There are a lot of things to do near Colorado Springs. We’re done some of these and others are on our to-do list for another visit.
One of our favorite drives is to head up CO 24 to Manitou Springs and beyond. There’s a lot to do on the way up to the charming Victorian town, in the town itself and west of it. On the way up the mountain, stop in Old Colorado City on the west end of Colorado Springs. It’s definitely worth a visit. Founded in 1859, it was the state’s first territorial capital. The area has many historic buildings, interesting shops and restaurants.
Here are a few places to check out on your way to Manitou Springs.
Manitou Cliff Dwellings
The Manitou Cliff Dwellings were brought to their current site from McElmo Canyon near Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado. The dwellings were reconstructed here in the early 20th Century. The people referred to as the Anasazi lived in the Four Corners area (the meeting place for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah) from 1200 BC to 1300 AD. If you can’t to the ancestral sites of present day Pueblo peoples in that area, including Mesa Verde, Hovenweep and Chaco Canyon, a visit here will give you a taste of the early history of the southwest. Admission price and hours vary seasonally.
Cave of the Winds
The Cave of the Winds Mountain Park in Manitou Springs is a natural cave formation that dates to as far back as ten million years ago. Two miles of passageways take visitors through these ancient caverns. See stalactites and stalagmites formed by thousands of years of slowly-dripping water. The caves are not recommended for people with respiratory and heart conditions. There is an admission price; days and hours vary seasonally.
Historic Manitou Springs
Manitou Springs harks back to a bygone day. In Victorian America, people flocked to mineral springs to “take the waters”. The mineral-rich waters were believed to maintain and restore health. Although some of the waters taste pretty ghastly, even today, you’ll see people filling gallon jugs from the springs scattered throughout the town. Walk around the town and check out the restored Victorian houses and the many parks scattered throughout town. Shop the many shops in the unabashedly tourist-oriented Manitou. If you want to spend the night, check out the beautiful Cliff House Hotel (Travel and Leisure Magazine named it one of the top 100 hotels in the world) or the town’s historic bed and breakfast inns.
Pikes Peak or bust
From a distance, Pikes Peak dominates the Colorado Spring’s landscape. You can take the scenic Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top of the 14,115 foot mountain or drive up the Pikes Peak Highway.
If you’re not used to mountain driving or want to enjoy the incredible views without being at the wheel, take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the summit. The depot is in Manitou Springs. The almost 18 mile round trip is a little more than three hours. The train stays at the top for 40 minutes. Be punctual; they will leave without you. Passengers cannot bring their own food and drink on the train but food can be purchased at the depot and eaten on the train. You can also get a snack at the Summit House Restaurant during the layover. They’re famous for their freshly made donuts. The comfortable, modern Swiss-made cars have large widows allowing panoramic views. It’s a far cry from the original cars that first rode these rails starting in 1891. The train runs year-round. There’s an admission charge; days and hours vary seasonally.
If you drive, the Pikes Peak Highway starts in Cascade, about five-miles west of Manitou Springs. The 38-mile round-trip to the summit is two-hours straight driving. If you want to stop along the way and explore the summit, allow more time. You’ll probably get hungry on your trip. You can grab a snack at the Summit House Restaurant or bring your own food and picnic at one of the pullouts on the road or at the top. The air is thin at the summit and temperatures can be 30 degrees cooler than in town. It’s recommended that your time at the top not exceed 30 to 40 minutes to avoid altitude sickness. If you experience symptoms, head down immediately. If the driver has severe symptoms and there is no one else to drive, seek help at the top. The City of Colorado Springs, the administrators of the road, advise people with severe respiratory or cardiac conditions not take the trip to the summit. There’s a fee to drive the road. Hours vary seasonally.
Keep heading west
The Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument about 20 miles west of Manitou Springs has what the US Park Department’s website calls “one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world.” Visitors can see petrified giant redwoods and insect and plant fossils. The area also has numerous hiking trails and the remains of the Hornbeck Homestead. If you want to find your own fossils, stop at the Florissant Quarry. They let you split rocks that may yield fossils for a fee.
Check out Royal Gorge
Head west out of Colorado Springs to US 50 via CO 115 and you’ll get to Royal Gorge, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River Valley. It’s a ten-mile long gorge, 1,250 feet at its deepest point and about 50 feet wide at the bottom. The world’s highest suspension bridge when it was built in 1929, and the tallest in North America, sits 956 feet above the Arkansas River. It was built so visitors could cross this natural wonder on a road to nowhere.
Want to go through the gorge? You can take a train trip or ride a raft through the bottom in season. Commercial railroad service began in the gorge in 1882 and ran until 1967. In 1998, The Royal Gorge Route Railroad began running excursion trains. They offer lunch, dinner, wine and mystery trains. The 24 mile round trip lasts one-and-a-half to three hours depending on the option chosen. The railroad also teams up with three area rafting companies to offer raft and rail options. Rates and times vary seasonally.
And you can go rafting on the Arkansas River out of Buena Vista, Salida and Canyon City. Arkansas Valley Adventures and Kokopelli Rafting can get you onto the water for a day of thrills and if you tip over, chills.
Whether you take the road to Manitou or head to Royal Gorge (or do both) there are a lot of things to do near Colorado Springs. You’ll create lasting memories and get great photo opportunities. After all, it’s the beautiful Colorado mountains and there’s nothing else on earth quite like it.