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′.
In this article we’ll discuss 10 good things to know ahead of driving Pikes Peak, the most popular elevated road in the United States of America.
Pikes Peak is estimated to have emerged about 50 million years ago. The mountain was formed through years of erosion of molten rock; however, it is not considered a volcano.
Following the Louisianna Purchase, President Jefferson sent exploration parties across the newly purchase US territory. In the fall of 1806, Zebulon Pike and his party discovered Pikes Peak.
And to take a step further back, long before Zebulon was a twinkle in his mother’s eye, the mountain was known as Tavá Kaa-vi — the Sun Mountain — to the ancient American peoples known as the Ute.
After ascending Pikes Peak in 1893, the poet and Wellesley College professor Katherine Lee Bates was inspired to compose the lines that later became the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.”
In 1890 the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Company opened service on a cog railway that carried passengers to the summit in much greater comfort than Zebulon Pike’s party had enjoyed.
In 1916 the Pikes Peak Highway enabled automobiles to reach the summit. A brief hundred+ years later, in the year or our Lord, 2022, a record 24 million tourists visited Pikes Peak.
There’s a good reason they call it, “America’s Mountain.”
Once you’ve decided to come visit, you’re going to need to know a few things. One cannot simply drop the transmission into drive and wander their way up Zebulon’s namesake. The city of Colorado Springs controls Pikes Peak like a golden goose. And as they should; $2.8B was spent in the area by visitors just last year.
Here are our 10 best Driving Pikes Peak tips.
The fact is, you don’t have to drive to the top. You can also take the train or lace up your boots to summit.
And if you choose to hike up a 14,115 mountain — Bless You — you’re looking at 7700′ of elevation gain over 12 miles. Zebulon would be proud.
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 (plus gasoline). Compared to a train ticket is is much more affordable.
And there’s something really fun about driving up and down a winding mountain road.
The City of Colorado Springs limits the number of daily visitors to Pikes Peak. Those without a ticket will be stopped at the Glen Cove Visitor Center, 6.8 miles from the summit. This would be a massive disappointment, so our advice is to be proactive and reserve days or weeks ahead of time.
The season runs from late-May to late-September.
Driving Pikes Peak is best in the early morning. If you can handle rising at dawn, grab the first time slots available. The road will be less trafficked, the summit crowd will be much smaller, and the lighting is better when the sun is lower in the sky.
We recommend getting to the gate 15 minutes before it opens. There will be some cars, but you’ll move through quickly after opening. If you arrive at 10:00 the line of cars at the gate can stretch a half-mile down the road.
Honestly, we’ve had better experiences for less (or free), but the drive, views, and summit experiences are worth the $50 carload admission and $2 reservation fee.
If you told me I had to pay $250 for the four of us to take the train, well… that better be a life-altering train ride.
Steep and slow and beautiful. It gets a touch nervy toward the top, but you’ll be fine.
Zebulon says, “Enjoy the drive, nancypants.”
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Drive Pikes Peak as early as you can because once the parking lot maxes out it stays that way.
Besides, everything is better when the crowd is manageable. Lines for hot-chocolate are shorter. Photo-ops are easier. Walkways aren’t clogged. The informational museum in the visitor center has a modicum of elbow room.
As the late-risers descend, and the trains begin to roll on in, the place turns into something less-than what it should be.
If you love the idea of buying new brakes after driving Pike’s Peak, disregard and move on to number eight. Everyone else should heed sage advice and downshift to first gear. Sometimes you have to shift to second or third just because the engine whine is unbearable, but the general practice is to stay in first gear and spare your brakes.
The Subaru driver in front of us missed the day of class when this was discussed. We could smell his breaks the whole way down, and were witness to the unfortunate sight of watching him speed up and slow down like a dingus for a solid nine miles.
Have at it! The Barr Trail and Crag’s Trail are the two paths that lead to the summit. There is a trail by the train depot that heads off northward.
Most folks simply “hike” the circular path at the summit — all the views are there, as well as the official tippy-top of America’s Mountain.
If you’re driving Pikes Peak you can take your time hiking around. Just ask Zebulon.
Colorado Springs city parks — mainly Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods — are well managed and tasteful, yet they outrageously overprice their sub-standard fare. They feel like a National Park, but they just don’t have “it” at the visitor center gift shops and restaurants.
Pack a bag lunch and buy a better t-shirt in Manitou Springs or Historic Colorado City.
It’s the only moving part at the summit and it’s fun to watch the colorful convoy chug up the mountainside. For a better view (see 3rd photo from top of article), stop on the side of the road HERE when you’re driving back down and walk across the tracks.
We’ve been on four of the six highest roads in the United States, and other than Mauna Kea, this was the best one.
Driving Pikes Peak was the highlight of the trip, even more than walking around at the summit. The summit views are good, but not great. There is a lot of rubble leftover from development years earlier, which detracts from the beauty. There isn’t a lot to do up there besides walk around the summit path, educate yourself in the visitor center, and startle yourself in the gift shop.
However, the way up and the way down are worth the price of admission. Especially the way down. The scenery is terrific.
We believe that driving Pikes Peak is a must-do if you are in the Colorado Springs / Denver area. The total experience is breathtaking and beautiful. Just don’t expect the summit views to blow your socks off and beware the hijacker prices at the VC.
If you’re looking for other things to do in the Colorado Springs area, check out some of our other articles:
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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