7 Best Summer Things to Do in Colorado Springs (2024)

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Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs

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Inside: The best things to do in Colorado Springs (3 are free!). Plus where to stay, and everything you need to know for a terrific summer vacation in the great outdoors.

Colorado is a terrific state to visit with so much to see and do. 

But for my money, when it comes to summer vacation destinations in the great outdoors, Colorado Springs is the true gem. Yes, the Pikes Peak region is a high-altitude playground for outdoor recreation and the summer months are the perfect time to visit (or anytime really, but I’m especially partial to summer!).

The city of Colorado Springs has a family-friendly, small town vibe and the surrounding area offers a wide variety of incredible natural and historical attractions for visitors. 

So if you’re planning a Colorado Springs vacation this summer (and you should be, it’s fabulous!), you may be wondering, “What is there to do in Colorado Springs?” I’ve got you covered with this list of the 7 best Colorado Springs things to do. 

From sunny parks to quaint mining towns and open-air museums, you’ll find plenty of terrific activities to add to your fun-filled Colorado Springs itinerary.

Even better? Many of the best places to visit in Colorado Springs are absolutely free.

So let’s get started…

What is Colorado Springs best known for?

Sitting at a lofty elevation of 6,035 feet, Colorado Springs is an outdoor lover’s paradise. With spectacular rock formations, scenic hiking trails, and natural landmarks like Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods Park, there’s truly something for everyone.

And after a day of hiking and exploring, you can head back to a 5-star resort for a little pampering. So whether you’re seeking a romantic weekend getaway or planning a summer trip for the whole family, you’ll find plenty to love about Colorado Springs.

But before we get to the best things to do and places to stay in Colorado Springs, let’s address some practical matters.

Garden of the Gods Park Colorado Springs
Trails through Garden of the Gods Park

How to Get to Colorado Springs

You can fly directly into the Colorado Springs Airport (COS) and there are quite a few airlines with non-stop flights into Colorado Springs from many cities around the country. Southwest Airlines is especially prominent here. 

Here are the non-stop routes into Colorado Springs:

  • Delta Airlines – From Atlanta (ATL), Minneapolis (MSP), and Salt Lake City (SLC).
  • United Airlines – From Denver (DEN), Chicago (ORD), and Houston (IAD).
  • American Airlines – From Dallas (DFW).
  • Southwest Airlines – From 10 cities including Las Vegas (LAS), Phoenix (PHX), Houston (HOU), Baltimore (BWI), and San Diego (SAN).
  • Avelo Airlines – From Burbank (BUR). 
  • Sun Country – From Minneapolis (MSP).

Denver to Colorado Springs

You may find it’s more convenient or affordable to fly into the much larger Denver International Airport (DEN) nearby. If so, that’s an easy drive south via E-470 and I-25. The drive takes just under 90 minutes and you’ll have plenty of rental car options to choose from at the bigger Denver airport. Which brings me to my next point…

Do I need a rental car?

Yes. You’ll need to have your own wheels to explore all the best Colorado Springs attractions properly. My go-to site for finding great rates on rental cars is DiscoverCars.com.

MY Pick
Milos Greek Island Car Rental

Discover Cars

My favorite rental car booking site to use all over the world. No hidden costs, free cancellation, and 24/7 customer support.

Great Hotels 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Garden of the Gods Resort & Club – For killer views of Garden of the Gods Park, you can’t beat this resort-style property. Just 15 minutes from the park, the resort features a full-service spa, golf course, and spacious rooms (many with decadent soaking tubs – a personal favorite!). 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 7 Things to Do in Colorado Springs

Now, without further adieu, here are my top picks for the best things to do in Colorado Springs:

1. Garden of the Gods Park

When it comes to free things to do in Colorado Springs, this spectacular 1,350-acre city park easily tops the list. In fact, I would argue that the Garden of the Gods Park is one of the best places to visit in Colorado as a whole.

Balanced Rock Garden of the Gods Colorado
Balanced Rock – Garden of the Gods, Colorado

With soaring red sandstone rock formations, many dating back more than 300 million years, this is one place you can’t miss while you’re in town.

The unique rock formations in Garden of the Gods Park were sculpted over time by the forces of nature and many have entertainingly descriptive names. Keep an eye out for the famous “Kissing Camels” rock formation and the gravity-defying “Balanced Rock.”

kissing camels garden of the gods colorado
Kissing Camels Garden of the Gods

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.

Be sure to budget at least a few hours to explore Garden of the Gods when visiting Colorado Springs. It’s a must!

Tip: Visit in the early morning or late afternoon for the most vibrant rock hues.

Location: 1805 N. 30th Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80904 | (719) 634-6666

Summer Hours: Open daily. Park: 5:00am-9:00pm. Visitor & Nature Center: 8:00am – 7:00pm 

How Much? Free

WebsiteGardenoftheGods.com

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to the Garden of the Gods Park, Colorado Springs

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. So while they may be short on air here in the Pikes Peak region, they’re certainly not short on views!

