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Become The Ultimate Tourist Family In Colorado Springs

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

To me, the phrase "ultimate tourist" describes a person who has done the most popular activities, also known as tourist traps, specific to a certain place. Although some might get a bad taste in their mouths from this title, I don't think it's negative. Sure, there are many tourist traps that are most definitely traps. But then there are others, and I would say they're the majority, that became tourist destinations for a reason. And these places and activities are great things to put on your bucket list, especially if you're traveling as a family.

So by writing this post about becoming "the ultimate tourist in Colorado Springs," I'm really just trying to make sure you reach all of the popular destinations in this area. Not only are there some famous travel spots near Colorado Springs, but they're also fun for older kids and teenagers. And if you combine them into one trip, it makes for a great vacation.

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3 Must-Visit Tourist Attractions

You've heard of these attractions, so now it's time to actually visit them! Each one has something unique to offer tourists and will take up a big portion of your vacation time.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is probably the most well-known attraction in Colorado Springs for several reasons: first, because it's actually in Colorado Springs; second, because it's free; and third, because it has red rocks and is a beautiful area. (I've been here three times!)

You'll want to start your adventure at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center where you'll find a small museum and film about the "garden" in addition to bathrooms, water and a gift shop. Be sure to pick up a map, too. It includes park rules, hiking trails and the names and locations of all of the rock formations, which are the stars of the show.

From there, I suggest you park at the Main Parking Lot (it will be labeled on the map) and walk the main trails as you explore the mostly red rocks. Once you're finished with the main area, continue driving around the park and stop as you go in order to see the other rock formations that are further out.

Hours: The park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.; the visitor's center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: It's free! (The original owner's hope for the park's future was that it would be free to the public and kept in its natural state as much as possible.)

Amount of Time: Half a day

The Best Photo Locations: If you want a family photo, take one on the platform at the main parking lot. Or to capture some fun moments, go to the Balanced Rock and pretend like you're pushing it over. It really makes for a cool picture!

How To Make The Most Of This Stop: Don't just drive through the Garden of the Gods. Instead, walk the trails to get a glimpse of the rock formations up close and some fresh air and exercise. AND USE YOUR MAP! It's the best tool for making sure you see every named rock.

Pikes Peak

The view from the top of Pikes Peak is one to remember. On a clear day, you can see five states: Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Kansas. Additionally, after you reach the top, you get to say that you've been on the summit of a 14er — that's pretty cool!

There's also a new visitor's center, which was being built during my second visit to Pikes Peak in 2020. Now, you can not only eat a donut at 14,115 feet, but you can also enjoy other treats, walk through some exhibits, look for souvenirs at the gift shop and take in the view from a walkway.

There are three ways to get to the top of Pikes Peak:

1. Hike it: While I doubt you'll want hike a 14er on this vacation, especially if you have kiddos with you, this is an option. (But it's also a time-consuming and energy-depleting one.)

2. Drive it: In my opinion, this is a cheaper and great choice if you're a good driver and don't mind taking your vehicle up that high. I drove up the mountain on my second Pikes Peak adventure. It takes about 2-3 hours roundtrip, and you can stop at some of the pull-offs and take photos. However, you will have to park before the summit and take a bus to the very top, as there's not enough space for people to park there. Also, keep in mind that they put safety first by doing a brake check on your way down the mountain.

* The price depends on how many are in your car and how old they are as well as the season. On average, though, it's only $5-15 per person. Check the website for more details.

3. Take The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway: My family and I went this route the first time I visited Pikes Peak. It's definitely less of a hassle and great if you have small children because there's plenty to distract them through the train's windows, but it does cost a pretty penny to ride it now ($50-$70 per person). Learn more here.

Hours: Check the website for Pikes Peak hours.

Amount of Time: Half a day

Know Before You Go: You'll be at an elevation of over 14,000 feet on Pikes Peak, which is not normal for the human body! So don't be alarmed if you find the air to be thinner, and definitely be aware of how you feel. If someone in your party continues to feel unwell after some time, it might be a good idea to make your way down the mountain sooner than you planned.

The Best Photo Locations: Anywhere at the top of the mountain is beautiful! But you could also get a picture with the Pikes Peak sign.

How to make the most of this stop: Take your time at the top! Soak in the view from every angle. Or, for example, if you want that specific family photo but there are a lot of people around, go ahead and wait for them to clear out. It'll be worth it!

Royal Gorge

Royal Gorge is a canyon on the Arkansas river that is 1,200 feet and 10 miles long, and the Royal Gorge Bridge is America's highest suspension bridge. Millions of visitors flock to the park see both of these things. They're definitely worth visiting at least once in your life!

