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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 this past year of travel restrictions 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 to quaint mining towns and open-air museums.
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.
Is Colorado open for business?
Hotels, shops, and restaurants are now fully open. Restaurants are once again allowed to offer indoor dining with proper distancing measures in place. And most importantly, responsible tourism is encouraged. (Read more here about visiting Colorado responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
However, there is still a statewide mandatory mask order in place for all public indoor areas. So expect to wear a mask in all indoor areas and anywhere social distancing from others isn’t possible.
Now that we’ve established that Colorado is indeed welcoming responsible tourism, the next question might be…
How to Get to Colorado Springs?
While many Americans may currently favor driving vacations, 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 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.
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-9:00pm. Visitor & Nature Center: Mon-Sun 9:00am – 5:00pm (Winter Hours) and 8:00am – 7:00pm (Summer Hours)
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 summer 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: 7:30am-8:00pm (last entry at 6:00pm daily)
How Much? Adults (16+) are $15, Children (6-15) are $5, Carload (up to 5 people) is $50.
NOTE! The Summit will be closed from March 22 – June 15, 2021. During this time visitors can still drive to Mile 16 of the 19-mile drive (weather permitting).
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 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.
COVID-19 Status: Shops, galleries, and restaurants are open. 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 through at least July 29, 2021. 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.
So, if you’re searching for fresh air and pure natural beauty, it’s hard to top Colorado Springs.
Read More on Colorado: Aspen, Colorado: Confessions of an Aspiring Ski Bunny
After a year 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.