Beautiful Colorado Springs sits at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and retains many of its small-town charms.

Natural attractions in the shape of the dramatic Pikes Peak and the vertical sandstone towers of the Garden of the Gods are the main draw here – but Colorado Springs’ delightful neighborhoods make it feel like the cozy mountain outpost it has always been. After time in town, you’ll surely want to head into the foothills to find amazing hiking, mountain biking and outdoor adventures. Both in the city and out in nature, here are the best things to do in Colorado Springs.

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Channel a frontier vibe in Old Colorado City

History aficionados will love the neighborhood known as Old Colorado City, where the original town was founded in 1859. The historic district was the first capital of the Territory of Colorado – and its former Wild West dens of vice now host restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops. The area has a friendly vibe and maintains its 19th-century ambience.

You may want to download the Old Colorado City Walking Tour app before you go to add context to your wanderings. Those who prefer physical artifacts should check out the Old Colorado City History Center museum and bookstore, located in a former Baptist church; there’s also a small historical display in leafy Bancroft Park in the center of the area.

Sunset light on the red rock formations at Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
The glorious rock formations at Garden of the Gods are one of Colorado Springs’ biggest attractions © Sean Pavone / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Admire the divine rock formations at the Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods public park is an absolute must-see for visitors to Colorado Springs. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971, the gorgeous vein of red sandstone at the park is about 290 million years old, and its mountain backdrop is particularly striking. Explore the network of paved and unpaved trails, enjoy a picnic and watch climbers test their nerve on the sometimes flaky rock. Bear in mind that scrambling up the rocks is prohibited, and a permit is required for climbing and bouldering.

Those interested in the lives of Native Americans and 19th-century homesteaders in the region will enjoy Rock Ledge Ranch, a living history museum near the park entrance.

Try a triple axel (or at least watch a clip of one) at the World Figure Skating Museum & Hall of Fame

Fans of the graceful sport of figure skating should stop by the World Figure Skating Museum & Hall of Fame. The only institution of its kind in the world, it celebrates the greatest names in skating. If you’ve ever wondered how they perform those gravity-defying jumps, you can learn about the intricacies of blades and edges.

The Hall of Fame includes such distinguished skaters as Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Dick Button, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, and Scott Hamilton. Visitors can check out their skates and outfits while looking at stills and video footage of some of the greatest routines ever performed.

Two men feed lettuce to a giraffe in winter at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is known for its collection of delightful Somali giraffes © Thomas Barrat / Shutterstock

Feed the giraffes at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Children will love seeing the largest collection of Somali giraffes in the world at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, located high up on Cheyenne Mountain. The large private zoo is serious about conservation and proud of its comprehensive giraffe-breeding program, as well as its educational programming. Visitors will also find play areas for children, while a chairlift-style ride will give you a bird’s-eye view of the entire enclosure.

Cross a fourteener off your list by climbing Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak is the most famous of Colorado’s 54 “fourteeners” – peaks that rise more than 14,000 feet above sea level – and more than half a million visitors reach the summit of what the Ute call “Mountain of the Sun” every year. You can make the demanding 13.5-mile hike straight up the mountain – or, if you’re less ambitious, take the scenic, curvy drive to the top along the 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway. The 127-year old Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway reopened in May 2021 after renovations, offering a wonderful way to enjoy vistas as you ascend. There’s also a new Pikes Peak Visitor Center with an elevated pathway and overlook.

Read more: The great Colorado “fourteener” road trip

Future astronauts can prepare for liftoff at the Space Foundation Discovery Center

This interactive and immersive science-and-technology center is a great place for families to while away a couple of hours. Astro-enthusiasts will love exploring the space artifacts and interactive exhibits as they absorb all sorts of fascinating information on the universe, technology and space exploration. You can also explore the history of humans in space, program robotic rovers to complete mission objectives on simulated Martian terrain, and check out scale model rockets and space suits worn by astronauts to protect them from extreme temperatures, micrometeoroids and the nearly pure vacuum of space.

Enjoy the fruits of Colorado’s renowned craft-beer culture 

Colorado Springs offers plenty of choice for fans of craft beers. The centrally located Phantom Canyon Brewing occupies a former warehouse building saved from the wrecking ball in 1993, and serves pints in a casual atmosphere. Although it's a bit out of the way, Bristol Brewing Co is worth seeking out for its Laughing Lab Scottish ale and pub grub menu. Then there’s the eco-friendly Trinity Brewing Co: this spot focuses on artisan beers, serving its creations in a taproom repurposed from two barns with a recycled glass bar top, book arch entry and industrial wheel tables.

Hot air balloons in a crowded Memorial Park in Colorado Springs at Labor Day Lift Off
The Labor Day Lift Off has been running for the past 40 years © Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post via Getty Images

Watch the balloons ascend at the Labor Day Lift Off

The skyline around Memorial Park fills with hot air balloons every Labor Day weekend. Formerly called the Colorado Springs Classic, the Labor Day Lift Off is a festive free three-day event complete with musical entertainment. Running for some 40 years, the event sees amateurs and professionals launching technicolor hot-air balloons into the sky — and you won’t want to miss the early-morning balloon launches and the Saturday-evening “balloon glows.” Adventurous visitors can also pre-book balloon rides from one of the launch sites within town.

