“America the Beautiful” was inspired in part by the “Purple Mountain’s Majesty” of Pike’s Peak which overlooks the beautiful city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Located just 60 miles south of Denver and situated a mile above sea level, Colorado Springs offers views of the southern Rocky Mountains from wherever you are, and has so many great activities for families- that it makes it a perfect destination for a family road trip!
So if you are thinking about heading out west… here’s what to do in Colorado Springs!
Road Trip Length: Denver to Colorado Springs- 65 miles, Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek- 45 miles, Cripple Creek to Manitou Springs- 39 miles, Manitou Springs to Colorado Springs- 6 miles, Colorado Springs to Canon City- 45 miles
Kids Will Love: Climbing on the sandstone formations at Garden of the Gods, white water rafting, biking down a mountain
Parents Will Love: Seeing how Olympians train, relaxing and shopping in Manitou Springs, and drinking in the mountain views!
Our family spent a week in Colorado Springs last summer, where we were joined by my parents, making this a fun multi-generational family vacation. We decided to rent a home in the Colorado Springs, near Colorado College, that was large enough to accommodate the 9 of us- and it was perfect! We spent many lazy afternoons on the front porch, rocking in the porch swings while the kids played on the front lawn. There are many wonderful hotels in the area as well as rental homes and condos- but if you are traveling with a large group, I highly recommend the Majestic Mountain Manor!
Itinerary Day 1: Pike’s Peak or Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Arrive in Colorado Springs early in the day and kick your trip off right with a drive to the summit of Pike’s Peak. It will take you about three hours round trip to complete the 19 mile drive to the top, but you will be rewarded with fantastic views plus bragging rights that you managed all of those hairpin turns along the way! The summit of Pike’s Peak reaches a elevation of 14,115 feet, but no worries…. at the Summit House there’s an oxygen bar if you find the altitude is getting to you!
For a more kid-friendly experience, head on over to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo– located on the side of a mountain (how cool is that?). The 146-acre zoo is home to more than 950 animals- including giraffes, rhinos, lions, elephants, and a special area dedicated to the native wildlife of the Rockies- including grizzly bears, moose, mountain lions, and wolves.
Itinerary Day 2: Manitou Springs and Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine
After a good night’s sleep (ahh- that fresh mountain air!) and a hearty breakfast, drive 45 minutes to the town of Cripple Creek to take the one-hour guided tour of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine. You’ll travel by man-skip elevator 1000 feet below the surface to see the area once mined for gold. On the tour you’ll see gold ore veins, get the chance to see and hear original mining equipment, and even ride on a tram-air locomotive (originally used to haul gold). This is a true Colorado experience that kids will love- especially when they get the chance to pick out a real piece of gold ore at the end of the tour! Be sure to dress warmly as it is only 50 degrees in the mine. Jackets and hard hats will be provided.
Spend the afternoon playing, shopping, and dining in nearby Manitou Springs. Located just 7 miles from Colorado Springs, this quaint area filled with shops and restaurants is a must-see! There are 11 naturally carbonated spring fountains located throughout this historic town, and a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center will give you the chance to grab a map and a tasting cup so that you can try them all! And kids will go crazy for the Manitou Penny Arcade (and most adults will too!). It is a collection of buildings that are packed with current and vintage arcade games- pinball, skeeball, PacMan, Space Invaders, Defender- you will find it all here! Most games will cost you only a nickel- so a few dollars can last the whole afternoon!
Feeling more adventurous? Try the Manitou Incline– a path originally used by a cable car to carry the materials needed to build a pipeline on Pike’s Peak. Today it is a 1-mile climb covering 2000 vertical feet! Not for the casual hiker… this is quite a workout!
Itinerary Day 3: White Water Rafting, or Royal Gorge Train
Today you’ll venture 1 hour southwest of Colorado Springs to Canon City, Colorado to embark on one of two adventures (or go bold and try them both!). We took a family-friendly white water trip with Echo Canyon River Expeditions that was truly the highlight of our entire summer! Our guide (Morgan) worked hard to teach the kids how to paddle our raft through the rapids, and made the entire trip exciting for the kids (and safe)!
