Barr Trail Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

Barr Trail Celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2021
By Eric Swab

Well – at least some of the trail does. Some is older, some a lot older, and some newer. If you have hiked to the summit on Barr Trail you have seen the granite plaque that dates the trail’s construction from 1914 to 1918. Fred Barr probably started the project in 1914, but 1918 is the year he finished surveying the route. Construction was not completed until 1921.


The trail that reached the summit in 1921 started at No Name Creek, not in Manitou Springs. Beginning in 1908, Fred Barr owned the Burro Livery concession at the top of the Manitou Incline. After building trails on “Rocky Mountain” to Lookout Rock, Eagle Cliff and Mount Crest Crags, he decided to provide a way for his customers to reach the summit.


Fred’s was not the first trail up the east face of Pikes Peak. That may be claimed by the engineers of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. General William Jackson Palmer, wishing to provide an attraction for his Colorado Springs passengers, built the “Fremont Trail” in 1871. Some believe this trail only went as far as timber line, leaving the hiker or equestrians to find his own way from there.


In 1917 The Forest Service hired Fred to supervise a crew of 10 men to build a trail from Manitou to the Fremont Experimental Forest. Assuming the trail shown on USGS Topographic maps (highlighted in pink below) was the one supervised by Fred, not all the current trail (shown in blue) was built by him. In 1948, the Forest Service reconstructed Barr Trail using small bull dozers developed during WWII. It is possible that changes in Fred’s design of this stretch of the trail were made to improve its sustainability. A 1920 map of Barr’s Trail above No Name Creek shows his design coinciding with the current trail.

Tradition tells us that Fred Barr worked as a miner to fund the construction of his trail. Fred did work as a miner for the Pikes Peak Fuel Company in the early 1930s. However, this is more than 10 years after the construction of Barr Trail. Funds for his trail may have come from money he borrowed against his homestead near Ellicott. He may have worked as a miner during the Great Depression to supplement his income as a burro concessionaire.


Trail legend also tells us he did all the work himself. There are newspaper accounts that say he had help. In addition, there is a strong possibility that he adopted some parts of the Fremont Trail. A copy of the 1920 map mentioned above can be seen at the top of the page. Notes on this map raise some interesting questions. Two of the trails at the east end of Barr’s trail, the

“Trail to Mt. Manitou” [incline], and “Trail to Fremont Experiment Station”, must have existed before 1909, to provide for transporting men and materials from the Incline to the Fremont Experimental Forest construction site. Fred’s 1917 project probably widened those trails. Barr’s 1908 Burro enterprise offered both the Fremont Experimental Forest and “Halfway House” as destinations for his customers.


Moving west up Barr Trail we see another “Trail to Fremont S??”. We know this trail/road as “Bobs Road” today. It is used for support of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, and as a jumping off point for Search and Rescue. The date of this trail and its name are unknown. Next is “Trail to French Cr and Cascade”. Surely this is Forest Service Trail 638, today a popular hike from the Town of Cascade to Barr Trail. There is no evidence that Barr built this trail. Could it date from the late 1880s when Cascade was developing as a summer resort? If so, did it connect to the Fremont Trail, since Barr’s trail did not exist yet?


Next, we see “Trail to the Printing Office”. This has to be the trail that passes “Montes View Rock Pile”. Some say this was the original trail to “Mountain View”, a stop on the Cog railway. The Printing Office was the business of Thomas B. and Grace T. Wilson. The Wilson’s published the Pikes Peak Daily New at Mountain View which they sold to the passengers of the Cog. Next, we see “Trail to the Bottomless Pit”. This is not Barr’s trail to the Bottomless Pit, but a branch of the Fremont trail to that destination.


Further up the trail is the note “Halfway Camp”. By 1919 Fred had completed his trail to a point above timberline, so he could have had a camp here in 1920. The first media mention of his camp was in 1922, when it consisted of a group of tents. The first log cabin at Barr Camp was completed in 1924. Conspicuous is the absence of any mention Barr’s trail to “The Second Bottomless Pit”. Today this is Forest Service Trail 652 from Barr Camp to the Oil Creek Tunnel or Ghost Town Hollow.

Next is a note at timber line. Above that “Rim of Bottomless Pit” and “Rim of Crater”. Note there was a side trail leading to the Bottomless Pit overlook. It is noteworthy that Fred was sensitive to the natural beauty of the trip to the summit. It wasn’t necessary to stretch his trail across the entire eastern face of the mountain. Finally, we see the note “Summit House”. The map shows both the Zalmon Simmons Cog “Summit House”, and Spencer Penrose’s “Highway Summit House”. Penrose didn’t purchase the Cog until 1925. The map shows a trail between the two summit houses. Did Simmons really build a fence, as claimed by some, to prevent the automobile visitors from enjoying the views to the east?


There is a black line with “tick marks” drawn on the map, that mostly parallels Barr’s trail. This represents the telephone line that once served Barr Camp. The existence of phone service is supported by early photos showing overhead lines running to the cabin. Observant hikers looking carefully beside the trail will see the old poles, mostly on the ground. These can be distinguished from dead trees by the absence of limbs and the presence of wooden insulator brackets nailed near the top of the pole. Fred was planning on phone service as early as 1922, but it is unclear when it was actually installed or discontinued.


Like any anniversary, the completion of Barr’s trail to the summit of Pikes Peak marks an event in the long history of this cherished resource in the region. Thanks Fred! 

Robert M. Ormes, “Fred Barr,” Typescript, 23 Jan 1922.

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