Just south of Denver is a beautiful Colorado city ideal for lovers of the outdoors, but also offering great food, plentiful history and a authentic dose of the old west. It’s where Olympic athletes train and U.S. Air Force soldiers prepare and is frequently named one of America’s most healthy cities. Colorado Springs, home of Pikes Peak, is an American gem with more than 300 days of sunshine, mild weather.
While a visitor could find something new to do every single day of the year, here are our top picks for favorite things to do in Colorado Springs.
Known as America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak was the inspiration for the song, “America the Beautiful.” As one of Colorado’s “fourteeners,” which are mountains with an elevation higher than 14,000 feet, this Colorado Springs peak is truly a majestic wonder.
Take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has been around since 1891, 9 miles to the peak where you may find yourself a touch out of breath due to the lack of oxygen. From the top, you can see five states from Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is an absolute must-do!
Close to Pikes Peak is the Manitou Incline, once a railway for cable cars delivering supplies up the mountain, but now a favorite place to get the ultimate workout. See if you can climb the “stairs,” which are actually old railroad ties, for a mile while rising 2,000 vertical feet. This is a favorite of Olympic athletes training in the area, so you never know who might be hiking next to you. Definitely grab a selfie if you make it to prove your impressive athletic skills!
Not tired yet from the Manitou Incline? How about another 200 plus steps to the top of a series of seven waterfalls. Broadmoor Seven Falls is seven different waterfalls within a box canyon flanked by two 900-foot pink granite rocks known as the Pillars of Hercules. Once you make it to the top of the waterfalls, you can explore a series of hiking trails, take a zipline tour over the falls or dine at Restaurant 1858 right on the banks of the water.
With fantastic weather and jaw-dropping scenery, Colorado Springs is a great place for hiking. The area offers numerous state parks, including Red Rock Canyon, North Cheyenne Canon Park, Mueller State Park, Bear Creek Regional Park and the newest state park, Cheyenne Mountain State Park, all of which offer hiking and biking trails. Popular hikes include the Palmer Loop Trail through pine forests, the short trail to Helen Hunt Falls, and Seven Bridges, which is part of an old railroad line.
See the Garden of the Gods
Not to be missed in Colorado Springs is the free Garden of the Gods city park where towering red rocks jut strikingly out of the earth. Watch rock climbers as they tackle these formations, each of which have names based on what they resemble, such as Sleeping Giant and Siamese Twins. There are 15 miles of trails within the park and lots of opportunities for scrambling over and on rocks. You can also see the giant formations via Segway or on a horseback ride.
Go Whitewater Rafting
Head to the Royal Gorge for a white water rafting adventure on the Arkansas River. Choose from a gentle river ride to wild rapids if you’re looking for more of a thrill and enjoy the Colorado mountain scenery from the water. While there, take a look at the Royal Gorge Bridge, one of the world’s highest over-water suspension bridges.
Get off the beaten path and into the wilderness on a Colorado Springs jeep tour to places only accessible by four-wheel drive. Colorado Jeep Tours offers open-air jeep trips focused around geology, paleontology and old West history to the Royal Gorge area, old mining districts and more.
Try Rock Climbing
Rock climbers the world over come to Colorado Springs to tackle some of the most difficult rock formations. Rock climbing guides and outfitters will lead first-timers in proper technique and take you to formations ideal for newbies. Experienced climbers enjoy Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon and North Cheyenne Canon.
Disc golf is a popular pastime in Colorado, as who wouldn’t want to toss a frisbee as you make your way up a mountain? Plus, the Colorado Springs area is known for its sunny days and mild weather, making it a great spot to play disc golf year round. Choose from seven nine- or 18-hole courses.
Lucky Olympic athletes who get to train in Colorado Springs! The Olympic Training Center is the flagship of the U.S. Olympic committee training centers and houses the national headquarters for USA Swimming and USA Shooting. You can take one-hour walking tours of the complex and then be sure to stop by one of only two Team USA stores in the country where all purchases support the athletes.
More than a million people visit the U.S. Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, each year to see the undergraduate institution for Air Force officers. The standards for admission are rigorous, and cadets are usually recommended by their local member of Congress. While they pay no tuition, they must serve a set number of years in the service.
One of the most impressive buildings on campus — and in Colorado Springs — is the multi-faith chapel made from glass, aluminum and steel with 17 spires. It features separate areas for major faiths, including Protestant, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism.
Imagine being one of the young boys who in the 1800s stumbled upon this 500-million-year-old cave that sits at 6000 feet in elevation. At Cave of the Winds Mountain Park, visitors can take the Discovery Tour of the cave, which is perfect for families, as it’s well-lit and there are not too many tight enclosures.
Learn about stalactites and stalagmites and then head outdoors for a thrill ride like the Bat-a-pult, which is much like a zipline but for two people, or the ropes course, both of which soar over a vast gorge.
At this interesting site in Colorado Springs, you can see where ancient peoples made their home inside caves alongside cliffs. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings in the Pikes Peak area give you a peek inside the way indigenous Anasazi peoples lived 800 years ago. Kids will love climbing from room to room and learning the function of each area.
Step inside an authentic ghost town at the Ghost Town Museum, which has preserved items from old western towns in the area all in one spot. They’ve recreated an wild west town indoors, complete with a barber shop, saloon, general store and old-time apothecary. You can also challenge each other at the shooting gallery, see real carriages and even pan for gold during the summer months.
Get up close with wolves, foxes and coyotes at the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center about an hour from the city. The center teaches visitors about these wild animals, each of which live in large wooded enclosures. All tours end with everyone giving their best wolf howl to see if the wolves will chime in.
