Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
At the base of Pikes Peak mountain, the city of Colorado Springs contains many elements that, though contradictory on the surface, complement each other quite well: an Air Force Academy and a liberal arts college; a Focus on the Family headquarters and an Olympic Training Center; a historical luxury resort and a geological wonder.
The red sandstone playground of Garden of the Gods—a sculpture garden of eroded formations dating back hundreds of millions of years—is probably the most appealing and unique feature to Colorado Springs. Glacier-built Pike’s Peak is the tallest (14,115-foot) summit in this city’s majestic mountain backdrop and can be ascended by foot or car. When you aren’t communing with nature, the stately Broadmoor Resort, and the old-timey, quirky charms of Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City, will pamper and entertain.
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It’s about an hour (70 miles) drive south on 1-25 from Denver to Colorado Springs.
The idea of extending Denver’s train system all the way to C-Springs (and the rest of the Front Range) has been up in the air for years; for now, there is a reliable bus route that takes about two hours. Several airlines make the 45-minute flight from Denver International Airport (DIA) to Colorado Springs airport, but unless you are already coming from DIA, this option rarely makes the most sense.
It’s such a short drive from Denver to Colorado Springs, so you have plenty of time to explore today. Start in Manitou Springs, a funky mountain town a 15-minute drive west of C-Springs that boasts medicinal waters and an odd number of Wiccans.
Have lunch at Adam’s Mountain Cafe, where vegetarian and organic choices meet comfort food, before indulging both in the natural and the funky human side of Manitou Springs. Downtown is full of hippie shops (and whispers of Pagan witchcraft), Native American artifacts, arcades, art galleries, and quite a lot of flair. After walking through downtown, spend a few hours checking out Manitou Springs’ natural beauty in its Cliff Dwellings, mineral springs, and Cave of the Winds Mountain Park.
After freshening up at your hotel, head to Old Colorado City, an offshoot of Colorado Springs, featuring a Main Street of 19th-century buildings and fun gift shops. Dine on local game and Colorado beer at Front Range Barbecue, where you can usually catch some live music as well. Before bed, go for a fun drink at IvyWild School, an elementary school-turned-hipster cocktail bar (and brewery, boutique shop, and more) downtown.
Grab your sunblock and water bottle for a full, active day in the Colorado sunshine. For breakfast, opt for a breakfast burrito from a taco shop like Monica’s or Daniel’s and enjoy it outside before ascending Pike’s Peak. Pike’s is a sizeable, yet accessible mountain: The summit can be reached by car, and there are plans in the works for the historic Pikes Peak Cog Railway to be up and running by 2021. There are several hiking trails up and around Pike’s Peak, Barr Trail being the longest (about 12 miles) and most challenging. Alternatively, follow the steps former rail tie-steps up the Manitou Incline, an incredibly strenuous one-mile ascent and favorite cardio activity for active locals and visitors.
Despite the awe-inducing appearance of its giant geological formations, hikes around Garden of the Gods Park are moderate and very accessible. Plan to spend the afternoon walking around here, even if you clocked in many miles and elevation this morning. For respite, you can always stop at Garden of the Gods Trading Post, which has a gift shop, art gallery, and substantial restaurant, or go for a sandwich at Mountain Shadows Restaurant if you want more local flair. If you need some extra pampering, sign up for spa treatments at the Garden of the Gods Club and Resort.
Then it’s time to switch gears. Head back to your hotel to change into something festive before cabbing it to The Broadmoor for a fancy drink on the terrace. This impressive resort is made up of a series of formidable pink stucco buildings surrounding a lagoon and immaculate grounds. While it has seen some updates over the last century, it still has the feel of a sophisticated European retreat. For extra fun, check out the Golden Bee, The Broadmoor’s authentic 19th-century English pub (the walls were literally imported from England) and definitely the most raucous, cheerful place on campus. Nightly piano and singalong starts at 7:30, and you can order beers and ales by the yard.
Later, enjoy a late dinner back downtown at The Rabbit Hole, an underground cellar with a chic cocktail menu and interesting share plates, charcuterie boards full of items like duck wings and buffalo ribs.
As a college town, Colorado Springs has some quality greasy spoons, so plan to grab a big satisfying breakfast as your last meal before leaving town. Breakfast burritos and potato-heavy plates, both smothered in green chile, are served in a goofy setting (plastered in purple and yellow) at King’s Chef Diner.
You have a few options for a great after-breakfast hike. There’s North Cheyenne Cañon Park, with a couple of moderate (three-mile) trails with great views of the city; or Broadmoor Seven Falls Hike, with its scenic cascades and recreation area (take a shuttle from the Broadmoor) featuring several trails for visitors.
For your last activity before heading back to Denver, consider checking out several breweries in town; Phantom Canyon Brewing, Bristol Brewing Co., and Cerberus are among the favorites.
As an alternative, check out the slightly goofy Ghost Town Museum, where interactive activities include gold panning, old arcade games, and a player piano.
WHERE TO STAY
Both The Broadmoor and Garden of the Gods Club and Resort can be prohibitively expensive for a whole weekend stay (rooms start at $450) but are worth a special night or two. The views, the grounds, and the access to amenities (like the Garden of the Gods infinity pool, with stunning views of the park and mountain range) feel exclusive and luxurious in the way a good retreat should. Cheyenne Mountain Resort is another option in this range and sometimes offers better deals. The Antlers Hilton Colorado Springs is more moderately-priced (starting at $150), still with some doses of Southwest charm, and gives you the added benefit of being directly downtown.
WHEN TO GO
This region of Colorado definitely earns its name as the real “Sunshine State,” boasting an average of some 300 days of sunshine a year. Through early winter, you’ll need little more than a light jacket or sweater, though it’s significantly colder (mid-20s, Fahrenheit) at night, and there’s regular snow.