Weekend Getaways – The 10 Best Things to Do in Colorado Springs
During our one-year sojourn around the world, we’ll be documenting some of our favorite spots with these travel guides and also on our travel vlog, so that they can be a travel resource for you when traveling to these destinations. As you may know, we departed from Austin the beginning of December and headed for Colorado.
If you’re visiting Austin, Texas soon make sure to check out The Best Things to Do in Austin Your Ultimate Travel Guide!
One of the first places that was on our list was Colorado Springs, high in the Rocky Mountains at the base of Pikes Peak. It’s the perfect place for a long weekend getaway, so we’ve documented some of the best things to do in Colorado Springs!
About Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs, also known as “the Springs,” is located almost smack dab in the middle of the state, halfway between Denver and Pueblo on Interstate 25. It sits at an elevation of just over 6,000 feet.
After speaking with some locals, we learned that it doesn’t snow very much in Colorado Springs which we were very surprised to learn. It’s also one of the sunniest cities in the state which is perfect if you’re visiting Colorado and want to get some crisp weather without the snow.
The Springs also carries the moniker of Olympic City USA because it’s the headquarters of the United States Olympic Committee, and home to one of the largest Olympic Training Centers in the country, as well as USA Hockey and 50+ national sports organizations.
You’ll find there’s a large military presence (Army and Air Force), with almost a quarter of the population being active duty military, civilian military personnel, and their families. Colorado Springs and nearby El Paso County also both house command centers for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
The largest city by area in the state, this sprawling metropolis is considered high desert; quite a juxtaposition with the snow-capped, tree-lined Rocky Mountains that border one side of the city.
We found that there’s just so much to do here, so let’s get to some of our favorite things to do in Colorado Springs!
Stay at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort
During our time in Colorado Springs we called the Cheyenne Mountain Resort our home base. No matter what time of year you visit the area, this resort is a great place to lay your head and explore all there is to offer.
Set on over 200 acres, there is an 18-hole golf course, over a dozen tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness center, spa and “wellness retreat.” You can explore the trails and the 35-acre lake, where you can swim, boat, kayak, canoe, or paddleboard.
I loved this resort because there are so many activities available to its guests. If you want to swim, hike, boat, workout, do yoga or crossfit, play tennis, or just relax by the pool it’s available. There is no shortage of fitness opportunities here.
We found the guest rooms to be well appointed and we were fortunate enough to have a truly incredible view of the mountains.
The Best Things to Do in Colorado Springs
While there is no shortage of fun things to do in Colorado Springs, on a weekend getaway or longer, you’ll need to pick and choose a bit more carefully than you would during a more extended stay. So we’ve done the work for you and narrowed it down to many gems available when you visit Colorado Springs.
1. Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods is a public park, a National Natural Landmark, and the #1 visited attraction in the area, and when you see it, you’ll know why. Beautiful green rolling hills are juxtaposed with red rocky cliffs that seemingly rise out of nowhere. This is a place to explore and there are plenty of ways to do so.
You can take advantage of 15 miles of hiking trails, ranging from concrete footpaths to full loops that wind through the red rocks that the Garden of the Gods is famous for. The park also offers free guided walks each day. (Check in at the Visitor Center.) Cycling enthusiasts can enjoy the paved bike lanes that run on all one-way roads, with additional off-road trails for the more adventurous.
Rock climbers flock to this mecca, which offers climbing for all skill levels. Visitors who wish to tackle the soaring red rock faces need to have the proper equipment, and a climbing permit (free) is required. Alternately, Front Range Climbing Company offers private half-day and full-day climbing tours for 1-4 people that are tailored to any skill level.
For the less adventurous, a fun way to get around the park is via Segway. Ninety and 120-minute guided tours are available daily (Note: There also are trolley tours and Jeep excursions with a guide, and you can just drive through the park and explore on your own.)
The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center Nature Center is more than just a hole in the wall. In fact, it is a world-class museum with cutting-edge technology, celebrating the geology, ecology, and cultural history of the area, with both interactive and display exhibits. Perfect for any age.
If you want to capture the best photos arrive at sunrise or sunset. We arrived about 30 minutes before sunset and the light was hitting the red rocks which made them even more vibrant. We immediately parked and headed down the path to explore the Garden of the Gods and capture some great photos!
When driving through Garden of the Gods there are various parking locations and many pull offs so you can stop and snap a photos or park for your hike. There are various beautiful views throughout the park so make sure you plan accordingly so you don’t run out of daylight.
Here is link to the map of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs with roads, trails, paths, and guided information.
2. Pikes Peak
This 14,115-foot peak in Pike National Forest is the most visited peak in North America, attracting over 500,000 visitors annually. Located high above Colorado Springs in the Rocky Mountains, it’s definitely a place worth exploring.
There are 4 definitive ways to see and explore Pike’s Peak: Hike, Bike, Drive, or take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway (closed in Winter).
