Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs is one of the most beautiful city settings in the USA. And not only is to area super easy to sit back and admire, there is also a relaxed and friendly vibe that elevates the town from scenic to superlative. In this article we are going to discuss the 15 best things to do in Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs has two very well known attractions: The Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. In addition to these unmissable sights, there’s a surfeit of excellent experiences around town, ranging from city centers, museums, and arcades to ancient dwellings, caves, hoodoos, and suspension bridges.
In nearby Manitou Springs you’ll find the devil’s stair master, also known as the Manitou Incline. Across the road is the Cave of the Winds, home to the great spirit of the wind. Thirty minutes up the hill is Woodland Park, a wealthy mountain enclave. And then there’s McDonalds — driving there is considered a scenic road trip, too. Welcome to Colorado Springs!
The variety of excursions is impressive in this town. If you love the mountains strongly consider this delightful mid-western city for your next vacation.
The following are what we consider to be the 15 best things to do in Colorado Springs. We hope you enjoy!
Must-Do attractions are typically the reason we’ve decided to visit. We try to spend enough time at the location to visit every Must-Do excursion on the list.
Garden of the Gods is considered the best city park in the United States of America. It sees 4.5 million annual visitors, more than all but three of our National Parks. The reason why is clear: How many places of such astonishing beauty reside in the middle of a large city (that is an hour away from an even larger city)? Honestly, we don’t know the answer. It was rhetorical.
The highlights of the park are dramatic views of 300′ sandstone fins that protrude from the ground like a stegosaurus spine. In the Central Garden you can stroll amongst the largest of the rock formations, and from the perimeter trails you can take in views of the garden from every angle. The garden is an easy-to-visit, easy-to-love kind of place; surreal and beautiful like a walkabout daydream.
Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs is one of two 14,000′ mountains in the USA that allow visitors to summit by car. That’s out of 96 total fourteeners. Mt. Evans outside Denver (14,160′), and Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island (13,803′), are the only other drivable mountains that top 12,500′.
Driving to the summit of Pikes Peak costs $15 per adult, $5 per child under 15, and $50 for a carload of five or fewer. Compared to a train ticket driving is much more affordable. And furthermore, the best part of visiting Pikes Peak is driving up and down the mountain road.
Should-Do attractions receive a strong recommend and are what we would prioritize after seeing the Must-Do attractions. Not every Should-Do sight will appeal to everyone.
The Manitou Incline is a man-made staircase that gains 2,000′ of elevation in one mile. It is located in the town of Manitou Springs, an earthy little hamlet outside of Colorado Springs.
There is no cost to climb the Manitou Incline… unless you count the lives of those that have died.
Ba-dum-bum. It’s true. They have a sign and everything. The problem is, if you have significant cardiac problems up on the mountain medical help will take hours to arrive. So be sure you are in good health before attempting the Manitou Incline.
If you’d like to learn all about climbing the Manitou Incline, here’s a link to our in-depth article.
First things first, these cliff dwellings were moved from another location near Cortez, Colorado. This doesn’t make them any less interesting (for most folks), but it should be mentioned. The preserve of cliff dwellings was first opened to the public in 1907. Visitors to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings can walk all throughout the pueblos, which is fascinating. It really is one of the best preserved representations of ancient Ute people’s homes.
After touring the dwellings head into the museum. Here you can see an abundance of historic artifacts and learn more about the Ute peoples and their way of life. There is also an impressive gift shop that winds into the rocks like a cave. Manitou Cliff Dwelling Website Link.
Royal Gorge is home to America’s highest suspension bridge, which traverses the Arkansas River at a towering 956 feet above the water below. Unsatisfied with “just a bridge” for an attraction, Royal Gorge has developed over time into a theme-park of sorts.
Some of the highlights include the cloudscraper zip line that spans the gorge, a gondola, sky coaster, playland, and of course the bridge is the star of the show.
Perhaps the best thing to do at Royal Gorge is to climb the Via Ferrata, an iron run ladder system that runs up about 600′ of the gorge rock walls. Think of it as rock climbing with extreme protection. We absolutely loved it, and found it both moderately challenging and wholly exhilarating!
This is yet another installment of America’s vast collection of hoodoo parks, albeit one with a purple twist. The colorful hoodoos found in the Paint Mines were used by Native Americans to make paint. Brightly colored bands of purple, pink, and yellow are caused by oxidized iron compounds and found in varying amounts in different layers of clay. Within these mines are evidence of human life dating back 9,000 years.
Paint Mines Interpretive Park CO is found in the town of Calhan, Colorado, an hour east of Colorado Springs. The 750 acre park is free to enter and an incredible way to spend a few hours of time hiking around the trails. To learn more, check out How to Visit the Paint Mines Interpretive Park.
Denver is on 70 freeways miles north of Colorado Springs making it the perfect daytrip destination. While it falls short of Colorado Springs aesthetically, Denver has no shortage of great excursions.
One attraction we strongly recommend is Meow Wolf Convergence Station. The Meow Wolf art collective has been around since 2008, beginning in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and expanding to Las Vegas, Denver, and Dallas. Meow Wolf Denver opened in 2021.
