Hiking the Manitou Incline wasn’t really on my bucket list until my work brought me to Colorado Springs for a short trip and I realized I couldn’t be that close without at least trying to hike it!
The Incline is in Manitou Springs, just outside of Colorado Springs. While it is one of those iconic Colorado hikes, it is definitely not for the faint of heart.
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What is the Manitou Incline and how hard is it really?
The Incline itself used to be a funicular railway back in the early 1900’s, which used to access water towers at the top that provided water to Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. In 1990 a rock slide took out the rail bed and it was never repaired.
Since the Incline became open to the public the railroad tie ‘stairs’ are now fairly well maintained and replaced as needed. The 2,768 steps gain 2,011 feet of elevation in just 0.88 mile. That is crazy talk.
For a little perspective, I usually consider anything more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain per mile to be ‘steep.’ I know, steep is subjective, let’s put it this way, the Manitou Incline’s average grade is 45% and up to 68% at its steepest point. That is no joke!
As an experienced, frequent hiker, in decent shape, I would say the Incline was very hard. Totally worth it! But very hard. Again, that is subjective. There were local trail runners who were just flying up that thing compared to me, just getting in their morning workout probably.
I would say for most average people though, this is a very difficult trail, don’t let the short distance fool you. Then, do your body, joints and knees a favor and hike down the Barr Trail instead of attempting to go down the stairs.
While there are signs everywhere to not go down the stairs, some people still do it, whether for the challenge or maybe they thought they wouldn’t make it to the top so they turned around.
But honestly, once you start, I think going down the stairs seems way worse than pushing through. They are extremely steep and I do believe you are more like to slip or trip going back down than you are going up, even if you do trip on the way up, you’re also more likely to only scrape a shin or knee vs tumbling down the Incline if you were headed downhill.
Even if you think you won’t make it all the way to the top, there is a bailout point just over half way up where the Barr Trail intersects with the Incline. It is very well marked. I would recommend you at least push through to that first intersection of the Barr Trail, revel in the view, then hike down the Barr Trail.
Or take a nice break there and reconsider going for the top! 😉
How long does it take to hike the Manitou Incline?
Again, this varies so much for each person and depends a lot on your fitness level and how acclimatized you are to the elevation, the first stair starts at 6,600 feet above sea level.
That being said, I was frustrated when researching the Manitou Incline that no one would actually just say how long it took them! I found a lot of records set on the Incline… but those don’t apply to me, the average hiker!
So, here it goes, it took me just over an hour to get to the top.
Keep in mind, I consider myself fairly fit and also live at 9,000 feet, so was not fighting against any altitude issues. I also wasn’t ‘speed hiking’ either, I did take many, many, many breaks on the way up to catch my breath and drink lots of water.
My husband hiked up the Barr Trail and met me at the top, because he had no desire to climb almost a mile of stairs and I can’t blame him. It was nice to be able to leisurely hike back down together, though. The Barr Trail was beautiful! Full of amazing wildflowers and scenic views of Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs and Garden of the Gods.
The hike down took us about 2 hours. We like to hike slow and easy down hill though to protect our knees. Plus it was a beautiful so there was lots of picture taking and breaks along the way.
For most average people, I would say plan about 3+ hours. Obviously some people, especially trail runners or extremely fit people could hike up and down the Incline/Barr Trail much faster than that, and some people who are not as fit or not as acclimatized may go slower than that.
Like any other hike, be sure to wear sunscreen, bring plenty of water (I carried 2 liters and went through it all!) a snack or two, and at least a first aid kit. I also carried all 10 essentials just because I do that on every hike no matter what, but was shocked at how many were climbing it with nothing on them. That might be fine if you’re a trail runner and will summit in 30-40 minutes, but if you’re an average person like me out for a day hike, I really recommend bringing your day hiking pack and gear.
How to get to the Manitou Incline: Parking and Shuttle
Getting to the Manitou Incline, especially during peak tourist season can be a little tricky, but don’t worry you have a few options here. I’ve been to Manitou Springs a handful of times now, twice to hike the Incline, and each time I park in the same free parking, cause I’m cheap, and it’s easy. So, why mess with a good thing?
