At Pikes Peak, recreational activities take on new look in winter

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From photography and camping to snowshoeing and cross country skiing, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a variety of activities at Pikes Peak State Park near McGregor. Park manager Matt Tschirgi even utilized the trails for skijoring with dog Yukon. (Photo by Jeremy Halverson)

The Pikes Peak campground stays surprisingly busy during the colder months. It’s not uncommon to find travel trailers, motor homes or tents occupying spaces. (Photo by Matt Tschirgi)

In the winter, park visitors can really see how Bridal Veil Falls got its name. (Photo by Matt Tschirgi)

Finding the wonder in winter: Part 1

Who said there’s nothing to do in northeast Iowa during the winter? Well, we’re not buying it. Over the coming weeks, the North Iowa Times will feature some of the fun, healthy and educational activities area residents can enjoy during the colder months.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Thousands of people stream into Pikes Peak State Park each year, drawn to the area’s natural beauty, trails and camping opportunities. Although the warmer months are often more popular seasons to visit, Pikes Peak (like Iowa’s other state parks) remains open throughout the winter. And it’s a perfect time to enjoy many of the same activities—just from a different perspective.

“The park takes on a new look during the winter,” said park manager Matt Tschirgi.

That’s especially true for one of Pikes Peak’s most well-known features: Bridal Veil Falls. The frozen cascade, he explained, “looks more like a bridal veil. You can really see how it got its name.”

Both amateur and more experienced photographers flock to the site. Close-up icicle shots and trees glazed in hoar frost are other popular scenes, as is the park’s main overlook.

“Even on the coldest days, or with two to three inches of snow, I think I’ll be the first one there,” Tschirgi said, “but there’s already people at the overlook.”

The campground stays surprisingly busy too. Tschirgi said it’s not uncommon to find travel trailers, motor homes or tents occupying spaces. 

“I’ve even seen them there with eight inches of snow,” he remarked.

The Pikes Peak well is drawn down throughout the winter and the modern bathroom and shower facilities are closed, but electricity is still available to camping sites, and visitors can utilize a toilet and the dump station drain.

If you don’t want to stay for an extended period, the shelter can be utilized on a first come, first serve basis. Go out hiking, then come back to base camp with a nice warm fire blazing in the hearth.

Of all Pikes Peak’s resources, its trails are arguably the biggest destination for wintertime visitors. Snowshoeing has grown in popularity year after year, said Tschirgi.

“You can really access remote areas of the park,” he acknowledged. The Horn Hollow and Weeping Rock areas are two he suggests. The latter has “a lot of springs that bubble out of the ground,” providing a picturesque setting.

The park is also a prime spot for cross country skiing. In years’ past, the first skier would set the track for others to follow, but thanks to fundraising efforts by the Friends of Pikes Peak group and a grant from the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation, grooming equipment will now do the job. 

“We have a set of tracks for the John Deere Gator, so it will act like a snow cat,” explained Tschirgi. “It will pull a grooming machine behind it that’s a track setter. Like a mould, it will make two grooves in the snow. The hills will be like a combed area.”

Out of Pike Peak’s 11.5-mile trail system, around three miles will be groomed this winter. The focus will be on flatter sections. Some areas, especially in the northeast area of the park, are just too steep, Tschirgi said.

Skiers can venture from the main parking lot to the Hickory Ridge and Weeping Rock areas or use the Homestead parking lot to access the Bluebird Loop and travel toward Point Ann.

Little snow is needed to get on the trails, Tschirgi said.

“A couple inches of snow is usually enough to get out there,” he noted.

He’s even tried skijoring—skiing while being pulled by a dog (or other animal).

Tschirgi said it’s important to have places like Pikes Peak State Park for people to recreate throughout the year.

“There’s definitely an economic benefit to the communities [of McGregor and Marquette],” he shared. “So many people just come up and drive through.”

Visitors and locals alike value the opportunity to be close to nature.

“It’s good for you psychologically, for your well being,” Tschirgi added. And in the winter, there’s something to be said for the smaller crowds. “There’s like a stillness—your sense of sound is magnified. In the summertime, you don’t hear that.”

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