If strange art installations aren’t your thing, downtown Denver is a wonderful place to stroll. We’d heard all the nightmares of homeless encampments, but none were visible in the essential streets in the center of town.
Stop by Union Station, catch a ballgame at Coors Field, enjoy the eccentric neighborhood of Dairy Block, the shopping district at Larimer Square, the beautiful riverside Confluence Park, of treat yourself to a multitude of fantastic museums.
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If you didn’t get enough of the strange and surreal beauty at the Garden of the Gods, two miles away is a whole other universe of craggy rock formations at the Red Rocks Canyon Open Space. Here’s a MAP between the two areas.
Red Rocks Canyon is a 1,400 acre park with 11 trails that range from 1.7 miles to 5.4 miles. There are two trailheads for visitors, only a few hundred yards apart, both accessed by the same park entrance, with different parking lots. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose, but we recommend hiking far enough up the hill for the big views, then traversing the hillside to exit the trail at the opposite trailhead from which you started. FWIW, the east trailhead is more popular, as it passes by the small, picturesque lake almost immediately.
Manitou Springs is a charming town with an abundance of shops to peruse. Some of the most popular are Ruxton’s, the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, the Glassblowers of Manitou, Christmas in Manitou, Savelli’s pizza, the Manitou Brewing Co., and Adam’s Mountain Cafe.
Two brothers named George and John Pickett discovered a 4 million year old cave in 1881, a cave where the Apaches said the “Great Spirit of the Wind” resided. Today you can continue the search for the elusive spirit by visiting Cave of the Winds Mountain Park.
The mountain park features not only the original cave tour, but also a multitude of modern attractions. For $25 the Pioneer Package gives unlimited access to the Wind Walker Challenge Course, Bat-A-Pult Zip Line, Cliff Hanger Climbing Wall, and Geronimo’s Leap. It’s a good value and can keep the kids entertained for a couple of hours.
There’s also an adventure slide and the most claustrophobic looking device called the “caver’s crawl”. It’s a box the size of a prison cell with tiny crawl spaces for your pre-schooler — be sure to send them with a sack lunch just in case.
Equal parts nostalgia and entertainment, old-time video arcades provide hours of trashy fun for those humble enough to slap some buttons and get passionate about things that don’t really matter.
The Manitou Springs Penny Arcade is better than most because it has a few things going for it: 1. There are hundreds of games. 2. Some of the games are atypical gaming machines that have existed since long before the video game boom of the 1980’s/90’s. 3. Prices range from a penny to a dollar. Many of the funky old machines cost $0.05 or $0.10 to play (so put that ashtray pocket change in your car to good use). 4. A fair amount of the arcade is outdoors.
This is a great place to bring the kids (young or old) for a couple of hours.
Could-Do attractions are worthwhile, but we don’t strongly recommend them for one reason or another. The excursion might be middling entertainment, or there are issues that kept us from loving it.
The cultural hub of Colorado Springs is a lively stretch of five blocks packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and curiosities. This is a fun place to peruse the shops or party on the weekends.
Acacia Park is a beautiful city park with both a playground and a homeless problem. I couldn’t tell you why any parent would bring their kids here, but they do. And then they scowl at everyone who looks their way.
Sketchy characters keep us from giving this a stronger recommend, but it’s a cool place to hang out.
Historic Colorado City is almost as great as Manitou Springs, and it draws a fraction of the crowd. The two towns are only three miles apart and occupy space on what is essentially the same road. We prefer Manitou Springs because of the natural surroundings, but Colorado City is easier to visit.
If you (or your kids) like video games, be sure to stop in at Nova West, where they have about 20 classic arcade games and four Skeeball machines. Nova West is a tavern with adult beverages, but all ages are welcome until 8 pm.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is considered one of the better zoos in the USA. It has a fantastic location in the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain, a few miles south of Colorado Springs. The woodsy ambience is absolutely appreciated. The zoo is a little on the small side, but it is a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike.
Adult tickets are $29, children $24. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is open 365 days a year, which is shocking, actually, considering its mountainside location in Colorado.
This is the single most touristy thing on the list, a Christmas-theme park with rides suitable for small children. They say, “Experience the Magic!” It really feels like a traveling carnival gussied up in Christmas schlock. Anyone can wander around the park for free (except in November/December), but if you want to ride the rides you’ll buy an all-you-can-ride wristband for $32. North Pole Santa’s Workshop link.
Our vacation to Colorado was cut short by family issues in Texas that required an immediate extraction. What was supposed to be a 24 day Colorado adventure ended up lasting nine days. We missed out on a lot of planned activities including a Led Zeppelin tribute band concert at Red Rocks in Denver. Argh. The four attractions below are what we would have done in Colorado Springs had we not left town.
Colorado Springs is a lovely town that instantly had our hearts. The foothills are stunning and ever punctuated by the surreal Garden of the Gods and massive Pikes Peak. The September weather couldn’t be beat, either.
I guess the question is, will we come back and finish our vacation? The answer? I … think so? I can’t say we are in a hurry to return — because there are so many other places to see– however, this is one of the best places we’ve visited in the past two years. I’m hopeful we’ll return someday to see Seven Falls, Red Rocks Amphitheater, hike a 14er, and descend to the bottom of the Cripple Creek Mine.
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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