I use the free Hiawatha Parking Lot at 10 Old Man’s Trail, Manitou Springs and then take the free Manitou Springs Shuttle to get to the trail head. During the summer at least, the shuttle runs about every 10-20 minutes and then takes maybe less than 15 minutes to get to the trail head.
I’ve also walked to and from downtown Manitou Springs from that free lot at 10 Old Man’s Trail. There are paid parking lots more central to downtown, but you would still have to take the shuttle to get to the Incline trail head so I don’t really see the advantage of paying to park slightly closer.
There is also a paid parking lot at the trail head, where the shuttle drops you off, but both times I’ve gone it’s been full and closed to new cars, so again, I just think it’s easier and probably faster to take the shuttle and than driving to that lot, finding out it’s full, then having to turn around and head back to the free lot on the edge of town.
If you do hike the Incline, I do recommend heading into Manitou Springs afterward for some food, refreshments and to explore a little bit! I’d also take the shuttle back into town from the trail head cause if you’re anything like me, your legs will be sore and wobbly and walking back into town probably won’t be very fun.
How to prepare for the Manitou Incline
Like I said earlier, the Manitou Incline is no joke and definitely not a walk in the park. That being said, I don’t want to scare you off of it either because I do think with a little preparation and patience, hiking the Incline is totally possible for most healthy people.
Train your body for a hard hike
First train as much as you can in the weeks beforehand. You don’t have to be a record breaking triathlete by any means, but work on increasing your aerobic capacity and the strength in those leg muscles.
Hike, jog or run hills as much as you can – or if you can train on flights of stairs, that’s even better. Alternate your training sessions between trying to go light and fast(er) and going slower while carrying extra weight.
If you’re stuck working out at home or in a small space, squats, split squats and lunges are your new best friends. For a more detailed work out plan, check out this workout plan for hikers to help you prepare.
The more you can train and the more in shape you are, the more safe and enjoyable your hike up the Incline will be.
Prepare for the elevation
Altitude sickness is real people! Especially if you’re just coming up from sea level. The Manitou Incline starts 6,600 feet above sea level and then continues to climb another 2,011 feet. There a few things you can do to try to keep your body as happy as possible.
First, physically train as much as you can, the more physically active you are at lower elevation, the easier time you’re going to have adjusting to physical activity at higher elevation.
Second, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Then hydrate some more. The worst symptoms of altitude related illness start to kick in when you become dehydrated – which most Americans already are chronically dehydrated and you only become more dehydrated, more quickly at high, dry altitudes.
The day, or couple days, before you even travel to higher altitude, focus on hydrating your body by drinking at least half your body weight in ounces. If you weigh 150 pounds, drink at least 75 ounces of water, but I’d shoot for a little more.
Be sure to combine all that water with some electrolytes so your body can actually put the water to good use and function at its best. I don’t mean sugary sports drinks – those will not do your body any favors, I mean clean electrolytes, like Ultima is great or Nuun tablets are more readily available and aren’t that bad for you. I also add in magnesium and potassium supplements (again no sugar added, and no gummies, just actual supplements) and make sure I’m getting enough sodium either through pickle juice or adding a tiny bit of Pink Himalayan Salt to my water. There are your 3 major electrolytes right there, magnesium, potassium and sodium, but I do love Ultima packets because they provide a wider range of electrolytes.
Continue hydrating after you arrive at higher elevation, especially on the first and second day. Getting plenty of sleep, especially the first night up here will also help your feel much better.
Third, take it easy at first. Ideally, you should spend at least a couple days letting your body start to adjust to the higher elevation and slight lack of oxygen. Take short, easy walks or do some light exercises in the first few days until you feel good and ready to tackle something bigger like the Incline.
Lastly, be sure to check the trail conditions for the Manitou Incline ahead of time to make sure it is clear and open for use. It does close down sometimes for maintenance or special trail running events. You should see any pertinent alerts for the Incline here.
Most of all – enjoy it! It will be amazing and beautiful and ridiculously hard, and you might feel like you’re gonna die, but when you make it to the top, you’ll have serious bragging rights and a sense of accomplishment like no other.
Let us know how it goes in the comments below!