There's plenty to do within the city limits of Colorado Springs, from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to hiking between the sandstone outcrops of the Garden of the Gods, but daytrippers from the city will find adventures on all sides, no matter which direction they find themselves pulled in.
All manner of sights and off-the beaten path gems lie within an hour or two of the Springs, from mighty mountain peaks to the bustling bars and food halls of the Colorado capital. Here's our pick of the best day trips from Colorado Springs.
When in Colorado Springs, the ascent to the top of Pikes Peak should be at the top of your to-do list. The only question is how are you going to get to the top? Nicknamed America’s Mountain, the peak is famous for being the inspiration for the poem which later became the song "America the Beautiful", written by Katharine Lee Bates in 1893. Standing tall at 14,115 feet above sea level, Pikes Peak offers spectacular 360-degree views over the Rocky Mountains and the distant outskirts of Colorado Springs and Denver.
The new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center reopened in June, a month after the reopening of the Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has been shuttling visitors to the summit since 1891, using an old-fashioned cog and toothed-rail system. With new trains, new tracks and a new depot, the Cog Railway offers the easiest and most accessible way to enjoy the mountain, with scenic views and wildlife spotting on the rides up and down. It’s a three-hour round-trip journey, with a 40-minute stopover at the summit so you can grab some selfies. Tickets range from $58–$68, with the opportunity to reserve seating; advance reservations are recommended.
Visitors can also drive up the snaking Pikes Peak toll road, a safe and scenic route to the summit that's open year-round, except in severe weather. Take your time along the 19-mile route and stop at the many scenic rest stops to enjoy the views at your own pace. A one-day pass is $15 per adult, $5 for kids, or $50 for a car with up to 5 passengers. Athletic hikers can take the scenic route, walking the 13-miles to the summit via the Barr Trail, starting just west of Manitou Springs. A few hyper-fit bikers pedal up, but an easier adventure is to take a guided biking tour on the way down – Challenge Unlimited in Manitou Springs can make all the arrangements.
How to get to Pikes Peak: To reach the Pikes Peak Highway, go West on Highway US-24 and turn left onto Fountain Avenue and follow the signs. Don’t leave without at least a half tank of gas since there are no gas stations on the road. Remember to bring an extra layer for cooler temperatures at the top of the mountain; there are webcams on the Colorado Springs website so you can take a peek at the current weather conditions before you set off. The Cog Railway starts its journey at Manitou Springs, 6 miles west of Colorado Springs.
While the Colorado Springs landscape has no shortage of peaks and valleys, there’s some major canyon action nearby in Cañon City. Here, you’ll find one of the world’s highest suspension bridges above one of Colorado’s most impressive natural wonders, the Royal Gorge, a rocky cleft cut by the Arkansas River. Revamped after a wildfire in 2013, the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is a thrill-filled outdoor playground offering a surprising number of ways to explore the gorge from all angles.
Cross the Royal Gorge suspension bridge on foot and you'll feel it bounce and sway, a giddying 956 feet above the Arkansas River. During the summer months, keep an eye out below for white water rafters, who paddle Class III–V rapids along the river. This is another great way to experience the gorge and it’s quite a rush; Raft Masters in Cañon City is one of several operators who can steer you through the white water.
Another scenic way to travel across the canyon is by gondola, and an even more exciting way to cross is to fly across the gorge on America’s highest zipline. Thrill-seekers can get an extra adrenaline boost swinging out above the ledge on the Royal Rush Skycoaster, or you can burn some calories clambering along the canyon walls on via ferrata trails. If you’d rather just sit back and relax, take a ride through the canyon on the Historic Royal Gorge Route Railroad. Carriages with 'Vista Domes' offer spectacular views of the scenery, and there’s an open-air car too. The train departs 4-5 times daily from Santa Fe station in Cañon City.
How to get to the Royal Gorge: The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is about an hour and twenty minutes drive from Colorado Springs, via Cañon City. The park is open year round, with peak season being May through September. Trains on the Historic Royal Gorge Route Railroad leave from Cañon City's Santa Fe depot, just off Route 50.
If you’re searching for big city vibes with a Colorado flavor, a visit to the state capital is a must. Denver is full of interesting neighborhoods and landmarks, including the historic Denver Union Station and Larimer Square in LoDo and shopping at Cherry Creek, Denver's big brand hub. But if you’re only here for a day, head to the buzzing RiNo arts district.