A shiny new state-of-the-art Summit Visitor Center opened in the summer of 2021 which increased accessibility to the summit and also gave the gift shop and indoor/outdoor dining areas a facelift. You can also explore interpretive exhibits that trace the history of the mountain as you soak in all those incredible views. 

Pikes Peak Summit
Views from the summit of Pikes Peak

There are also several ways to visit the summit of “America’s Mountain.” You can hike or cycle if you’re the athletic type and love a good outdoor adventure. 

But the most common three ways to visit the summit are:

1. Drive yourself (reservations required)

If you choose to drive your personal (or rental) car, the 19-mile road to the top along the Pikes Peak Highway has plenty of places to pull over and take in the views of the mountains and Pike National Forest. Plan a minimum of 2-3 hours for the round-trip journey (not including time at the top or photos along the way). Reservations are not required in the winter months but from May 26th – September 30th, a timed reservation is required. Reservations cost $2 and give you a 2-hour window to arrive at the gateway. Reservations can be made at DrivePikesPeak.com.

2. Ride the Broadmoor Manitou Pikes Peak Cog Railway

After 126 years in operation, the famous Cog Railway to the summit closed in 2018 for a massive refurbishment. But in 2021, the historic railway reopened as the new “Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway.” The 9-mile (one-way) journey takes about 3 hours round trip and it is a spectacular ride. Adult tickets start at $58.50 and often sell out well in advance in the summer. Parking across the street from the Depot is another $20 and is only available 30 minutes before your scheduled time. Book tickets here early to ensure your spot. And here’s more information on where to park.

3. Take a Private or Group Jeep Tour

If all of these various ticket prices, parking fees, and reservation requirements are making your head spin, see Pikes Peak the easy way by booking a Jeep Tour! This is a stress-free and really fun way to experience Pikes Peak and there are a variety of tours available, here are two of my favorites:

Pikes Peak Jeep Tour

This fun 3.5-hour Jeep tour with an expert local guide is ideal for up to 4 people per Jeep. It includes all entry fees & plenty of stops for photos on the way up to the top.

Private Pikes Peak Jeep Tour

This private 3-hour Jeep tour includes everything the other tour does. But this ride to the top with a knowledgeable guide is just for you.

No matter how you get there, once you reach the top, don’t miss the hot donuts in the Summit Visitor Center! They’re a must for everyone who visits the summit.

Location: Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center – Cascade, CO 80809 | (719) 385-7325

Summer Hours: Daily, 7:30am – 7:00pm 

How Much? Adults (16+) are $15, Children (6-15) are $5, Carload (up to 5 people) is $50.

Website: Pikes Peak 

3. Manitou Cliff Dwellings

The Manitou Cliff Dwellings are one of the most unique things to see in Colorado Springs. Considered a rare historical treasure, the cliff dwellings date back to the American Indian culture that roamed the Four Corners area of the Southwest from 1200 B.C. to A.D. 1300. The authentic Anasazi cliff dwellings were carved into a protective red sandstone overhang.

Constructed more than 700 years ago, Located just 5 miles west of Colorado Springs, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are one of the United States’ most unusual archaeological wonders and a must-see when visiting the Colorado Springs area.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings Colorado
Manitou Cliff Dwellings – Colorado Springs, Colorado

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.

Read More: 6 Awe-Inspiring Things You Have to See to Believe in Cappadocia Turkey

Location: 10 Cliff Road, Manitou Springs, CO 80829 | (719) 685-5242

Summer Hours: Open daily 9:00am – 5:00pm

How Much? Adult tickets (12 & over) are $12.00. Kids (4-11) are $7.50 and kids under 3 are free.

Website: CliffDwellingsMuseum.com

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, affectionately called “OCC,” is a local favorite for shopping and dining. The tree-lined streets feature art galleries, boutiques, gift shops, and a variety of terrific local restaurants. It’s the perfect place to check out local artists, relax in a coffee shop, and just enjoy the charm of the Old West.

Come hungry because there are also quite a few great places for international cuisine in Old Colorado City. Jake & Telly’s is my favorite place for Greek food. But don’t miss Dat’s Italian for an authentic Italian meal or La Baguette for exceptional French cuisine. 

Old Colorado City
Historic Old Colorado City

Location: Just over 2 miles from downtown Colorado Springs. Colorado Avenue is the main street.

Summer Hours: Hours vary by store but most are open 10:00am – 5:00pm.

How Much? Free to explore! (Except for parking fees. Parking is available in 3 marked parking lots off Colorado Ave)

Website: ShopOldColoradoCity.com

5. The United States Air Force Academy

Home to as many as 4,000 exceptional men and women (depending on the time of year), the US Air Force Academy is the youngest of the 5 military service academies. There’s plenty to see and do here from hiking trails to IMAX movies in the Planetarium. And the best part? It’s all free.  

How to Get on Base

If it’s your first time entering a military base, don’t be nervous! I do it all the time (Army wife here!). Here’s what you need to know:

From I-25, take Exit 156 and enter at the North Gate. This gate is open to visitors every day from 5:30am – 10:00pm. Be ready with a photo ID for everyone over 18 in the car when you arrive at the gate. They may also ask for the vehicle registration (have your rental car agreement handy) or proof of insurance and may do a security check of the car. But that’s all there is to it! 