Meanwhile, my parents enjoyed the views from the Dome car on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. You can sip a glass of wine and enjoy bar snacks while taking in the incredible views in the Royal River Gorge as it lumbers past the Arkansas River. Since their rail trip wrapped up faster than our rafting trip, my parents made a quick stop by the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey– where they picked up a few bottles of Chardonnay for us to sip while hanging out on the front porch of our rental home!
And a great place to rendezvous for a late lunch after rafting or the train ride, is the cafe at Echo Canyon River Adventures- 8 Mile Bar and Grill.
Itinerary Day 4: Garden of the Gods and Olympic Training Center
If your family enjoyed the Socchi Olympics as much as much as mine did- then a stop by the US Olympic Training Center is in order. Tours are free- and begin with a 12-minute film featuring summer and winter Olympic game highlights (that I found to be pretty moving!) followed by a 45 minute walking tour around the campus. This location is the primary training facility for US Olympic swimming and shooting, and my favorite part of the tour was seeing the pool where Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, and Missy Franklin trained for gold, and hearing the stories about their training sessions (and how their coaches knew they were destined to break records!)
A short drive from the Olympic Training Center is the Garden of the Gods park- home to incredible red rock formations that you can explore for free. Be sure to first stop by the visitor’s center to view the film which explains how these formations were created by nature- through erosion, uplift, and faulting- and left us with these amazing rock layers that have been tilted upright and exposed in a unique and dramatic way. After the movie you can drive the loop road through the park, stopping to get out wand walk around these formations. Kids can do a little rock scrambling (but be safe!) and marvel at the rock climbers that you’ll see throughout the park. Be sure to stop by the Garden of the Gods Trading Post for some souvenir shopping- it’s Colorado’s largest art gallery and gift shop and it is filled with beautiful artwork and Native American crafts as well as t-shirts and trinkets that the kids will love. You can also enjoy ice cream at their Balanced Rock Cafe before you leave.
Itinerary Day 5: North Pole Amusement Park or Pikes Peak Bikes
If you have younger kids in the family, you’ll want to spend some time at the Christmas-themed amusement park located right on the side of Pike’s Peak called “The North Pole“. Specifically designed with the under 10-set in mind, the 24 rides are accessible to kids over the age of 2- and they will be thrilled by the mini-coaster, antique cars, and the scrambler- and the fact that they actually meet the height restriction (no melt downs for not being “big enough” to ride here!). In our case, my parents took my 4 younger children here (and seniors get in for free- bonus!) while my older kids and I went on a different adventure…
A downhill bike ride with Pikes Peak Bike! This self-guided bike tour begins at the bike shop where the owner Scott Dylan and his crew will get you set up with the proper bike, a flat tire kit, helmets, a water bottle, and a map of the route. You’ll be transported up to the top of the Gold Camp Route, where you’ll be shown how to access the bike trail that used to be a mountain locomotive railway. Most of the route is restricted to recreational use, and you’ll go through rail tunnels along the route (at one point you’ll need to leave the trail and carry your bike around a collapsed rail tunnel) and throughout the downhill trip you’ll enjoy incredible mountain views. The bottom part of the route does follow commercial roadways, so you’ll need to be aware of cars and traffic signs. The 18-mile route ends back at the bike shop, which might take you 2-3 hours to each, depending on how often you stop to enjoy the views!
Colorado Spring really is a terrific place to visit on a family road trip! There are so many more things to do than are even covered in this itinerary- and you find a comprehensive listing at VisitCOS.com.
*Disclosure: Our family was assisted by the amazing Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau in planning our trip, including securing us complimentary tickets for white water rafting and the downhill bike adventure. But as always, all opinions expressed here are my own!
Have you taken a road trip to Colorado Springs? What was your favorite thing to do?