Spend a few hours in this dynamic and ever-changing industrial area, and you’ll understand why people are moving to Denver in droves. Colorful murals and street art will grab your attention, leading you on to the many artist studios and galleries here. The alleyway behind Central Market is a great place to start exploring on your own, or you can take a walking tour with Denver Graffiti Tour to find great photo ops, with local stories along the way.
No matter where you go in the Mile High City, you will not go thirsty. Ratio Brewworks' outdoor patio is an ideal place to take in the vibe with a beer in hand or swing by Death & Co located inside the swanky lobby of the Ramble hotel for a craft cocktail. Head over to Brighton Boulevard to find trendy food halls like The Source, Zeppelin Station, or new addition Number 38, all with big open spaces and an impressive collection of Colorado brews on tap.
Alternatively, embark on your own beer crawl; the Denver Beer Trail lists more than 100 brewpubs, breweries and taprooms in the metro area. For a unique beer experience, make a reservation at the Beer Spa for a soak in a bubbly beer bath and a chair massage.
How to get to Denver: While Denver is a short zip north from Colorado Springs on I-25, the drive can take as little as an hour, or much longer when there’s traffic, bad weather, or teams working on the road. Work on the Gap Project, a road improvement scheme between Castle Rock and Monument, is slated to continue through November 2022.
An hour’s drive south on I-25, the town of Pueblo is the home of Colorado State Fair and the famous green Pueblo chile. Foodies can buy this spicy ingredient at source from many local farm stands just a short drive from downtown. It's almost mandatory on a visit to Pueblo to try a Pueblo Slopper, an open face hamburger smothered with Pueblo chiles. Ask a local for good places to try it; everyone has their favorite spot.
The main attraction in town is the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, which starts across the street from the Pueblo Welcome Center. As well as riverbank walks, you can set sail on a 25-minute boat ride to learn about the history of Pueblo and the 1921 flood. In summer, locals gather to grab a drink or a bite along the mile-long channel or take a paddleboat out for a spin. A suspension bridge connects both sides of the levy, with walking and biking trails and leaf-shaped structures for shade.
Before you leave, head over to the Pueblo Whitewater Park to watch paddle-boarders and kayakers surfing eight drops along the Arkansas river. It's worth staying into the evening to view Neon Alley, the largest collection of neon signs east of Vegas and west of NYC. Mister Tandoori is the perfect spot to grab a seat on the patio and enjoy the view.
How to get to Pueblo: Pueblo is an hour’s drive south from Colorado Springs on I-25. Consider taking the long and scenic way back to Colorado Springs, via Bishop Castle, an impressive and unique fantasy castle built by hand by one man.
Cripple Creek, Florissant, Divide and Woodland Park
An array of interesting adventures awaits if you head west into the mountains from Colorado Springs. You can travel back in time to the gold mining days in Cripple Creek, where casinos are king and donkeys roam free in the streets. History buffs can enjoy the Cripple Creek District Museum before hopping aboard the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, for a four-mile roundtrip chug past historic mines.
If you’re interested in fossils, Florissant, CO is home to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument – a stone forest of enormous petrified redwood stumps recalling the prehistoric history of Colorado. The Petrified Forest Loop is an easy mile-long hike through the open spaces at the monument, while the Ponderosa Loop offers a pleasant walk through pine woodland. The old Hornbek Homestead from 1878 is also worth a peek.
If you’re jonesing for some furry company, pay a visit to the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center outside of the village of Divide, for a rare opportunity to come face to face with a proper timber wolf. You'll learn about the importance of wolves in the local ecosystem during an hour-long walking tour, which is especially interesting at mealtimes. Nearby, Woodland Park’s quaint Main Street is home to locally-owned shops and restaurants, with the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Center offering an introduction to the monster reptiles who once stalked this corner of the Rockies.
How to get to Cripple Creek, Florissant, Divide and Woodland Park: Woodland Park is a thirty-minute drive northwest of Colorado Springs on Highway 24, and Florissant is another twenty minutes west. Another thirty minutes along Teller County Road 1 will take you to Cripple Creek. There are some big elevation gains on this drive, so pack some clothes for cold weather.
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