The Getaway
Do All the Things in Colorado Springs

High in the Rockies, Colorado Springs offers you the flexibility of choosing your adventure vacation. What you'll find depends entirely on which season you visit this rugged, awe-inspiring town. No matter where you go, one thing's for sure: sporting excellence lives here in the home of the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. But there's plenty of relaxation and downtime to be found among the peaks and pines that make Colorado Springs such a stunning place. Let's look at some of the most exciting things you can do while in the area.

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01 Get to know the geography

Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA downtown skyline and mountains at dusk. Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Colorado's got some of the nation's most loved vacation spots, like Vail and Aspen, but they're just a tiny part of what makes the region so incomparable. For a central travel experience, Colorado Springs is where you want to be. It is a short drive from Denver, approximately one hour, and located about 40 minutes north of the charming town of Pueblo.

Colorado Springs was established in 1871 as a Victorian spa resort town.Over time, the city has developed into a modern urban area while still retaining the charm of a small town due to its natural surroundings. Different landscapes await you depending on which direction you choose to travel: to the east, you'll find high plains; to the south, you'll encounter high deserts; and to the west, you'll experience some of the most famous mountain views.

Colorado Springs has a "semi-arid Steppe climate," with low rainfall and a whole lot of sunshine—about 243 days annually. Snow doesn't last long in the region. The unique geography and dependable weather make it a popular destination for outdoor activities, attracting locals, Olympians in training, and visitors looking to enjoy nature and escape the grind for a few days. You might want to push yourself to try all the adventures, but go easy: Colorado Springs is located at 6,035 feet above sea level, near the base of Pikes Peak.

Visitors should also beware of lightning. The Plamer Divide is a common spot for lightning strikes seen from June to August in El Paso County. It's among the most active lightning regions in the United States, and lightning deaths per capita are consistently high. Lightening strikes have killed 10 people and injured 84 people from 1980 to 2018. In fact, the monsoon-related lightning season is so legendary that Nikola Tesla built his largest Tesla coil ever in Colorado Springs between 1800 to 1900. He selected this destination for its innovative polyphase alternating current power distribution system that was implemented in the area. Moreover, he had associates who were willing to give him the power he needed free of charge. He also built an Experimentation Station there, where he created the largest artificial lightning to be seen in over 100 years.

Forked cloud-to-air lightning shoots out the side of a supercell thunderstorm. Cultura Exclusive/Jason Persoff Stormdoctor / Getty Images

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02 Go for gold: Olympic City, USA

Paralympian and former U.S. Army Officer Melissa Stockwell works on strength during a training session on May 27, 2020 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Athletes across the globe are now training in isolation under strict policies in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

Over 10,000 athletes train in and around Colorado Springs annually. The new U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum offers a unique opportunity to experience the excitement of Olympic success and achievement. It celebrates the entire Olympic training experience and gives visitors a little taste of what "reaching for gold" really means.

Interactive training scenarios for several sports, such as sled hockey, the 30-meter dash, and archery, put you right into an athlete's experience. The whole grounds are accessible and inclusive, and exhibits are designed with state-of-the-art technologies to make this a museum visit unlike any other. Architecture enthusiasts will also appreciate the museum, as it was one of just four American structures featured on Architectural Digest's list of the most anticipated buildings of 2020. It's an inspiring and beautiful space worthy of a few dedicated hours.

For the original Olympian experience, take an eight-minute drive east of the museum to the Colorado Springs Olympic & Paralympic Training Center itself. It's at this 37-acre state-of-the-art facility that America's premier athletes learn to give their very best. A variety of tour options are available, including private athlete-guided visits for groups of 10 or more.

Acclimated to the altitude already? To test your inner Olympian, put on some sneakers and tackle the daunting Manitou Incline. It's only a mile, which makes it sound doable, but it's a vertical climb of 2,000 feet with 2,768 steps — so steep that descending the stairs is "strongly discouraged; instead, it's a four-mile hike back down.

