Best Things To Do in Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs beckons to two specific types of travelers: nature lovers and culture hounds. Throughout the year, thousands of people grab their hiking boots and cameras to explore natural sights like Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods. Less adventurous travelers peruse the funky art galleries in Manitou Springs, enjoy the Old West feel of Old Colorado City or tour the inspiring Air Force Academy. Just make sure to save some energy for after sundown: Colorado Springs likes to let loose in the evenings.
Updated August 1, 2018
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It's easy to see how this natural landmark earned such an ethereal title: These magnificent red rock formations look as though deities themselves could've carved them. However, the sandstone pillars are, in fact, the work of geological activity along a natural fault line, as well as rainfall over millennia. You can learn about the garden's formations at the visitor and nature center, which houses numerous informative displays and hosts daily nature presentations. You are welcome to explore the park on your own time (either on foot or by bike); the visitor and nature center also offers guided hikes, as well as bike, Jeep, trolley and Segway tours (prices vary by vehicle and tour length). Or, if you're looking for a more authentic "Wild West" experience, you can reserve your spot on a guided horseback tour offered by Academy Riding Stables.
Because there is no admission fee if you are exploring the Garden of the Gods on your own; previous visitors recommended returning to the park throughout your time in Colorado Springs to see the rocks at different times of day. They also offered high praise for the knowledgeable staff at the visitor and nature center. Others were pleased to find out that many of the trails are paved – meaning those using strollers and wheelchairs can still access the park. If you don't want to deal with the landmark's heavy crowds, plan to arrive before 10 a.m. on a weekday.
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Rising 8,000 feet above Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak – aka "America's Mountain" – has been beckoning to visitors since the 19th century. Gold brought the pioneers here, but it was the richness of the mountain's natural beauty that motivated them to stay. The views from this pink granite mountain were so stunning, they inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen the words to the patriotic song, "America the Beautiful." Today, the famous Colorado Gold Rush slogan, "Pikes Peak or Bust," now applies to tourists: Every year, thousands of hikers tackle the climb in search of spectacular photo ops and adrenaline junkies get their fair share of thrills along the winding 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway.
No matter how you choose to reach the summit, travelers say that you would be remiss to miss a visit to Pikes Peak. But a word to the wise: You may want to skip the drive if you're afraid of heights, as recent visitors described the trek as a bit scary – though almost all are in agreement that the trip is worth it for the panoramic views. Even if you're not afraid of heights, you should drive carefully as weather conditions may make the road hazardous and the climbing altitude can make drivers feel dizzy or lightheaded. Fuel up before you start your journey – there are no gas stations along the scenic highway. You'll also want to set aside at least two to three hours to make the drive. Note: If you're visiting during peak hours (8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.), you'll be required to take a complimentary shuttle up to the summit. Shuttles provide round-trip transportation to three parking lots. Even if you're not required to take the shuttle, many visitors suggest using it to fully enjoy the views. Because of the altitude changes, you'll want to pack layers for your journey.
- #3View all PhotosfreeManitou Springs#3 in Colorado SpringsFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Let's get one thing straight: Manitou Springs is not a part of Colorado Springs, and residents here won't hesitate to remind you of that. Unlike its much larger neighbor, this small town in the Rocky Mountain foothills (about 6 miles northwest of central Colorado Springs) has rejected urbanization. Instead, Manitou Springs – now a National Historic District – remains a charming hippie-era haven filled with art galleries, funky boutiques and outdoor cafes.
Consider spending at least two hours wandering around town or stretching your legs along the nearby hiking trails. Recent visitors also insisted that you stop by the Manitou Springs Penny Arcade (also known as Arcade Amusements, Inc.). Located in the heart of town, this arcade has roughly 400 old-fashioned gaming machines – all still priced by the penny as they originally were. Recent visitors said that this is a great place for a trip down memory lane, and one that young kids will enjoy as well.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Colorado SpringsSightseeing, Sports, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Sports, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
This facility in Colorado Springs is the flagship training center of the U.S. Olympic team and the active headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The 35-acre complex houses two Olympic-size swimming pools, as well as practice facilities for a variety of competitive sports, including fencing, gymnastics, weightlifting and wrestling. In addition to the athletes who live and train here, the center welcomes roughly 130,000 visitors each year and offers 15 guided tours each day during the summer months. Start your trip to the U.S. Olympic Training Center at the Visitors Center, where you'll find detailed information about the complex. From there, you can make your way to the massive Hall of Fame, which honors some of the most spectacular athletes in U.S. Olympic history. In 2019, the city will open the U.S. Olympic Museum. Sitting on nearly 2 acres of land in the city's Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal District, the museum will boast interactive exhibit space, a theater, a gift shop, a cafe and a broadcast studio.
You're welcome to visit the Hall of Fame on your own, but many recent visitors recommended tagging along on a tour. A highlight for many recent visitors is that the tours are conducted by athletes currently training at the center. Other travelers loved having the opportunity to watch training sessions in action.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Colorado SpringsParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
If you're visiting Colorado Springs during the summer, consider spending a day at North Cheyenne Cañon Park, located about 6 miles southwest of town. This park comprises more than 1,600 acres at the bottom of a 1,000-foot-deep canyon; the park's differing altitudes can support a vast array of wildlife, including deer, mountain lions and black bears. In addition to miles of hiking trails, you'll also find part of the North Cheyenne Creek – a popular place to swim in the warmer months.
Recent visitors suggested you first visit the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center, located at the park entrance. There you'll find interactive displays devoted to the park's wildlife as well as information on hiking trails to popular sites like Helen Hunt Falls and Seven Falls. Another place to obtain information is the Helen Hunt Falls Visitor Center, which is located at the base of Helen Hunt Falls. Reviewers traveling with kids said the trails were relatively easy. They also appreciated the lack of an admission fee.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Colorado SpringsMuseums, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
If you feel a need for speed, then plan a visit to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Not only is the academy a must for any lover of the movie "Top Gun" who'd like to see the impressive plane maneuvers first-hand, it's also a functioning educational institution for future pilots. Your first stop should be the Visitor Center, which offers a brief yet informative introduction to the academy and self-guided maps. From there, you're free to explore areas like the Cadet Chapel, the Honor Court and Falcon Stadium.
The academy's public areas are connected by long shady pathways, and recent visitors strongly recommended sporting a sturdy pair of shoes (though you can also drive around the campus). They also suggested keeping your eyes and ears open for passing planes; if you're lucky you might catch a training exercise. (In fact, consider reserving tickets for the Graduation Ceremony in May – it's known for its impressive airborne spectacles.) No matter when you visit, plan on spending several hours here. Recent visitors recommended taking your time to explore, and to make sure to see the chapel and the different overlooks throughout the area.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Colorado SpringsZoos and AquariumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Animal lovers say that the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a must if you're visiting Colorado Springs with kids. Located south of the city on the side of Cheyenne Mountain, this facility makes it easy to get up-close to hundreds of furry, scaly and feathery creatures. While here, you can also feed a giraffe, take a spin on the zoo's chairlift-style, open-air ride and snap photos with the zoo's residents during animal encounters.
Although the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo houses a variety of animals, the giraffes are by far a visitor favorite. Recent travelers loved being able to feed the giraffes, saying it was a great activity for kids and parents alike. The staff also received high marks from visitors, who say they are attentive and informative. Others complimented the zoo's location, saying the views are incredible and the paths are easy to navigate with a stroller or wheelchair. The cost of your zoo admission also includes entry to the Will Rogers Shrine, which sits a little more than a mile northwest of the zoo's entrance (along the Russell Tutt Scenic Highway). The shrine was built in the 1930s to commemorate actor Will Rogers, who died in a plane crash in 1935. With an elevation of 8,136 feet, the Will Rogers Shrine provides spectacular views of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Colorado SpringsSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Sitting just west of the downtown area is Old Colorado City, the original capital of the Colorado Territory. Founded back in 1859, this area was once a hotbed of activity, overflowing with farmers, miners, ranchers and other settlers seeking a piece of their own Manifest Destiny. In 1917, Colorado City was annexed by a fast-growing new settlement: neighboring Colorado Springs. Although it is no longer its own town, the Old Colorado City Historic District maintains its 19th-century "Wild West" feel with a few modifications: the area's buildings now house locally owned art galleries, quaint shops and mom and pop restaurants.
Travelers who visit Old Colorado City frequently praise the district's relaxed atmosphere and friendly business owners, but many say you don't need to spend much more than a few hours here. Recent visitors point out that while this is mostly a tourist destination, it's also a good place for families. Others recommend stopping here before or after a visit to Garden of the Gods or Red Rock Canyon as it's along the way.
- #9View all PhotosfreeRed Rock Canyon#9 in Colorado SpringsHiking, Natural Wonders, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Natural Wonders, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Arizona and Utah aren't the only states that boast rust-colored rocks – Colorado has them, too. And you don't have to stray too far from Colorado Springs to get a good look at them from a hiking or biking trail. Sitting about 4 miles northwest of downtown along Highway 24 (right before you reach Manitou Springs), Red Rock Canyon has contributed to the area's scenic landscape since 7000 B.C. In the 1800s, the desert landscape was used to refine the ore that came from the gold mines in nearby Cripple Creek. During the 20th century, Red Rock Canyon was owned by the Bock family, who had plans to transform the land into a vacation haven, complete with a resort hotel and a golf course. In 2003, the city of Colorado Springs purchased the land and used its striking red cliffs to punctuate miles of new hiking and biking trails.
Recent visitors claimed Red Rock Canyon is a must for outdoorsy travelers, as is wearing comfortable walking shoes and bringing a camera. The park also features an open-air pavilion that can accommodate live entertainment and evening movie screenings.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Colorado SpringsHiking, Parks and GardensTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and GardensTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
When you don't feel like driving nearly three hours to Rocky Mountain National Park, Mueller State Park offers a convenient alternative. Located about 30 miles west of Colorado Springs, its roughly 5,000 acres host jagged mountain peaks, verdant aspen forests and 55 miles of trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and more. Recent visitors said the trails are well-maintained but many of them are relatively short; however, they can be extended by looping on other trails, making this an ideal outing for leisure walkers and adventure-seekers alike. Many visitors said this makes for an ideal family outing.
Along with your hiking shoes, make sure to bring your binoculars. This park is home to plenty of wildlife, including elk, eagles and bears. Some words of caution: Never hike alone and make plenty of noise while on the trails to avoid sneaking up on unsuspecting animals.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Colorado SpringsMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
After you've toured the historic streets of Old Colorado City, consider making a stop at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Housed in what was once the early 20th-century El Paso County Courthouse, this museum is filled with old photographs and artifacts that recount the city's story. Visitors can trace Colorado Springs' evolution from a mining town to a popular tourist destination.
It may be small, but this museum wins visitors (particularly history buffs) over with its informative displays. Many recent visitors said you can spend a few hours here, as there is a lot to see and learn, while others say this is a good spot for families thanks to its kid-friendly exhibits and activities.
- #12View all Photos#12 in Colorado SpringsMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
To get a taste for the city's rich history as a Colorado Gold Rush mining town, stop at the Western Museum of Mining & Industry. Here, you'll learn what it took to make the most of the area's resources, from the machines used to extract precious minerals (like gold) to the laws used to protect the American Frontier from over-mining. While here, you can also try your hand at gold-panning and see for yourself the effort it takes to get rich.
You're welcome to explore the museum on your own, but many recent visitors recommended tagging along on a guided tour, saying that they were educational and fun for all ages. Previous museumgoers also advised planning your visit around one of the facility's special events, which many say are specifically geared toward kids.
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