After you park, you'll run into the visitor's center. From there, you can walk across the bridge and even ride a gondola across. On the other side, you can learn about the gorge and how the bridge was built from a few small exhibits and a film. There's also a play area for kids, the Water Clock and dining areas.

Lastly, if you'd like to go on a more intense adventure, there are other adrenaline junkie experiences at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park: Via Ferrata course, Cloudscraper Zip Line and The Royal Rush Skycoaster. Just keep in mind that these cost extra.

Hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Cost: $30 for adults, $20 for children, free for children 2 years old and younger

Amount of Time: Half a day

Know Before You Go: If you're traveling with someone who is afraid of heights, this activity will likely be too scary for them. Even though it's a solid, big bridge, you'll still feel it shifting a bit as you walk over it. And, of course, there's a gorge below, which doesn't help with the heights issue.

The Best Photo Locations: You have to at least take a photo by the flag of the state where you're from if you live in the USA! You can also get a family photo on one side of the bridge, similar to the photo above.

How To Make The Most Of This Stop: In addition to walking the bridge, take the gondola! It's another fun way to see the gorge.

Other Unique Tourist Activities

After you've planned your vacation around the top three attractions near Colorado Springs, you can then start adding some of the other touristic activities to your itinerary. Yup, there's more! In fact, I will add to the list below after I go to a few places in the city that I haven't had the chance to visit yet.

Manitou Springs

Just outside of Colorado Springs, the town of Manitou Springs sits at the base of Pikes Peak and offers a variety of activities, some of which are pretty unique.

Amount Of Time: One Day (if you do everything on this list)

The Best Photo Location: I have a feeling I'd choose the Incline for this, but since I haven't gotten to do it yet, I'll mention that the Cliff Dwellings would be a good place to get pictures of your kids being adventurous. For some funny videos, definitely have your phone ready when you taste the mineral springs.

How To Make The Most Of This Stop: All of these activities in Manitou Springs require that you walk (some more than others), so wear comfortable shoes.

Explore the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. These ancient pueblo ruins have been preserved at this spot since 1907. Visitors can walk and climb up inside them and even touch them. But before you walk through the cliff dwellings, head inside to learn about them and the facility in the Pueblo Museum and Cave Museum. Although the museums haven't been modernized, they still share some interesting information. You can also check out the items in the gift shop while you're there.

Hours: Check the website for this attraction's seasonal hours.

Cost: $12 for adults (ages 12 and over), $7.50 for children (ages 4-11), free for children 3 years old and younger; there's also a discount for groups of 10 or more

Find the 8 natural springs. My favorite thing to do in Manitou Springs is locate the eight fountains around the town that produce water from naturally carbonated mineral springs. You can go on a self-guided tour and taste all of them, though you'll likely find that they taste pretty odd. Just bring a water bottle and download the map online or stop at the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau for a cup, map and other details.

Here are the names of all eight springs and a fun fact about each:

1. 7 Minute Spring: The carbonation causes this spring to erupt exactly every 7 minutes.

2. Shoshone Spring: It has the highest levels of essential minerals that are filtered through solid rock.

3. Navajo Spring: This sweet water was used in beverages (cola drinks) made by the Manitou Mineral Water Company.

4. Cheyenne Spring: One of the oldest in the area, this natural soda water is sourced from limestone aquifers and is one of the highest in magnesium and potassium.

5. Wheeler Spring: The water is high in copper and was a popular spot for hotel guests at The Cliff House across the street.

6. Stratton Spring: When the spring was originally struck, the water flowed at more than 20 gallons per minute. Even now, the water comes out quickly in the fountain.

7. Twin Spring: This spring used to be two until its waters merged. It's apparently a local favorite.

8. Iron Spring: Thousands of health-seekers used to travel to drink this iron water, and it was prescribed by physicians for those with iron deficiencies.

Visit the Marimont Castle Museum. This is the only attraction in Manitou Springs that I would encourage you to skip. The outside looks pretty, but it's pricey for what you'll find inside. Most of the castle is not in its original form; in fact, there were construction workers tearing apart the ballroom when we were there and modern decorations were scattered all over from a previous tea party (there are tea packages if you're interested).

Additionally, other than the piece of paper that they give you with information about the castle, most of the exhibits inside are about local people and things, such as a local judge and the fire department, which don't always match the castle aesthetic you expect. That said if you decide you're interested in this museum, great! I would just suggest that you keep your expectations in check.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Cost: $14 for adults; $13 for seniors; $10 for children ages 4-12; free for children 3 years old and younger; free for active military with ID; free for fire fighters with ID

Shop downtown. Downtown Manitou Springs has a variety of shops selling jewelry, antiques, art, toys, Christmas items, tourist items and gifts. You can also consider eating at one of the restaurants here and/or grabbing some ice cream.