Extreme nature trail with steep mountain incline for advance hikers. Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com

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03 Play in the Garden of the Gods

Rear View Of People Walking On Footpath By Rock Formation And Plants Against Sky At Colorado Springs Dave Faulkner / EyeEm / Getty Images

Much friendlier to hikers of all abilities is the most popular tourist destination in Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods. The rocky terrain wowed people long before the Perkins family donated 480 acres of parkland to the city in 1909. Just past Old Colorado City, on the outskirts of town, the famed park is now nearly 1,400 acres with over 15 miles of hiking trails, with countless rock-climbing opportunities, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more.

There are multiple entry points, but the Visitor & Nature Center off N. 30th Street is recommended for first-timers. Here, you'll learn about the unique geography that shapes this red rock landscape. From there, choose your destination. Will it be the infamous Balanced Rock? Perhaps the Kissing Camels or Siamese Twins? The balanced rock was formed by the uplifting of the Rocky Mountains and erosion that occurred over millions of years. The Kissing Camels are a section of the huge red rock formation in the Perkins Central Garden. If you're looking for a dog-friendly hike, the Siamese Twins are the loop trail to go for.

While visitor ratings put all the various attractions in the must-see category, it's the Central Gardens that remain the most popular. They are walkable from the Visitor's Center, but there are plenty of other options for the more adventurous or those with mobility issues. Choose from Segways and Jeep-guided tours to e-bike rentals or tours. However you go, you'll soon find out why over 6 million people visit this park annually.

Road through the Garden of the Gods-Colorado Springs, ,Colorado William Reagan / Getty Images

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04 The Royal Gorge Canyon and Bridge

Image of the bridge made from the bottom of the canyon m-kojot / Getty Images

Constructed in 1929, the Royal Gorge Bridge offers more than just a crossing; it provides a unique and memorable experience for visitors. It crossed the Gorge at 955 feet above the Arkansas River and held the title of the world's highest bridge until 2001 when China's Liuguanghe Bridge beat it. Thanks to the towering cliffs that rise up to 1,200 feet over the river, it is nicknamed the Arkansas Grand Canyon.

The bridge is among the highest over-water suspension bridges anywhere in the world, standing at a height of 1,053 feet. However, there are numerous activities to enjoy beyond just facing your fear of heights. Summer is whitewater rafting time, with world-renowned class-IV rapids in the Gorge, but hiking draws visitors from around the globe, too. Mountain bikers love the 15 miles-plus of single-track trails, like the Canyon Rim path.

Royal Gorge, Colorado, tourists cross the royal gorge bridge in Colorado. Gary C. Tognoni / Shutterstock.com

If you're looking to do something special, consider the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, a stunning 24-mile journey in a dining train. Special occasion tours include murder mysteries, the Santa Express train, Oktoberfest, and even Mother's Day brunches. The train runs from March through December annually and offers a variety of experiences for various budgets. The Royal Gorge Canyon is just over an hour's drive southwest of Colorado Springs.

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05 Experience the breath-taking Beauty of the Pike's Peak

Street winding down from Pikes Peak summit, Colorado emson / Getty Images

No visit to Colorado Springs is complete without a trip to Pike's Peak. This famous mountain has an incredible 19-mile highway to the summit, which rises a whopping 14,115 feet above sea level. The toll highway is worth the cost of admission and is open year-round, but it's known to close for severe weather or heavy snow, so it is important to stay updated on the current situation.

Travelers should be cautious of high altitudes and take it easy to avoid altitude sickness symptoms like headaches. If you're visiting Colorado Springs for just a few days, leave high-altitude stuff like Pike's Peak for the end of your visit when you're better acclimated. Remember to prioritize safety when venturing into remote areas, such as being equipped for extreme cold at high altitudes and ensuring your vehicle has enough gas for the journey.

Cog Railroad on Pike's Peak, Colorado

Also, don't forget to indulge yourself in the delicious Summit House donuts for a delightful treat. Baking at high altitudes is a unique challenge that involves a special set of techniques and a touch of magic. Therefore, low-altitude donuts will never be the same.

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06 Enjoy a hot-air balloon ride

Colorful hot air balloons glide over Prospect Lake in Colorado Springs, CO, at the Colorado Balloon Classic; Cheyenne Mountain is in the background. cris stoddard / Getty Images

Hot-air ballooning has existed since the late 18th century and became a fun activity in the 1970s. From the basket of a hot-air balloon, you can get a bird's-eye view of the stunning landscape around Colorado Springs. For over 45 years, the September Labor Day Lift-Off hot-air balloon festival has filled the sky with dozens of balloons. In 2021, nearly 80 balloons took to the skies for a magical display, delighting around 185,000 spectators.

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07 Explore WWII aviation

Lockheed P-38 Lightning side view of open engine and propeller Lost_in_the_Midwest / Shutterstock.com

The World War II Aviation National Museum is located on the northwest corner of Colorado Springs Airport and has been open to the public since 2012. Here, you can see 20 fully restored aircraft up close, plus other interesting vehicles used by the Allies and some ongoing restoration projects. The collection also includes over 4,000 artifacts and documents from the war.

Parking is based on the number of hours you plan on staying, and the parking garage doesn't accommodate motorcycles or vehicles over 6'8" tall.

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08 Wind down in the Old Town

Take a step into a simpler time with rustic brick buildings and tree-lined streets. The Old Colorado City Historic District is a small neighborhood with shops and restaurants, fit for spending a morning or afternoon. Explore the area, enjoy a meal, and then take a scenic drive down the road to the Garden of the Gods.

If you're looking for unique souvenirs, the Colorado Creative Co-op is a collective of regional artists offering varied creations from glassware to wood carving and oil paintings. Experience a unique form of artistic expression by checking out the "sculptural theater" known as Michael Garman's Magic Town: 3,000 square feet of a "gritty Americana dollhouse" that's stoked visitors' imaginations for over 40 years.

If you get hungry during your tours, the locals recommend trying out the Mountain Shadows Restaurant. It's the place to go when you're craving country-fried steak or biscuits and gravy.

09 Explore the exhibits at the Money Museum and more

The American Numismatic Association's Edward C. Rochette Money Museum is home to America's largest money-related museum collection. From how money is made to the history of currency, some say this is one of the world's best museums about numismatics—the study of currencies.

It's in Arts Central, nestled between the Colorado Springs Center of Fine Arts, the Packard Hall of Music and Art, and the Edith Kinney Center. With proper planning, you can spend a day exploring fantastic exhibits located a short walk apart. The stunning natural scenery in Colorado Springs provides inspiration for artists to thrive. History lovers have plenty of stimulating options, too, thanks to the more than 30 museums and historical organizations in town. If you're traveling with kids, they can have fun in the Play Street Museum, allowing yourself a moment to relax.

10 Explore the world of craft beer for an unforgettable drinking experience

With more than two dozen craft breweries in the area, you'll want to do some taproom research before you come to town. That Rocky Mountain glacial water makes excellent beer, so you can't really go wrong, but some crowd favorites include Red Leg by Garden of the Gods and Local Relic.

For the full brewpub dining experience, Cerberus Brewing Company is known for its dedication to tasty cooking and a comfortable space. In warmer months, chill out in Cape Cod chairs on the patio while enjoying a cold beer or two.

11 Looking for a unique and offbeat Experience?

If you consider yourself a person of unique taste, consider visiting the eccentric and unconventional Bishop's Castle. A highly controversial structure and a one-man architectural show like none other. The building offers free visits, but encourages donations. Also, those who've visited advise caution when exploring the building.

Jim Bishop's story begins when, as a teenager in 1959, he plunked a $450 down payment on a plot of land he dreamed would host a castle of his design, built by his hands. That construction began in 1969 and continues 60 years on—those visitors who've made the journey have given it excellent reviews.

12 Plan it all out

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

There's so much on offer in Colorado Springs that you'll be curious to do some research. It may take more than a month to even scratch the surface—and you wouldn't run out of activities—but it's also possible to spend just a few days exploring the finer points of this busy region. The hard part will be not overscheduling yourself, but that's a great problem to have.

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