Colorado Springs, CO
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Colorado Springs, CO

How the west will win your family over.

On Top of America

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.

Garden of the Gods, copyright
T Schwab/CSCVB

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.

Pikes Peak or Bust!

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 Cog Railway. The ride's the adventure and no one has to worry about hairpin turns. What's more, all the railcar windows are huge, so everyone gets a good view. To keep young explorers amused during the 1-hour and 10-minute chug up, bring along binoculars or disposable cameras and tell them to keep their eyes peeled for whistling marmots (furry, high-altitude groundhogs), elk, and bighorn sheep. You'll have about 40 minutes at the summit to ogle the "Oh, Beautiful" view before the journey down. Tip: Bathrooms, food concessions, and souvenir shops are available at the top and bottom, but not on the train. Reserve tickets in advance.
  • Pikes Peak Highway. This 19-mile, roller-coaster drive from the tollgate to the summit is not for the faint-of-heart. There are lots of twists and turns and the road is gravelly. But you aren't beholden to a train schedule. And all "ooh-let's-stop" requests can be honored. Once you've taken in the view and thrown a few snowballs, treat the gang to high-altitude donuts and hot chocolate. The round trip takes three hours; longer if you make lots of stops.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak,
copyright CSCVB

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."

  • Easy stroll. The best trail for young children is the 1.5-mile Central Garden Trail. It's stroller-accessible, not too steep, and winds by the highest rock formations.
  • Moderate hike. For kids who can handle an incline, check out the half-mile Ridge Trail. This route makes them feel like they're going somewhere, but never gets more than 10 feet off the ground.

The visitor center runs a Junior Ranger program for kids 7-12 that explains the area's geology, nature, and wildlife.

Howdy Partner!

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:

  • Flying W Ranch. For yippee-yi-yo fun, plan an early start to your evening at this working ranch. Roam the authentically-restored western town, feast on a hearty chuckwagon supper, and enjoy a wholesome western stage show. Plenty of biscuits and fiddling to go around. Reservations required.
  • Western Museum of Mining and Industry. This guided tour through a "reconstructed" underground mine gives kids a hands-on lesson in Gold Rush mining. The coolest part? Panning for real gold in one of two large troughs. Call ahead for special events and Super Saturday educational programs. (Bet you didn't know there are minerals in Oreo cookies and toothpaste.)

Going for the Gold

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.

  • U.S. Air Force Academy. Even though the architectural beauty of the multi-spired Cadet Chapel wows parents more than kids, budding aviators will be impressed by all the uniforms, saluting, and marching. Get there by mid-morning so you can see the Noon Meal Formation (11:35), when thousands of cadets from points all over the campus fall in line and march en masse to the dining hall. And there's always the possibility you'll spy cadets parachuting from Thunderbird Overlook.
  • U.S. Olympic Complex. The big thrill here is watching athletes train. The huge swimming pool, flume (swimming treadmill), and rooftop display of the Olympic flame are pretty awesome too. Great photo opportunities along the Irwin Belk Olympic Path, where colorful, two-dimensional sculptures showcase numerous Olympic sports.


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

If You Go...

copyright Cheyenne
Mountain Zoo

Pikes Peak Cog Railway 5 miles west of Colorado Springs at 515 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs Phone: 719-685-5401


Pikes Peak, copyright CSCVB

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


The Inside Scoop

Favorite local spots:

  • Michelle's Chocolatier and Ice Cream. 122 N. Tejon, 719-633-5089. Home of the Pike's Peak Surprise, a 13-inch-high dessert with three scoops of ice cream, pound cake, bananas, whipped cream, nuts, chocolate sprinkles, and a cherry on top.
  • Pikes Peak Gourmet Popcorn Store. 8025 W. Hwy 24, Cascade, 719-684-9174. More than 20 flavors. Almond-Pecan Crunch is an adult favorite. Kids go for the sugary Kettle Popcorn.

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.

Side Trips

Cheyenne Mt. Zoo

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo 1999/2000

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.