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Colorado Springs is "purple mountain majesty" country, an area so breathtaking that it inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write the words to "America the Beautiful" upon climbing Pikes Peak. Your little ones might not know the words, but like Bates, they'll experience the dizzying feeling of being on top of the world. And that's not hard to do in a town that's more than a mile above sea level.
Although the trip can be made in a day from Denver, less than 90 minutes north, there are enough high-altitude attractions here to keep your clan busy for at least four days.
With snow-capped Pikes Peak looming in the background, the thing to do here is climb the mountain. But only the fittest of families should attempt hiking this 14,110-foot giant. For everyone else, there's the train:
Pikes Peak isn't the only geological wonder in Colorado Springs. There's also Garden of the Gods, a 1,300-acre city park filled with towering red rock formations and 25 miles of hiking trails. Kids can spend all day scrambling over boulder-strewn paths, peering through rock crevices, and playing "I'm King of the Mountain."
The visitor center runs a Junior Ranger program for kids 7-12 that explains the area's geology, nature, and wildlife.
A trip to Colorado Springs isn't complete without a taste of the old ranching and mining days. Here are two unique experiences that turn back the clock:
If the kids are misbehaving in the backseat, it's all the more reason to stop in at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center, where discipline is a way of life.
Type of trip: Scenic adventure, Old West experience Best ages: 4 and up Ideal trip length: 4-5 days Distance: Pueblo, Colorado (42 miles); Denver (68 miles); Cheyenne, Wyoming (171 miles) Best time to go: March to May and October to mid-December, you'll avoid the crowds and get lower room rates. Weather: 75-100 degrees in summer. Temperatures can drop 20 degrees at night. Carry jackets. Squirm factor: Some
Pikes Peak Cog Railway 5 miles west of Colorado Springs at 515 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs Phone: 719-685-5401
Pikes Peak Highway Hwy 24 to Cascade, Colorado. Follow signs to Pikes Peak Highway Phone: 719-385-7325
Flying W Ranch 3330 Chuckwagon Rd. (off Garden of the Gods Rd. and 30th St.) Phone: 719-598-4000
Museum of Mining & Industry 1025 North Gate Rd., exit 156A off I-25 Phone: 719-488-0880
US Air Force Academy Exit 156B off I-25 Phone: 719-333-2025
US Olympic Complex One Olympic Plaza (corner of Union Blvd. and Boulder St.) Phone: 719-578-4644
Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau Phone: 800-Do-Visit and 1-877-PIKES-PEAK
Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association Phone: 800-525-2250
Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce Phone: 800-642-2567
Local foods: Barbecue beef, beans and biscuits, rainbow trout.
Best souvenir: A sheriff's badge with your child's name engraved on it is a best-seller at Garden of the Gods Trading Post.
Traffic alert: High altitude driving can put severe strain on cars. Avoid excessive braking when driving downhill. Use low gear when ascending and descending.
Health alert: Most attractions are at 7,000 feet or higher. To prevent altitude sickness (headache, nausea, tiredness and/or shortness of breath), take it easy the first few days, drink more water than usual, eat carbohydrates, avoid salty foods, and reduce alcohol intake.
Reviewed April 2004.
What kind of creatures can live at 6,800 feet and above? Find out at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which offers an over-the-top view of more than 500 creatures, including Colorado mountain lions, bald eagles, and black-footed ferrets in their native settings.
The zoo is located at the base of the western side of Cheyenne Mountain. As kids climb higher up on the zoo's paths, they come face-to-face with the giraffes and can actually feed them rye crackers from a safe distance. The crackers are available for purchase at the front gate and giraffe exhibit area.
If the hilly terrain proves too strenuous, there are trams to get around. Side of Cheyenne Mountain above the Broadmoor Hotel, call 719-633-9925 for more information.