When parts of my family moved out to Colorado Springs over 20 years ago, they were practically pioneers—the spotlight hadn’t yet shifted off Denver. Despite a booming population, downtown Colorado Springs was still sleepy, and the city’s outdoor spaces were still relatively undeveloped (and lacking in funding).
Today, the town is a hotspot full of local brews, easily accessible views, fun museums, a “garden” like no other, and access to exciting outdoor adventures. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss on your first trip to “the Springs.”
Wear layers. Colorado Springs sits roughly 6,000 feet, and temperatures, though often mild, vary wildly from morning to evening.
If you only have time to do one thing, make it the Garden of the Gods (but go early).
Get straight to the heart of the city’s biggest draw—it’s outdoor sites—by heading to the Garden of the Gods. A National Natural Landmark, this free geologic wonderland offers a plethora of hiking trails that accommodate most abilities. The park can get busy, so visit mid-week or early in the morning—or schedule an e-bike tour, Jeep tour, rock-climbing adventure, or nature walk.
After a quick lunch at 3.14 Pi Bar (for sweet and savory pies), head to the western edge of the city and the surprisingly impressive Cheyenne Mountain Zoo–they’ve got the largest giraffe herd in the world. Alternatively, up the adventure ante with a zipline tour across the gorges of nearby Seven Falls.
Take a break from the outdoor scene to appreciate the area’s history, cultural offerings, and food. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum is one-of-a-kind and a fitting tribute to Colorado Springs’ status as an Olympic training ground. From there, it's a quick jaunt to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Once downtown, grab gourmet mac n’ cheese or see a show at the Pikes Peak Center of the Performing Arts.
Downtown is also the heart of the craft-beer scene. Take a tour or hunker down on the patio at a peak stop like Pikes Peak Brewing Co. Lager House.
Today, head back into the great outdoors with a trip up to the top of Colorado’s most famous 14er: Pikes Peak. You can drive up via the 19-mile (30.5 kilometers) toll road, take a guided tour, bike up, or climb the Manitou Incline—2,744 steps that ascend 2,000 feet (610 meters) in under a mile.
Alternatively, drive an hour to Royal Gorge, a 1,200-foot canyon on the Arkansas River—you can cross the bridge, hop on a gondola, whitewater raft, or ride the Royal Gorge Railroad.