This gorgeous vein of red sandstone (about 290 million years old) appears elsewhere along Colorado's Front Range, but the exquisitely thin cathedral spires and mountain backdrop of the Garden of the Gods are particularly striking. Explore the network of paved and unpaved trails, enjoy a picnic and watch climbers test their nerve on the sometimes flaky rock.
The signature rock formations include Kissing Camels, Balanced Rock, Cathedral Spires and a few more that will leave you breathless. Scrambling up the rocks is prohibited. For climbing and bouldering, a permit is required.
For information on horseback rides and other activities in the park, stop off at the excellent visitor center on the way in. In summer, Rock Ledge Ranch, a living history museum near the park entrance, is worth a visit for those interested in the lives of Native Americans and 19th-century homesteaders in the region.
The park roads get crazy packed in the summer. A pilot shuttle program can take you from Rock Ledge Ranch to the park's visitor center and the central zone of the park. It's free, as is biking in the park.