. The fastest female ascent at 20 minutes and 7 seconds was also set in 2015 by Allie McLaughlin. Most notably is the record held by Greg Cummings who ascended the Incline 1,825 times between January 12, 2019 and January 11, 2020. In total, Cummings climbed 3.6 million vertical feet, which is an astonishing accomplishment when compared to the 1.3 million vertical feet that the International Space Station hovers above the Earth. He could have run back and forth to the station almost three times!
Generously Submitted by by Heather Poll, M.A.