Just outside the bustling streets of Colorado Springs is The Nature Conservancy’s Aiken Canyon Preserve, a stunning convergence of habitats and an essential ecosystem for migratory birds.
“[In Aiken Canyon], spring is on you like a flood,” says Jeff Gordon, president of the American Birding Association. “It is spectacular seeing the western tanagers, black-headed grosbeaks, and other neo-tropical migratory birds come here to breed.”
Many of Aiken’s bird species spend their winters in Central America, migrating to Colorado for the springtime mating season. Their migration adds vibrant splashes of color to Aiken’s diverse ecosystem, brightening the landscape after Colorado’s long winter months.
Located 16 miles south of Colorado Springs, Aiken Canyon Preserve is accessible to birders and hikers of all ages. The preserve contains a well-maintained, four-mile-loop hiking trail, as well as a 3/4-mile trail that goes into the canyon.
“It’s a bite-sized outdoor experience that can easily fit into a morning or afternoon,” says Gordon. “You get the feeling of being in a sparsely settled, wild area, but at the same time, are just around the corner from Colorado Springs.”
Named after ornithologist Charles Aiken, Aiken Canyon Preserve is a great destination for all levels of outdoor experience. The terrain is varied and diverse, but manageable for any level of hiker. Informative signs highlight interesting features along the trails, and a unique straw-bale Field Station doubles as an outdoor education classroom for students and visitors of all ages.
Charles Aiken, a U.S. surveyor, taxidermist and collector, first surveyed the region in the 1870s. The 1,600-acre expanse serves as a wildlife corridor between Fort Carson to the east and the Beaver Creek Wilderness Study to the west.
Aiken Canyon Preserve is a mosaic of habitat types, including shrublands, tallgrass prairie meadows, pinon juniper woodlands and mixed coniferous woodlands. Colorado nuthatches, hairy and downy woodpeckers, western bluebirds and golden eagles have all been spotted in Aiken Canyon, as well as black bears, wild turkeys, elk and deer.
Aiken Canyon is one of the last high-quality examples of the southern Front Range foothills ecosystem. In 1991, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado signed a 99-year conservation lease, protecting hundreds of acres of land. Ongoing monitoring strives to ensure an undisturbed habitat for the numerous species of flora and fauna that call Aiken Canyon home.
Aiken Canyon Preserve does not allow dogs. Please leave your pets at home during your next visit.