America’s only mountain zoo, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is not only a great place to see hundreds of animals but a top spot for a fabulous view of the city. At 6,800 feet, the zoo is home to one of the largest reticulated giraffe herds in the world, grizzlies, wallabies and more.
The zoo also has an antique carousel and a chairlift that takes you to its summit where you can enjoy even more picturesque vistas. Included in your zoo ticket is a visit to the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, which is just more than a mile from the zoo. The shrine, at an elevation of 8,000 feet, pays tribute to the famous entertainer.
Wine & Food
There are more than 20 craft breweries in the area, and, in fact, not too far away is the home of Coors in Golden, Colorado. Try the Gourdy Pumpkin brew at Iron Bird Brewing, the Sticky Paws at Fieldhouse Brewing Company or the Coffee Porter at Smiling Toad Brewing Company.
For a truly unique experience, eat inside an airplane at the Airplane Restaurant close to the small Colorado Springs Airport. The Boeing KC-97 tanker built in 1953 once refueled aircraft worldwide but now holds more than 40 diners for lunch and dinner. Inside are pictures, artifacts and memorabilia paying tribute to aviation history.
Visit the beautiful Holy Cross Abbey, once the home of Benedictine monks, in Canon City at the base of the Wet Mountains. Today the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey produces a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and more. You’re welcome to sample them in the abbey’s tasting room, but be sure to make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance.
There are many wonderful and unique Colorado Springs hotel and resort options, many that boast fantastic views and are close to the major attractions. The AAA Four Diamond Cheyenne Mountain Resort, part of Dolce Hotels and Resorts, is a great choice for active families with multiple pools, access to an aquatic center, a water play area and many outdoor activities, including kayaking on its 35-acre on-site lake, tennis, a Pete Dye-designed golf course and more. Plus, it sits right next to the beautiful Cheyenne Mountain perfect for hiking.
The property also has a full spa for when you are ready to relax after a long day’s hike and offers a second night’s stay for just $20 as part of their 20/20 package.
Perhaps the most famous resort in the area is the Broadmoor, a member of Historic Hotels of America which opened a century ago. This grand property has a range of plush accommodations, including more than 780 guest rooms, as well as cottages, brownstones and even private cabins.
It, too, offers ample outdoor activities within the property from horseback riding to 54 holes of golf to hiking trails, pools and mountain biking. Enjoy fine dining at the AAA Five Diamond Penrose Room and get a relaxing treatment at the Spa at the Broadmoor.
Close to the Garden of the Gods is the English Tudor style Glen Eyrie Castle. This unique property is the 800-acre estate of the founder of Colorado Springs, General William Jackson Palmer. Choose from one of 95 rooms on the property, including 17 inside the castle itself. Visitors can also check out bighorn sheep on the grounds, an outdoor terrace and a bookstore.
History & Culture
Step back in time to 1859 and the Pikes Peak gold rush to Old Colorado City, the first capital of the Territory of Colorado and where miners would come for their goods. Today, the area is thriving with retailers, art studios and restaurants, though you can still find historic structures, as well as artifacts from the time period at the Old Colorado City History Center.
If you have a dinosaur fan in the family, don’t miss the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience. You’ll get to see actual dinosaur fossils discovered in the area and walk through an a simulated prehistoric habitat filled with animatronic dinos. There’s even a ropes course with a giant T-Rex staring you down!
Located in the 1903 El Paso County Courthouse building known for its clock tower, the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum is free for everyone and provides an overview of the unique history of the area. Inside you’ll find information about Native American culture, the old west, mining and the military and a collection of more than 60,000 items including Western art, quilts and manuscripts.
The Peterson Air & Space Museum, located on the site of the city’s first municipal airfield, focuses on the history of aviation and space in the Colorado Springs region, starting from early airplanes through World War II and modern history. You can see a variety of aircraft parked at the museum, as well as surface-to-air missiles.
Visit the city’s first airport passenger terminal, which is in Art Deco style, and visit the 1928 old city hangar to tour exhibits on North America’s air defense system. Admission is free and the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
In addition to the Peterson Air & Space Museum, which takes a broad look at the area’s aviation history over time, the National Museum of World War II Aviation focuses specifically on aircraft and advancements in aviation technology during the World War II era. There are also more than 3,000 artifacts on display in addition to a collection of vehicles used by US forces and their allies during the war.
Mining has been an important economic driver for the state of Colorado since the 1800s, and this museum pays tribute to this endeavor and its processes. At the Western Museum of Mining and Industry, visitors can tour a reproduction stamp mill with restored mining machines, including the “jaw crusher,” see an 1894 Queen Anne farmhouse from an old railroad supply town, and learn about the process of reclamation, or restoring land that was once used for mining.
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, built in 1936, has a little bit of everything you could want when it comes to the arts. Catch a show at the theatre, tour an art exhibit at the museum or take a class in fine arts at its school.
While in the area, be sure to spend an afternoon in the town of Manitou Springs. With its own identity and charming quirkiness, it’s been a vacation destination since the 1870’s when folks would come to soak in a hot spring, of which there dozens in the area.
Close to both Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, it’s a great place to spend some down time at a local restaurant or exploring its many art galleries. A fun spot is the check out the Penny Arcade, an antique arcade with loads of pinball machines, skeeball games and other oldies but goodies.
Taking a train ride in Colorado is always fun because of the amazing scenery that zips by out your window. The Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad is a steam engine locomotive that takes riders on a 45-minute trip past several historic mines. September is an especially beautiful season to take the train ride, as the aspens and other trees change into their fall splendor.
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