Your plane just landed in world-famous Colorado Springs, home of the United States Olympic Training Center, the Air Force Academy, and the OutThere Colorado HQ, nestled under the shadow of Pikes Peak and filled with the red rocks of Garden of the Gods. It’s impossible to see it all, so how do you make the most of your time?
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Like most of the locals, you love spending your free time away from screens. After all, you just spent hours watching old movies on a tiny display stuck to the back of a headrest. Let us plan the most action-packed outdoorsy day and a half possible for you so that you’re stress-free and ready to enjoy one of the best places in the country to get acquainted with the Rockies.
Day One – Soak in the Views:
Make sure you wake up well-rested – you’ve got a big day ahead of you. The first stop on your trip to Colorado Springs will be Garden of the Gods, one of the city’s most famous attractions and America’s most beautiful city park according to TripAdvisor. It’s a touristy stop for the most part, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular. The touristy factor also makes it one of the easiest destinations to check off the list. Get there early to avoid crowds and heat, we’ll be getting brunch after this stop.
The plan here is simple: you’ll find the main parking lot on the northern side of the most prominent formations, closest to all of the biggest rocks. Next, you’ll take the 1.5 mile Perkins Central Garden trail. It’s concrete the entire way, so you can leave the hiking boots in your bag for now. Not only is this trail the most convenient route, it also gives you some of the best views. Don’t miss Balanced Rock on your drive out.
You’ve probably worked up an appetite from your Garden of the Gods excursion, so you’ll be needing some breakfast. Head on over to Mountain Shadows Restaurant where you’ll find some of the best green chili-topped breakfast burritos in town.
Now that you’ve got a full stomach, you’ll be pushing your body to the limit. There’s no better way to get acquainted to the Colorado altitude than by heading up to 14,000ft above sea level on top of one of the tallest mountains in the country. King of the Front Range, the Pikes Peak summit offers great views of both the Colorado plains to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west. There are multiple ways to get up there—hike, railway, and car—and while all are great, we’d recommend making the drive up the Pikes Peak Highway with this itinerary. Hiking is always an option, but it’s a strenuous 26-mile round-trip trek up the standard route. The Cog Railway leaves from Manitou Springs, though this route doesn’t give you the freedom to stop to enjoy the views like having your own set of wheels does. It’s definitely worth noting that this drive isn’t for the fate of heart, but frequent stops and unparalleled scenery make traveling this pristine, newly paved road a breeze. Don’t forget to grab a doughnut at the top before heading down. And whatever you end up doing, make sure you check out the weather first—You don’t want to be above the treeline if it storms. They tend to roll in after noon.
After having successful reached the summit of Pikes Peak, you’ll work your way down the Pikes Peak Highway and back to a Colorado Springs elevation of 6,200 ft. You might need a moment to catch your breath before grabbing lunch. What better way to do that than by standing over a massive canyon wall? The Williams Canyon overlook can be accessed by driving up Cave of the Winds Road towards Cave of the Winds. It costs money to go in the cave, but a quick peek over the edge of a long drop is totally free. This is one view you can’t miss. If you’re feeling extra gutsy, try the Terror-Dactyl canyon swing while you’re there.
For a late lunch, you’ll be headed to Manitou Springs. This tiny, quirky town is a treasure that can’t be missed. Along a strip of shops on the main street, you’ll find several restaurants, a winery, and a penny arcade with some of the oldest arcade games in the country. One great restaurant to check out is the Manitou Brewing Company. They’ve got good food and great beer.
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Don’t spend too much time in Manitou Springs though. You’ve got a busy afternoon coming right up. Come on, all you’ve done today was take a quick walk, sit in a car for hours, and crush some awesome food. You didn’t think we’d let you get off that easy, did you?
For the rest of the day, you’ll be burning some calories. Your next stop will be North Cheyenne Cañon Park. Here you’ll find some of the most picturesque Colorado trails this city has to offer. For an easier hike, check out Seven Falls (small entrance fee), Seven Bridges, or Helen Hunt Falls. Each of these trails has beautiful water features. Keep in mind that you will be climbing some stairs. For a more experienced hiker, the Mt. Cutler/Mt. Muscoco combo trail can’t be missed. Another great one is St. Mary’s Falls, which ends at a cascading fall after a rewarding hike. As long as you plan your route, it’s hard to go wrong in Cheyenne Cañon. Also, it wouldn’t be right to mention this area without also mentioning the Captain Jack’s mountain bike trail, a real adrenaline rush.
You’re probably thinking that right about now is the time you’ve earned some delicious food. You’re right! Head to the heart of downtown Colorado Springs for dinner on the Tejon Street area and check out the weekend action. A couple great places to dine include Phantom Canyon Brewery (I know, another brewery…but it’s Colorado, what’d you expect?), Red Gravy for Italian food, or Odyssey Gastropub.
Day Two – Keep On Exploring
If you’ve somehow got energy left over after your active Saturday or if you simply feel the need to punish yourself, the Manitou Incline is worth a visit. Known for being one of the steepest, most strenuous hikes in the country, you’ll gain roughly 2,000 vertical feet in less than a mile over a series of steep stairs. Seriously, don’t do this if you’re not typically active. People bite off more than they can chew here every year. It’s harder than it sounds and there can be serious consequences. Once you reach the top, there will be a trail on your left (the Barr Trail). Take that back down.
Guess what! It’s brunch time. Typically, I’m not one for fancy food. The Broadmoor, however, is my exception. Make some reservations and bring your whole crew here for some delicious food on one of the most beautiful properties in the country. This famous hotel is set directly under Cheyenne Mountain and while they’ve closed down their ski runs, the property is still home to the beautiful Broadmoor Lake. Looking for a cheaper option? King’s Chef diner is a staple you can’t miss.
Though your visit is coming to a close, we’ve still got one recommendation left. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the most unique zoos in the country in that it’s stuck on the side of a mountain. Complete with a chairlift, one of the coolest giraffe exhibits around, and a free ticket to the towering Shrine of the Sun Memorial with your admission, you’ll definitely want to wear your walking shoes for this one. Also, keep in mind that the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is known for their conservation efforts, striving to help preserve species for future generations. Make sure you get a selfie feeding some lettuce to a giraffe, just don’t let them steal your phone.
Now that your time in Colorado Springs has ended, you’re probably wondering what to do and where to go next. A few cool nearby destinations include Denver, which is roughly an hour north, Cañon City, which is an hour or so south, or taking Highway 24 west into the heart of the Rockies, eventually landing at stunning places likes Buena Vista or Breckenridge.
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