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Inside: The best things to do in Colorado Springs, where to stay, and everything you need to know for a terrific summer vacation in the great outdoors.
If these past few years of travel restrictions have 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.
Why visit Colorado Springs?
The Colorado Springs area offers a wide variety of incredible natural and historical attractions for visitors. From spectacular, 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 things to do in Colorado Springs are absolutely free.
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.
How to Get to Colorado Springs?
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
Now, without further adieu, here are my top picks for the best things to do in Colorado Springs for outdoor, fresh 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 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.”
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.
Current Hours: Open daily. Park: 5:00am-9:00pm. Visitor & Nature Center: Mon-Sun 9:00am – 5:00pm (Winter Hours) and 8:00am – 7:00pm (Summer Hours). Check their official site for updates.
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 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. Adult tickets start at $58.50 and often sell out well in advance. Book tickets here early to ensure your spot.
There are also several other 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: Through September 30, 2022, reservations are required for visitors who want to drive themselves to the summit. Without a reservation, you can only drive as far as Mile 16 (of 19).
Current Hours: 7:30am-7:30pm (last entry at 5:00pm daily)
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.
Hours: Open daily 9:00am-5:00pm March – October. 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.
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 slowly re-opened to visitors in March 2022. The Planetarium is now open Monday-Friday from 12:00pm-2:00pm, however, the Cadet Chapel remains closed for renovations. Check here for the latest updates on what’s open and when across the installation.
How Much? Free.
Bonus #6: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
If you make your way through my Top 5 list and have more time to explore, don’t miss a visit to “America’s Mountain Zoo.” Ranked the 3rd best zoo in all of North America by USA TODAY, this is a great one for the kiddos!
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). 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. For more information and to book advance tickets, visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo official website.
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.
Here are a few more ideas for outdoor excursions & great day trips from Colorado Springs…
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 fresh air and pure natural beauty, Colorado Springs is the perfect destination to get out of the house and back to nature!
Read More on Colorado: Aspen, Colorado: Confessions of an Aspiring Ski Bunny