Hiking Pikes Peak
It’s a long hike to the top. In fact, the Barr Trail is 13.5 miles that ascend 7,510 vertical feet over its course, meaning it’s a 27-mile round trip; certainly not for the faint of heart. Should you choose to do the whole trail up and back, you will need to get up before dawn to get started. You don’t want to get stuck at the top after the posted hours, as it will cost you a shiny penny for Rescue to retrieve you.
Whether you choose to hike the whole trail or just a portion of it, make sure that you have the necessities in your pack. Plenty of water, food, and thicker clothing (the temperature can drop 30+ degrees from the bottom to the top), as well as rain gear (afternoon showers can often surprise you).
If you’re thinking that hiking Pikes Peak is a challenge you want to take on then learn more about it here.
Biking Pikes Peak
You have two choices if you want to explore via two wheels. You can ride your bike to the top on the Pikes Peak Highway (and then zoom back down), or you can take a Challenge Unlimited Bike Tour (Closed for Winter season and reopens in the Spring). The tour takes you up to the top by van in the morning, where you can ride down at your leisure. The tour includes warm weather gear, helmet, and lunch at Wines of Colorado.
Driving Pikes Peak
It’s a 19-mile drive up Pikes Peak Highway to the summit. You’ll pass three lakes, picnic areas, historic Glen Cove Inn, and the North Slope Recreation Area. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it exploring this beautiful mountain.
Pikes Peak Cog Railway
The world’s highest cogway, built in 1891, takes you up Pike’s Peak in style. The 3.5-hour round-trip allows you to see waterfalls, aspen forests, snow-capped mountains, and some truly tremendous views. Advance reservations are recommended.
3. Manitou Springs
Manitou Springs is a mountain resort community just outside the border of Colorado Springs. Its name is a combination of the Native American word for “great spirit” and for the eight carbonated mineral spring fountains that dot the town (and purportedly have healing properties). These springs are available free to anyone who wishes to partake, and there are seven springs to explore throughout the city. Click here to view the map of the springs.
As well as being the starting point for the aforementioned Pikes Peak Cog Railway, this town supports a lively artisan community, and the Historic District is home to galleries, unique and eclectic independently owned shops and a variety of restaurants.
For some outdoor adventure, you can explore the Manitou Incline Trail, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, do some gold panning or fishing, river rafting, hiking, cycling, or horseback riding.
4. Manitou Springs Incline
The famed Manitou Incline Trail may only be one mile in length, but it gains close to 2,000 feet in elevation, giving you a heart-pumping workout (and the chance to see some elite Olympic runners along the way). This trail is rated difficult and is only recommended for active people, so you have been warned. The Incline Trail is free, but you will have to pay $5 for parking.
If you’re wondering how many steps are in the Manitou Incline, there are 2,744 steps!!
Once you make it to the top take the Barr Trail to the bottom. It might take longer than just going back the steps but going down the steps of the incline is strongly discouraged. While we were there, we did see people going down the steps instead of taking the leisure hike down.
The Manitou Incline parking can be a little tricky to find. Once you’re on Manitou Avenue drive to Ruxton Avenue, which is a traffic circle and turn left on Ruxton Avenue. Drive until you see signs for the Cog Railway Depot, don’t use the Cog Railway parking lot, use the Manitou Incline parking. We drive in circles twice before we found the correct parking. There is an attendant at the entrance to the parking lot which will charge you before you enter.
The Manitou Incline Trail is one of the things to do in Colorado Springs if you love crazy fitness activities since it’s so different and unique it’s not like any other workout you’ll have.
5. Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Also of note in Manitou Springs is the Manitou Cliff Dwellings (open March through October). This historic site just west of Colorado Springs is a true marvel. Built into the side of a cliff are homes built by the Anasazi 800 to 1,000 years ago.
Formerly located in McElmo Canyon, they were moved here in 1907 and reassembled to be preserved in perpetuity. In addition to being able to go into the three-story structure, there is a museum featuring historical pieces from the original dwellers.
6. Broadmoor Seven Falls
Colorado, known for its mountains, is also home to some spectacular waterfalls. Broadmoor Seven Falls, dubbed “The Grandest Mile of Scenery in Colorado,” is one destination where you will have the chance to see seven tumbling cascades of water as the cut through the pink granite of the 1,250-foot-wall box canyon.
Visitors can opt to hike up the 224-step staircase to the top of the falls or take the elevator to the Eagle’s Nest (across from the falls). At the top, there are hiking trails, zip-line tours, and a restaurant. In the winter, the Broadmoor Seven Falls is covered in ice and snow, so if you want to see the gushing water, it’s best to visit in the spring or summer. You can check out their webcam before going to see the current conditions. Regardless, it’s gorgeous year-round.
7. Old Colorado City
Old Colorado City is the National Historic District within Colorado Springs. It was a thriving metropolis in the old mining days and has since been transformed into a vibrant arts district, shopping area, and food mecca.
It houses galleries and artists’ workshops, dozens of small independent boutiques and stores (primarily along and adjacent to Colorado Avenue), as well as some of Colorado Springs’ best restaurants.
Old Colorado City is the perfect place to wander around, do a little shopping and have brunch, lunch or dinner. There’s also three B&Bs/Inns in Old Colorado City, meaning you’ll never even have to step foot in a car!
8. Royal Gorge Bridge
If you’re afraid of heights, then Royal Gorge Bridge is not the place you want to visit. But if you can stand to venture out onto one of the world’s highest suspension bridges, the sheer majesty of the canyon and surrounding landscape visible from the bridge will surely take your breath away.
While on the bridge you can look down and see all the way to the bottom and catch a glimpse of the train and it goes by and the river. The Royal Gorge Route Railroad takes you through the bottom gorge, and they also offer first-class dining and service. They also offer fun holiday-themed events throughout the year like for Christmas, New Years, Spring, Mother’s day and so on.
In addition to being able to walk across the bridge and stare in awe at your surroundings, Royal Gorge also offers rides on an aerial gondola and the Royal Rush Skycoaster. When you purchase your tickets for the entrance ($21.00), it comes with the aerial gondola ride that takes you across the gorge.
The heartiest among you, there is the Cloudscraper Zip Line, which parallels the bridge and soars 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River.
You’ll also find plenty of photo opportunities, as well as a Visitor Center, Playland for kids, and one of the rarest clocks on earth: a water clock. Set near the Visitor Center, this engineering marvel is the only one of its kind in the state. The Royal Gorge was one of my favorites things to see in Colorado Springs!
9. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
America’s only mountain zoo, founded over 90 years ago, is dedicated to animal conservation and the protection of endangered species. Currently, there are over 30 species of endangered animals among the exhibits, and the zoo works actively to breed many of these to ensure their future survival.
The zoo encompasses 14 large-scale exhibits, including Rocky Cliffs where Rocky Mountain goats can clamber around, the Australia Walkabout with wallabies, emus, kangaroos, and alligators, as well as a large Encounter Africa pavilion with elephants, rhinos, meerkats, and some smaller mammals. Totaling over 750 animals and 170 species, you’ll definitely find something to enjoy here.
In addition to the animals, there is the Mountaineer Sky Ride (where you can ride high over the zoo), hands-on experiences with animals at various venues, a carousel, several restaurants, snack stands, and gift shops.
And if you’re here during the holidays, you can enjoy the Electric Safari. The event consists of 85 light sculptures that dot the 50-acre park, as well as warming bonfires located throughout the zoo, and just maybe a reindeer or two (among the regular repertoire of flora and fauna).
10. Olympic Training Center
If you like watching the Olympics, then you want to visit the U.S. Olympic Complex in Colorado Springs! In this 35-acre complex, you’ll find past Olympic champions and Team USA athletes competing in the upcoming Olympics. The USA Swimming and Shooting teams have their national headquarters at the center.
Selected athletes have the opportunity to live, dine, train, and enjoy recreational activities at this center. Guided tours are available all year; they offer four types of tours; the VIP, OTC, Private, and Athlete Guided Tours. To find out more about their tours visit their website.
Colorado Springs Travel Tips
Access to Colorado Springs is available by car, bus, or plane. Colorado Springs Airport, while not an international hub, is the second busiest airport in the state and is serviced by United, Delta, America, Allegiant and Frontier airlines. Alternately, flying into the Denver International Airport, you can rent a car or catch a bus and get to the Springs in a little over an hour and a half (weather permitting).
You’ll find that there are four seasons here, with all the appropriate weather phenomena that go with it. Spring showers come and go, along with lightning, and the thaw brings about blooms both in the mountains and the desert areas. Summer is fairly moderate, with daytime temps in the high 70s and low 80s; lots of sunshine with relatively cool evenings. Autumn brings some brilliant foliage, along with the first freeze of the year.
Summer is peak tourist season in Colorado Springs, which means there will be a lot more people visiting these locations and the prices are their highest.
Winter is cold, typically in the teens at night and in the 40s during the day, with rain, sleet, and snow at play. As noted throughout the post, some attractions are closed in the winter months; however, at the same time, you will find a large variety of outdoor sports that you can take advantage of during this season. Skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing, etc., are all available during the winter months, making Colorado Springs a true year-round destination.
As with all travel planning, look at the seasons and determine what type of experience you want. Do you want to spend some time hitting the slopes or would you rather hike and camp outdoors in the summer.
Colorado Springs Travel
Use this travel guide as a resource for your weekend getaway or your elongated stay. These are the best things to do in Colorado Springs! There are other Colorado Springs travel guides that list everything there is to do here, but I’ve selected the best as we only have so much time in our travels and I want to make sure you get the best there is to see and do in this gorgeous city.
When planning your travel schedule make sure to also account for travel time, as well as lunch and dinners. Peter and I were able to fit in the Royal Gorge and Garden of the Gods in the same day, and that is leaving the Cheyenne Mountain Resort about noon. We also drove around Manitou Springs to see what it had to offer at a glance. How many activities you can do and see in a day will change of course if you have kids or are traveling with a larger group.
If there are any questions these things to do in Colorado Springs, please leave me a comment!