Climb the Incline. This hike includes a 2,000-ft climb in less than a mile. It is free, but the parking is not; you can learn more about the various parking and transportation options on the website. The Incline also requires a reservation. The last time I was in Colorado, I tried to hike the Manitou Incline, but there were no slots available when I went online to reserve them. So, with that said, MAKE A RESERVATION AS FAR IN ADVANCE AS YOU CAN.

The Broadmoor Seven Falls

Located near The Broadmoor, a popular Colorado Springs Resort, The Broadmoor Seven Falls is a park with the only waterfall in Colorado included on National Geographic's list of International Waterfalls. Apparently known as "The Grandest Mile of Scenery in Colorado," Seven Falls sits between a box canyon and is a 181-foot drop.

When you arrive at the park, you'll be handed a map that points out the names of the various rock formations in the area. This is a fun activity as you walk to the waterfall because it's not really a short trek from the entrance. After arriving at the base of the waterfall, visitors can climb the steep 224 steps alongside the waterfall. There is a place to rest halfway up.

At the top, you can then hike two trails. The first is called Inspiration Point and is definitely the hike you should choose if you can only pick one, though it is the longer of the two. (The average time is 1 hour roundtrip.) It's uphill and will take you to the top of a cliff where you can snap some beautiful photos. The second trail is called Midnight Falls. This is more of a level path that leads you to a small waterfall. (It's estimated to be a 20-minute walk.)

To me, Seven Falls is a bit of a negative tourist trap due to visitors not getting much bang for their buck. Really the only activities included in the entrance fee is walking up the stairs and doing the two hikes beyond it. Other than that, you can also pay to eat, shop, feed the trout or zipline. However, if you're really interested in checking this waterfall off your list of natural wonders or the price doesn't bug you, then be my guest!

Hours: Typically only open Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but check the website, as the hours can change from season to season.

Cost: $17 for adults, $14.25 for seniors, $11 for children, free for children 2 years old and younger

Amount of Time: Half a day

Know Before You Go: DO NOT drive to The Broadmoor Seven Falls. If you do, you'll find someone at the entrance handing out small pieces of paper with directions for how to get to the Norris Penrose Event Center, which is where all visitors have to park. From there, you'll get on a bus that will take you to Seven Falls. So, do yourself a favor and save some time and gas by going to the event center from the beginning.

The Best Photo Locations: As mentioned, Inspiration Point has a great view, which is perfect for photos. And if you're wanting one with the waterfall, I suggest taking it at the bottom of the stairs so that you can actually see the water streaming down behind you.

How To Make The Most Of This Stop: Don't just walk up the stairs to see the waterfalls and leave. Be sure to also go beyond that and hike the other trails to enjoy every view. You've paid to get in, so do as many of the "free" activities as possible.

Hiking Trails

In my opinion, hiking is a must every time you go to Colorado. However, since you'll be getting a walk in with Garden of the Gods already and might be climbing the Incline, hiking is just an extra activity for when you visit.

Consider going on one of the popular hikes in the area. These include Red Rocks Canyon Open Space, Seven Bridges, Palmer Trail, Centennial Trail, etc. Just be sure to do some research and find the trail that is best for you and your travel companions.

White Water Rafting

If you're feeling adventurous, take your crew white water rafting! These trips down the river are tons of fun and very safe, considering you have a guide, wear life jackets and helmets and can choose a lower class for a more scenic float. Or, you can go all in and choose a little bit of a higher class to brave some rapids.

Colorado Springs Itineraries

Take It Slow:

This itinerary spreads everything out so that you're only doing one activity per day. If you have children or a lot of people on your trip, this especially might be all you can handle. But it could also be a great itinerary for travelers in general who don't want to push themselves too hard during their Colorado Springs vacation.

Day 1: Garden of the Gods

Day 2: Pikes Peak

Day 3: Royal Gorge

Day 4: Pick an Attraction: hiking, white water rafting, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, etc.

Day 5: Manitou Springs

Go For Action-Packed:

This itinerary is for the go-getters or travelers who don't have nearly a week to spend in Colorado Springs.

Day 1: Pikes Peak in the morning and Garden of the Gods in the afternoon/evening

Day 2: Royal Gorge in the morning and The Broadmoor Seven Falls in the afternoon/evening or a different hike

Day 3: Manitou Springs all day


1 Comment

Jul 07, 2023

I went to Garden of the Gods with my family and had my carpet cleaners clean while I was gone, when I got back my carpets were already dry and there were no stains left. It was so awesome to be able to get out of the house, visit our area, be in nature, and come home to a clean house! Highly recommend.

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