No trip to the Denver area would be complete without a visit to Pike’s Peak, so I headed on down about 70 miles south to Colorado Springs.
There are quite a few things that anyone visiting Colorado Springs needs to know… unfortunately no one bothered to share this info before I went.
First of all, Pike’s Peak is simply an awesome mountain and is well worth the trip. In fact, I’d say that everyone should get here at least once in their lifetime. But we’ll get back to that in a minute. First, a few things you should know about Colorado Springs.
This is a nice town, but one that has obviously enjoyed the fruits of tourism. From my perspective, the only “real” attraction here is Pike’s Peak – although the brochures would have you believe otherwise.
- According to many people I talked to Garden of the Gods is a serious let down. One of those places that looks great in the brochures, so they charge a lot, then you see it and wish you hadn’t come.
- The Manitou Cliff Dwellings must be the worst tourist trap I’ve personally ever fallen for. I can’t believe I bought the hype! I was expecting something like the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, but what I got was… robbed for $8.50 to see a heavily doctored crap hole! Everyone else I talked to felt the same. Here is a picture. Now that you’ve seen it, save your $8.50 and move along.
- Royal Gorge Bridge was moderately entertaining. The bridge is actually awesome, and you can walk or drive across it as well as ride an aerial tram parallel to it or even take an inclinator 1,000+ feet to the Arkansas river below and look up at it. They also have a petting zoo, a small wildlife park and one of those bungee things that will swing you out over the gorge if you are crazy.
I say “moderately” entertaining because the drive out there takes over an hour from Colorado Springs (nice scenery though) and it’s $20+ per person to get in. At least the price is all inclusive so you don’t have to pay for anything else when you get there. It was a pretty neat place, and kids would love it, but all around I’d give it a rating of about 6 out of 10. Do this if you need to fill the rest of your day after Pike’s Peak, but don’t be afraid to skip it.
So, getting back to Pike’s Peak. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s probably the tallest point in the US that the average person can access with a car. At 14,110 feet, the summit is officially a “Fourteener” (fourteen thousand feet) by Denverite standards. In the winter it’s brutally cold and snow covered, but in the summer it is just cold, but very accessible.
The 18 mile winding road is a toll road, costing $10 per person up to a maximum of something like $35 per car. If you get motion sick you really need to take your Dramamine. Also, the thin air at the top affects people differently, but personally I was dizzy for the entire 45 minutes I was there. It also caused me a slight headache.
The road takes you through some absolutely stunning scenery, past mountain reservoirs and up through and beyond the Alpine and tree lines.
The long and winding road takes visitors through a beautiful pine forest as it progresses up from the park entrance at around 7,000 feet, until entering the Alpine Zone around 11,000 feet where the scenery changes a bit. The tree line comes at 12,000 feet, and from there on it’s nothing but rock and dirt.
There are almost no guardrails on this path, and the dropoffs… we’ll they’d kill you for sure. So, if you’re afraid of heights – even a little bit – I’d highly recommend the Cog Railway. But buy your tickets online and arrive early. This thing sells out and the lines are long.