Once on the base, a quick stop by the Visitor Center will give you the lay of the land and provide all the information you need. The website also has a great self-guided tour of popular sights. Don’t miss Falcon Stadium, the Honor Court, the Planetarium, and especially the Cadet Chapel. (Note: You can only see the Cadet Chapel from outside for now, the interior is closed for repairs until 2027.)

And if you visit on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday during the academic year, don’t miss the Cadet Noon Meal Formation at 11:45am. It can be viewed from the Honor Court Overlook. 

Location: Visitor Center – 2346 Academy Drive, U.S. Air Force Academy, CO 80840 | (719) 333-2025

Summer Hours: Daily from 9:00am – 5:00pm

How Much? Free.

Website: USAFA.edu/vistors

6. US Olympic Training Center

You probably knew that Colorado Springs was home to the US Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. But did you know that you can visit it? In fact, they have a fun new guided tour! This is a great place to get an inside look at where our US athletes train and prepare for the Olympics.

Tours are offered year-round and begin with a video presentation followed by a walking tour of the training center complex. Tours last approximately an hour and are conducted hourly, on the hour. No need to make reservations in advance, just show up before the top of the hour and join the next tour.

You can also visit the Team USA shop in the Visitor Center (there are only two of these stores in the whole United States!). Pick up some fun Olympic gear while you’re there, the proceeds help support the Olympic and Paralympic athletes of Team USA.

And if you’ve got Olympic fever, you can also visit the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum in downtown Colorado Springs (200 S. Sierra Madre Street). The museum is Thursdays to Mondays from 10:00am – 5:00pm (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Tickets are $19.95 for adults and $11.95 for kids (5-12). 

Location: 1 Olympic Plaza, Colorado Springs, CO 80909 | (719) 866-4618

Summer Hours: Monday – Saturday, first tour at 9:00am, last tour at 4:00pm.

How Much? Adults tour tickets are $15, Kids (5-12) are $11, and kids under 4 are free.

Website: Colorado Springs Olympic & Paralympic Training Center

7. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Nicknamed “America’s Mountain Zoo,” the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has been ranked the 3rd best zoo in all of North America by USA TODAY. This is a great one for the kiddos because it’s truly a “hands-on” kind of zoo. And that’s what makes it one of the most fun things to do in Colorado Springs!

Located at a lofty 6,714 feet above sea level, visitors to the zoo can hand-feed the giraffes, elephants, or rhinos (for an additional fee). You can also watch animal demonstrations like penguin feeding, barn owl training, and even skunk training. Or just spend some quality time in the Goat Playground (free!) and ride the antique carousel. 

Keep in mind that if you do plan to visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, advance reservations are required since popular days and times do tend to sell out. The good news is that the timed reservation system keeps the zoo from overcrowding at popular times which means when you get there you’ll have a place to park in their free parking lot.

For more information and to book advance tickets, visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo official website.

Location: 4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80906 | (719) 633-9925

Hours: Open daily from 9:00am – 5:00pm (last admission 4:00pm).

How Much? For non-members, tickets are $24.00 for adults and $19.00 for kids.

Website: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Looking for more fun things to do near Colorado Springs?

Here are a few more ideas for outdoor excursions around Colorado Springs:

  1. Foodies unite! This 3-hour Culinary Tour of Colorado Springs is a ton of fun and the perfect way to explore the top restaurants and pubs in Colorado Springs. Come hungry!
  2. For Adventure Seekers! The Fins Course Scenic Zipline Tour is an exhilarating soar between rocky expanses on the ziplining course at Seven Falls.
  3. Rock and roll! (see what I did there?) I love a good Segway tour and this 90-minute Garden of the Gods Guided Segway Tour is a fun and unique way to explore this gorgeous park.

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.

So, if you’re searching for pure natural beauty this summer, Colorado Springs is the perfect destination to get away and back to nature!

Looking for more great destination ideas in the USA? Here are a few of my favorites:

3 Reasons Pensacola Beach is the Best of Florida’s Emerald Coast

10 Marvelous Things to Do in Punta Gorda, Florida (Don’t Miss #7!)

The Pacific Coast Highway in 25 Breathtaking (& Bizarre!) Stops You’ll Adore

Washington’s San Juan Islands are the Best US Islands You’ve Never Heard Of

2 Comments

  1. Nancy collom says:

    Why did occupants call their home manitou dwellings?

    1. I’m not exactly sure, Nancy. I do know that the Anasazi people did not actually live in the Manitou Springs area. They lived and built their cliff dwellings in the Four Corners area, several hundred miles southwest of Manitou Springs. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings were built at their present location in the early 1900s, as a museum and tourist attraction. The stones were taken from a collapsed Anasazi site near Cortez, Colorado, shipped by railroad to Manitou Springs, and assembled in their current form as Anasazi-style buildings closely resembling those found in the Four Corners. They are still pretty fascinating to visit!

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