Colorado Springs is the second largest city in Colorado and is home to Pikes Peak, one of Americas most famous mountains. Just about wherever you are in Colorado Springs, the view is dominated by Pikes Peak.
Pikes Peak is one of the most accessible 14ers (mountain peaks over 14,000 feet high) in the world. There are good hiking trails, a road (the road can be pretty narrow and rough on vehicles), and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Reservations are recommended for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Going to the top of Pikes Peak offers some great views and good chances to see wildlife. The experience is so impressive that Katharine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful” after travelling to the top of Pikes Peak.
Although the peak is easy to get to by the Cog railway and fairly easy by car, the hike is actually one of the more strenuous 14ers in the state. The trail is easy to follow with no technical climbing required, but it is also 13 miles long and you start at around 6000 feet in elevation. The 8000 foot climb and 13 mile length are much more than most 14ers require. Pikes Peak is actually run as a marathon, since the round trip distance is just over 26 miles.
If you want to climb Pikes Peak but do not want to climb 13 miles in one day, then at about the half way point you can stop and stay at Barr Camp. You can stay there (reservations are recommended) or camp there, and they cook breakfast in the morning. They also sell some food and drinks and first aid equipment.
One thing you will want to watch out for on Pikes Peak, and any 14er for that matter, is lightening. On Pikes Peak you are on a trail above timberline for 3 miles and thunderstorms can develop quickly. It is usually best to start early in the morning so you can get to the summit before afternoon thunderstorms hit.
To get back down Pikes Peak you’ll have several options. You can hike back down, but again be watchful for lightening. You might be able to take the Cog railway back down. Talk to the conductors when the train arrives to see if there are empty seats for the way down. If there are, they will usually let you ride down for about $30/person. Another common way down is to hitchhike and get a ride down the Pikes Peak Highway with one of the many people who drive up each day. Although I cannot recommend hitchhiking, it is never the less a popular way down.
Garden of the Gods
Within fairly easy reach of any part of the city is Garden of the Gods, which offers some of the best views and photo opportunities in the city. Garden of the Gods is a series of very impressive rock formations with Pikes Peak sitting in the background. There are a lot of hiking trails and it’s a great place for a walk or horseback ride. There is also wildlife around the area, such as deer, bighorn sheep, bears, and mountain lions.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is not a huge zoo, but it is pretty good and has an excellent Giraffe exhibit where you can feed and pet the Giraffes. At $1 for 3 crackers, it’s cheap and gives kids and adults a very memorable experience.
Olympic Training Center
The U.S. Olympic Complex is the headquarters for the U.S. Olympic Committee administration and the Olympic Training Center programs. Free tours are available year-round and they include a 12-minute video and a 45-minute walking tour.
United State Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs is home to the United State Air Force Academy. It is a beautiful setting and has a lot of to see, including the famous Grand Chapel and various displays of air craft. There are a lot of hiking trails and it is a beautiful place just to drive around. There is a visitors center with a short video and some interesting displays, and you can also pick up a map of the Academy.
Manitou Springs, where the Pikes Peak Cog Railway starts, has some interesting things to offer. It is a strange town, with many residents proudly saying “keep Manitou weird,” but that can make it a fun place to walk around. Manitou Springs is named after a series of mineral springs that are found throughout the town. Many of these are accessible to the public and you can walk right up and take a drink. Be warned, while it is a worth while experience, be prepared to spit the water out since several of the springs are gross. It depends on your taste I suppose, since some just taste like flat sprite and others are much more potent.
Prorodeo Hall of Fame
The Prorodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy is located in Colorado Springs. It is visible from the I-25 freeway, to get there you take exit 148 (Rockrimmon Blvd). As you might expect from a Hall of Fame and Museum, there are exhibits covering the history and champions of rodeos.
When driving to and through Colorado Springs at some point you’ll probably see a billboard for Seven Falls. The falls are impressive and there are 224 stairs that allow you to walk up next to the falls. At night during the summer the falls are also illuminated. The downside of Seven Falls, however, is the admission charge of $18 per adult and $12 for kids 2 to 12.
There is a free alternative nearby called Helen Hunt Falls. Located at 4075 N. Cheyenne Cañon Road, these falls are free to hike to and you can get quite close. Seven Falls is a bit bigger, but as a free alternative Helen Hunt Falls is a great choice.
There are a lot of great places to hike within Colorado Springs. Two of our favorites are the Bear Creek Nature Center, where we often see deer and foxes, and Red Rocks Open Space, where there are some great rock formations. Of course Garden of the Gods also offers a lot of great hikes.
The Incline, in Manitou Springs, is an intense hike following the route of a former scenic cable car train. The views are amazing from the top and on the way up, but the hike itself is brutal. Over the course of the 1 mile trail you gain about 2000 feet in elevation. The average grade is 41% and at its steepest the grade reaches 68%. The start is very close to Barr Trail, which is used to climb Pikes Peak, and many people cut over to Barr Trail to hike back down. Hiking on Barr Trail down the length of the incline is about 4 miles. Parking can be very difficult to come by. Even during week day mornings the Barr Trail parking lot is usually full and there is little other parking that is close. As a word of caution, the Incline is technically trespassing. Shortly after starting on the trail you will pass a “no trespassing” sign. We cannot recommend that you do this hike, but there are always a lot of people on the trail anyway.
Near Garden of the Gods the Navigators own a property with a historic castle and some great landscapes. There is a canyon that makes for a great hike, but you’ll need to make reservations in advance, you can do so here. You can also take a tour of the castle, and just enjoy the setting where you have an excellent chance of seeing Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
Rock Climbing and Bouldering
There are a lot of great places within the city limits of Colorado Springs for both rock climbing and bouldering. A few of the top spots are Garden of the Gods and Ute Valley Park. Red Rocks Open Space is good for rock climbing.
Colorado Springs also has a lot of great mountain biking trails around the city. A couple of the most popular are the Sante Fe trail and trails going through the Air Force Academy.