Teach the kids some history at Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

The small, free-to-enter Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum is a great place to learn about the city’s history. Housed in what was once the El Paso County Courthouse, the collection and exhibition of some 60,000 pieces sums up the region’s history through old photographs and artifacts.

The Native American collection is particularly strong, featuring hundreds of items from the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho nations. While history lovers will enjoy tracing Colorado Springs’ evolution from its early incarnation as a mining town, the museum is also a great place for young visitors thanks to its child-friendly exhibits and activities.

Do any (or every) kind of outdoor activity at Red Rock Canyon Open Space

Located along Highway 24, Red Rock Canyon Open Space is a great place for hiking, running, mountain biking, rock climbing, cycling and horseback riding. Rock climbers have access to over 80 bolted climbing routes; if you fancy a bird’s-eye view, you may be tempted by paragliding. A family picnic area includes wheelchair-accessible picnic sites, and the 789-acre park also has also a free-ride area for bicycles. It also contains many miles of trails of varying difficulty, including the Section 16 trail, which leads out of the southwestern corner of the park on a nice 6-mile loop.

Cadets and servicemen walk toward the Cadet Chapel at the US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Visit the US Air Force Academy to take in the striking modern architecture of the Cadet Chapel © John Hoffman / Shutterstock

Meet the Mavericks of tomorrow at the US Air Force Academy

Visit one of the highest-profile military academies in the country for a glimpse into the lives of an elite group of cadets. The US Air Force Academy visitor center provides general background on the academy, and allows access to the dramatic Cadet Chapel, with its beautiful high-modernist architecture.

Visitors can embark on a driving tour of the expansive grounds and check out the Honor Court and Falcon Stadium. During football season, we highly recommend attending a game: cadets do push-ups for every point scored. Tickets can also be reserved for the graduation ceremony in May, famous for its spectacular airborne spectacles.

Celebrate the spirit of the Wild West at Territory Days

The popular three-day Territory Days street festival is held every Memorial Day weekend in historic Old Colorado City, and celebrates the spirit of the Old West. Admission is free to the festival, which has evolved from its humble beginnings four decades ago as a small neighborhood craft fair into a vibrant event with over 180 food and craft booths and a children’s play area.

Visitors will delight in educational displays, patriot tributes and live music on four stages, as well as performances by Native American dancers, Wild West gunfight re-enactments and incredible blacksmith demonstrations.

Zoom indoors at Overdrive Raceway

Kids and big kids alike will have a ball at Overdrive Raceway, the first two-story indoor racetrack in the US. Its zippy electric go-karts make circuits of the downstairs “arrive and drive” track, with a more intensive “speed” track catering to experienced drivers. The track also has go-karts with hand controls for the mobility impaired. An onsite sports bar offers a selection of Colorado craft beer and whiskey and a food menu, helping visitors unwind after the thrill of racing.

Score some finds at the Colorado Springs Flea Market

The Colorado Springs Flea Market is a good place for a family outing, particularly for those who enjoy the thrill of bargaining. It runs every weekend year-round on a 30-acre site, hosting up to 500 vendors hawking almost anything you can think of, as well as a variety of food trucks. The market has been running for over 30 years and is completely accessible. It also features an inflatable slide, Ferris wheel and canoe rides for families and children, and live music and entertainment to add to the vibrant atmosphere.

Enjoy the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s superb collection

This expansive museum and 400-seat theater at Colorado College originally opened in 1936, and has a strong focus on Native American, Latin American and Spanish Colonial art. Great rotating exhibits draw on the 20,000 pieces in its permanent collection.

The most famous work here is Richard Diebenkorn’s stunning abstract painting Urbana No 4. Keep an eye out as well for the collection’s Mexican clay figures, woodcut prints from social-justice artist Leopoldo Mendez and Native American basketry and quilts, as well as abstract works by local artists such as Vance Kirkland and Floyd Tunson.

The exterior of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum in the shadow of the setting sun, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
The new United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum celebrates Team USA – and will inspire the athletes of tomorrow © EQRoy / Shutterstock

Get inspired at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum

The newly opened United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum brings to the forefront stories and experiences to inspire the next generation of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and fans. Here, Team USA athletes are at the center of the action, andtThe 12 galleries in the 60,000 sq ft building follow a narrative arc taking you through the teams’ journeys using technology that prioritizes accessibility and inclusivity. You can customize your sport preferences and accessibility needs for a tour that is uniquely your own, then chill out afterward at the Flame Café.

Take your pick of wonderful parks

Colorado Springs has a wide variety of parks, including Austin Bluffs Open Space, a beautiful reserve strewn with distinctive rock formations dating back to the Eocene period. Walking and hiking trails crisscross the park and the adjacent Pulpit Rock Park, which features a 4.4-mile loop trail is suitable for adults and kids of good general fitness. 

Families will enjoy the wide green lawns and ball fields of Memorial Park, the city’s biggest. Then there’s Acacia Park, home to the much-loved Uncle Wilbur’s Fountain. It has over 200 water jets, 52 of which are part of a play area for kids over which a lifeguard keeps watch.

This article was first published May 2021 and updated June 2022

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