Inside: The best things to do in Colorado Springs, where to stay, and everything you need to know for a safe (and fun!) socially-distanced summer vacation.
If months of lockdown has you yearning for a vacation option that doesn’t involve your passport (or your living room!), the wide-open spaces and fresh mountain air of Colorado Springs could be just what the doctor ordered.
The Colorado Springs area offers a wide variety of incredible natural and historical attractions for visitors. From spectacular, sunny parks boasting maximum social distancing opportunities to quaint mining towns and open-air museums.
Even better? Many of the best things to do in Colorado Springs are absolutely free.
But before we get to the best things to do and places to stay in Colorado Springs, let’s address some practical matters.
Is Colorado open for business?
Yes (mostly). As a visitor, the most important thing to know is that in addition to the reopening of hotels, restaurants, and shops for Colorado residents, responsible tourism is now also encouraged. (Read more here about visiting Colorado responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The official Colorado Visitor Site states,
“Colorado is now in the Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors Phase, which implements measures that will allow Coloradans and others to recreate in the great outdoors while maintaining a sustainable level of social distancing.“
I don’t know about you, but these days, the phrase, “vast, great outdoors” is music to my quarantined ears.
Most hotels have reopened (or plan to soon) and restaurants are once again allowed to offer dine-in service with proper distancing measures in place. However, visitors should expect to wear a mask where distancing from others isn’t possible.
Now that we’ve established that Colorado is indeed ready to start welcoming responsible tourism, the next question might be…
How to Get to Colorado Springs?
While many Americans may favor a driving vacation this summer, Colorado Springs is most easily reached by air.
Of course, if you’re up for a big road trip, here are the drive times from the closest major cities outside the state of Colorado: Albuquerque (5 1/2 hours), Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City (all approximately 9 hours).
Alternately, you can fly directly into the Colorado Springs Airport (COS). Or, from the larger nearby Denver International Airport (DEN), the drive takes just 90 minutes.
Where Should I Stay in Colorado Springs?
The Colorado Springs area has an abundance of wonderful and affordable hotel options to suit any budget. Here are a few of my favorites (all have now re-opened for business):
- The Broadmoor – The Broadmoor isn’t just a hotel, it’s a destination unto itself. From the typical exclusive resort amenities like golf and a 5-star spa to luxury outdoor experiences dubbed “Broadmoor Adventures” (think zip-lining and fly fishing), there’s something for everyone. Of course, all this mountain splendor comes at a price. But I’d argue this unique resort experience just might be worth it.
- Best Western Plus Peak Vista Inn & Suites – With affordable rates and Pikes Peak views, this lodge-style resort is a great choice for families. Features include abundant parking, comfortable beds, and an excellent free breakfast buffet.
- The Mining Exchange Hotel & Spa – With a perfect location in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs, this historic Colorado hotel features two restaurants and a full-service spa.
- The Lodge at Flying Horse – If you’re looking to get away from it all on your visit to Colorado Springs, this resort is a terrific choice. Located on a private 18-hole golf course, the resort also boasts a steakhouse and a decadent spa making it an ideal option for a romantic getaway.
Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado Springs
While much of Colorado Springs has reopened to visitors, a few attractions have not. Check the Visit Colorado Springs site for the latest updates on reopenings in the area.
Now, without further adieu, here are my top picks for the best things to do in Colorado Springs for open-air fun:
1. Garden of the Gods Park
Possibly Colorado’s most spectacular free sight, this 1,350-acre city park features soaring red sandstone rock formations, many dating back more than 300 million years.
The unique rock formations were sculpted over time by the forces of nature and many have entertainingly descriptive names. Keep an eye out for the “Kissing Camels” rock formation and the gravity-defying “Balanced Rock.”
Garden of the Gods Park is an ideal spot for hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, or just awe-inspiring photography. It’s also tough to beat in the social distancing department.
Tip: Visit in the early morning or late afternoon for the most vibrant rock hues.
