Located 70 miles south of Denver, Pikes Peak is one of the most iconic mountains in America. // Photo: Don Fink/Shutterstock

Pikes Peak or Bust: 3 Ways to Reach the Top

The 14,115-foot Pikes Peak rises loftily above the town of Colorado Springs, about 70 miles south of Denver. Although the mountain is not Colorado’s tallest “14er” — what locals call 14,000-foot-plus mountains — it is the state’s most famous, according to the City of Colorado Springs.

Poet Katherine Lee Bates penned the first draft of “America the Beautiful” after reaching the mountain’s summit in 1893, according to PikesPeak.us.com, a comprehensive site about the mountain.

Today, more than half a million people summit the mountain each year via three different routes: Some hike the Barr Trail, others take the cog railway and still others drive, according to the site.

Hike the Barr Trail

Beginning in Manitou Springs, 6 miles west of Colorado Springs off Highway 24, the Barr Trail lets you hike to the summit and climbs 7,510 feet in 12.6 miles, according to PikesPeak.us.com. The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) ranks the hike as “advanced,” so if you’re looking for an easy day hike, this probably isn’t it.

Ride the Cog Railway

If you’re not up for a hike, you can also reach the summit via the historic Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has been operating since 1891 and is the highest cog railway in the word, according to CogRailway.com. The round-trip ride takes 3 hours and 10 minutes and climbs 8.9 miles to the peak. Tickets cost $36 for adults and $19.50 for children, and reservations are required, according to the site. The first third of the trip is on a steep track that runs along the densely forested Ruxton Creek where some of the ponderosa pines are estimated to be 2,000 years old, according to the Colorado Springs CVB.

Drive Pikes Peak Highway

The Pikes Peak Highway, the only paved road to the top of a 14er, was built by Spencer Penrose in 1915, according to PikesPeak.us.com. The entrance is located 15 miles west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24 and the entrance fee is $12 per adult or $40 per carload (maximum five people), according to the City of Colorado Springs. You’ll begin at an elevation of 7,400 feet and over the next 19 miles ascend to the summit, according to Pikes-Peak.com. Along the way you’ll drive through a variety of “Life Zones,” or ecosystems, including foothills and Alpine forests, according to the site. At the top you’ll find a gift shop and restaurant as well as interpretive ranger-led education programs.

No matter how you reach the top of Pikes Peak, it’s well worth the journey.

Recommended by the Editors: