Colorado Springs Travel Guide

USA  #4 in Best Places to Visit in Colorado
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Courtesy of CL_Reflections/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Free Things To Do in Colorado Springs

If you have extra time, United States Air Force Academy is worthwhile.
  • #1
    Things to do in Colorado Springs
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    #1 in Colorado Springs
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #3
    Manitou Springs
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    #3 in Colorado Springs
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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. 

  • #4
    United States Air Force Academy
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    #4 in Colorado Springs
    Museums, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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. 

  • #5
    North Cheyenne Cañon Park
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    #5 in Colorado Springs
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #6
    United States Olympic Training Center
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    #6 in Colorado Springs
    Sightseeing, Sports, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Sports, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #8
    Red Rock Canyon
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    #8 in Colorado Springs
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #9
    Old Colorado City
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    #9 in Colorado Springs
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #11
    Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum
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    #11 in Colorado Springs
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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. 

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