COVID-19 Status: Open daily. Check their official site for updates.
Current Hours: Park: 5:00am-10:00pm. Visitor & Nature Center: Mon-Thu 9:00am – 3:00pm, Fri-Sun 9:00am-5:00pm
How Much? Free
2. Pikes Peak
Known as America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak is the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains’ southern Front Range. On a clear day, five states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Kansas) are visible from the summit’s viewing areas.
After 126 years in operation, the famous Cog Railway to the summit closed in 2018. It is currently undergoing infrastructure refurbishment and is scheduled to re-open in 2021.
In the meantime, there are still several ways to visit the summit of “America’s Mountain.” You can hike, cycle, drive yourself (tickets required), or take a group tour.
If you choose to drive, the 19-mile road to the top has plenty of places to pull over and take in the views. Parking is available at Mile 13 and Mile 16 to board the mandatory shuttles to the summit.
Tip: When you reach the top, don’t miss the hot donuts in the Summit House!
COVID-19 Status: Open daily. Check their official site for updates. Note: Masks are required on the shuttles and in the gift shop.
Current Hours (Oct 1 – Memorial Day): 9:00am-5:00pm (last entry at 3:00pm)
How Much? Adults (16+) are $15, Children (6-15) are $5, Carload (up to 5 people) is $50.
3. Manitou Cliff Dwellings
One of the area’s most unique sights, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are a rare historical treasure. Dating back to the American Indian culture that roamed the Four Corners area of the Southwest from 1200 B.C. to A.D. 1300, these authentic Anasazi cliff dwellings were carved into a protective red sandstone overhang.
Constructed more than 700 years ago, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are one of the United States’ most unusual archaeological wonders and a must-see when visiting the Colorado Springs area.
Reminiscent of the expansive cave dwellings found in Cappadocia, Turkey, many Americans might be surprised to find this smaller version of those intricate caves right here in the USA.
Located in Manitou Springs, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are 5 miles west of Colorado Springs.
COVID-19 Status: Open daily 9:00am-5:00pm. From Nov 1, 9:00am-4:00pm. Dec-Feb, 10:00am-4:00pm. Check their website for the latest updates.
How Much? – Adult tickets (12 & over) are $12.00. Kids (4-11) are $7.50 and kids under 3 are free. Seniors (60+) are also free.
4. Old Colorado City
Founded in 1859, Old Colorado City was Colorado’s original capital. In the 1890’s, saloons, brothels and gaming parlors dominated this Wild West town fueled by the gold rush.
Today, this historic city’s tree-lined streets feature art galleries, boutiques, and a variety of terrific restaurants. It’s the perfect place to while away an afternoon wandering the unique shops and enjoying the charm of the old west.
Tip: Download the Walking Tour App for a self-guided guided tour of the city’s fascinating history and points of interest.
COVID-19 Status: Shops, galleries and restaurants are open (though some restaurants may be carry-out only). Check for updated information on individual businesses here.
How Much? Free to explore! (Except for parking fees.)
5. The Air Force Academy
A must for “Top Gun” enthusiasts with the need for speed. A quick stop by the Visitor Center will give you the lay of the land. Don’t miss Falcon Stadium, the Honor Court, the Planetarium, and especially the Cadet Chapel.
COVID-19 Status: The installation is currently closed to visitors, no reopening date has been announced. However, they are offering a pretty cool virtual tour. Check here for updates on installation re-opening.
How Much? Free
Bonus: Here are a few more ideas for outdoor activities…
So, is Colorado Springs worth visiting?
Without a doubt, YES!
The Colorado Springs area is a fantastic place to visit, whether on a family vacation, a romantic weekend getaway, or even a solo hiking adventure.
Read More on Colorado: Aspen, Colorado: Confessions of an Aspiring Ski Bunny
After months of travel adventures limited to our living rooms and kitchens, there’s no better place to finally get out of the house and back to nature than Colorado Springs.
And if you’re looking for other great destination ideas in the USA, here are a few of my favorites: