Colorado's Best Training Runs: Canon City Riverwalk and Tunnel Drive Trail

As running routes go, things don't get much better than the Canon City Riverwalk and Tunnel Drive Trail. Photos by Alan Versaw.

The caption to the lead photo says "things don't get much better than...." I will venture to say that, from a runner's perspective, there is no better urban running route in Colorado than the Canon City Riverwalk Trail and associated Tunnel Drive Trail.*

Together, they make for seven miles of nearly uninterrupted running bliss. The route is almost entirely soft surface (and let's hope they keep it that way) and potentially extends another two miles eastward to Pathfinder Park near Florence in the not-too-distant future.

There is an occasional rise and fall to the trail. On the whole, though, it runs overwhelmingly flat and slightly uphill east to west.

There are several points of access. One can easily access the trail at the current east end just off of Mackenzie Avenue, off Raynolds Avenue, off Sell Avenue, at Centennial Park (Duck Park), and at the parking lot for Tunnel Drive. There are other potential points of access as well, but these should be considered the major points of access.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the Canon City Riverwalk as a running route is Canon City's weather. No other Colorado municipality is as protected from forces of adverse weather as Canon City. When winter storm fronts go blasting down the Front Range, Canon City is effectively sheltered by Pikes Peak and the surrounding foothills. Rarely does Canon City see the kind of cold, wind, or precipitation from these fronts that other Front Range cities endure.

So, when winter weather has rendered your regular running options unsafe or undesirable, consider a trip to Canon City. Chances are excellent the Riverwalk trail will be clear. And chances are almost equally as good that you'll be able to run in just a singlet and shorts. That is, provided you pick the right time of day for your run--even in Canon City, 7 AM on a January morning is apt to be a little chilly.

During the summer, daytime temperatures in Canon City can get very warm. Easily as toasty as Pueblo, and uncomfortably warm for running. Except that the Riverwalk trail (at least until you get to the Tunnel Drive extension on the west end) is very nicely shaded. You can run for several miles and scarcely ever feel the sun beating down on you.

I would, however, strongly recommend that you leave the Tunnel Drive extension of the trail to the very early morning hours or very late evening hours during the months of summer. There is absolutely, positively no shade to be had along Tunnel Drive save for that provided by the three tunnels. But, those tunnels are very close together, and the last one ends with more than 1.5 miles yet to go to the end of the trail.

As a disclaimer, I'm really not sure whether or not wildlife tends to congregate at the Tunnel Drive trailhead late on summer evenings. It does have the look of a place that might draw that kind of crowd.

There is no available water along Tunnel Drive unless a) you happen to be there during a summer downpour, or b) you want to scramble down a steep, cactus-studded slope, trespass across Royal Gorge Railroad property, and drink out of the Arkansas River. Before you contemplate the latter (and you will if you are foolish about when you run this extension of the trail), may I remind you that you're downstream of a whole lot of nasty stuff here?

There is good reason that the most prominent vegetation along the Tunnel Drive Trail is the cholla cactus.

On the other hand, Tunnel Drive may be the most reliably warm place in Colorado during the months of November through March. It's warm other times of year, too, but maybe just a bit too warm.

As if all this isn't grand enough, the trail is exceptionally wide at most points. That surly dog walking toward you on a leash while the owner dismissively says, "Oh, he's just a friendly pooch"? There's plenty of room to get to the side. And, you can run two or three abreast without coming close to monopolizing the full width of the trail.

There are port-o-lets along the trail... no scrambling off into the poison ivy necessary here! And, yes, there definitely is poison ivy in spots alongside the trail. You don't have to look for it; it will find you if you go wandering off the trail. I shouldn't need to explain any more about the value of port-o-lets. If you're a runner, you know.

Mile markers appear along the trail every quarter mile. That makes it exceptionally easy to keep track of mileage, pace (you may find that all the foliage cover along the Riverwalk occasionally messes with your GPS), and you can even use those markers to set up an interesting fartlek workout for the day.

It feels like they thought of everything when they set up the trail. 

If you enjoy natural acoustics on your runs, you can tune in to the tapping of woodpeckers, the honking of geese overhead, the dee-dee-dee of chickadees, the potato-chip flight call of the American Goldfinch, and so on. The ringing twee-twee of the Rock Wren replaces the sounds of more woodland types of birds along Tunnel Drive, mostly during the warmer months. Deer and other mammals (including the infrequent bear--sorry about that) may also be found along the trail with regularity.

Reviewing the basics, the entire trail length is roughly seven miles from end-to-end. The westernmost two miles form the Tunnel Drive extension. Though still wide and mostly level (except for a short, stiff little climb out of the parking area), this part of the trail is very unlike the rest of the trail in most other respects. Tunnel Drive is hot; the main part of the Riverwalk is much cooler, and shaded. No self-respecting poison ivy would ever think of trying to grow along Tunnel Drive. Tunnel Drive is north of the Arkansas River; the rest of the Riverwalk is south of the river. The bridge at 1st Avenue is the crossover point.

Cars can be parked at any of the access points listed above. Parking can get a little crowded at both the Tunnel Drive and Mackenzie Avenue trailheads. Arrive early if you want to start from one of these two points.

Although there is a point or two along the trail where you can make a little detour to a drinking fountain, it's probably a good idea to either carry a little water with you or park at Centennial Park, Sell Avenue, or Raynolds Avenue and plan to run by your car to get a drink of water as you double back.

The Canon City area has numerous outdoor activity options for family members who aren't as inclined as you are to run 10 (or more) miles. There is also a wide selection of dining options available in town. 

Simply stated, you owe it to yourself to find an opportunity to enjoy a run on the Canon City Riverwalk. You just might find yourself inventing reasons to go back and take others with you.

Canon City Riverwalk Map

Note: I will revisit the Canon City Riverwalk when things have greened up a little and put a few summer season photos into this article as opportunity permits.

* - And if there is a better urban training run, let me know about it. I'll make a visit sometime this year and write it up!