Colorado Springs has drawn visitors since Colorado’s epic Gold Rush began in 1859, when the sentiment “Pikes Peak or Bust” quickly swept the nation. Regardless of the mines’ booms and busts, Americans’ passion for the region never truly died down; in fact, when English professor Kathleen Lee Bates visited the area in 1893, she was so moved by the views from Pikes Peak’s 14,117-foot summit, she penned “America the Beautiful” and forever immortalized Colorado’s purple mountain majesties.
Today, the city of Colorado Springs continues attract attention, earning the No. 1 spot on Outside magazine’s 2009 list of America’s Best Cities. And, thanks to its location just 68 miles south of downtown Denver, the city doesn’t just draw out-of-state tourists. Plenty of Coloradans who live in the Denver-Boulder metro area undertake the short road trip to enjoy their southern neighbor’s startling array of attractions. Here are just a few:
The Broadmoor. It may be the longest-running consecutive winner of the Forbes Travel Guide Five Star Awards, but you don’t need to be a guest to experience this stunning 1918 resort hotel, which has been called the “Grand Dame of the Rockies.” Your options include pampering at the day spa; a memorable meal in the Penrose Room, the only Five-Star, Five Diamond restaurant in Colorado; 54 holes of championship golf; a selection of world-class retail shops; and a classic English high tea from 3-4 p.m. each Saturday in the West Tower Lobby.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Located at 6,800 feet, this zoo has one of the largest giraffe herds in the world. The 146-acre zoo houses more than 800 animals representing more than 200 species. It also boasts the chairlift-style Mountaineer Sky Ride, the “My Big Backyard” petting zoo, an historic carousel that appeared at the 1932 World’s Fair, the Shongololo Choo Choo miniature train, pony rides, giraffe feeding and much more.
Cave of the Winds. Discovered in 1869, this cave near Manitou Springs has been open to tourists since 1881; that makes it one of Colorado’s first major tourist attractions. Electricity was added in 1907, but you still can appreciate millions of years of cave development on the available tours. There’s a family-friendly Discovery Tour and a Lantern Tour that goes deeper into the cave system, lit only by hand-held lanterns.
Cripple Creek. Just 44 miles southwest of Colorado Springs lies the former gold mining camp of Cripple Creek. The Cripple Creek Historic District was home to the last Colorado Gold Rush, which kicked off in 1890, and then in 1961, it earned National Historic Landmark status. In addition to an array of museums, heritage centers and historic buildings, visitors also may take a ride on the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, tour the celebrated Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine, see a performance at the Butte Opera House or the Gold Bar Room Theater, and view the famous donkey herd. Several of the donkeys are believed to be direct descendants of the prized animals that worked in the mines.
Garden of the Gods. This National Natural Landmark and public park, with its unique red rock formations, has become synonymous with Colorado Springs. It attracts more than 2 million visitors each year, and its most popular activities include hiking, technical rock climbing, road and mountain biking, and horseback riding. It features more than 15 miles of trails, including a 1.5-mile trail that’s paved and wheelchair accessible. Make sure to stop at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center to view the various exhibits and the short film that explains the park’s rock formations.
Manitou Springs. Situated in a box canyon between Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak, the town of Manitou Springs was incorporated in 1876, and its name was inspired by Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha.” It remains a beloved favorite of Coloradans due to its charming historic district and its collection of effervescent natural springs. Take a walking tour of nine mineral springs sites, browse the art galleries and shops, and climb the famous Manitou Incline — if you dare. That’s 2,000 feet straight up.
Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Sure, you could drive to the top of Pikes Peak with your car, but why do that when you could take the train? Since 1891, the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway has carried tourists to the top of what might be Colorado’s most famous “fourteener” (a mountain that stands 14,000 feet or more above sea level). The last three miles are all above timberline, and you have roughly 30 to 40 minutes at the summit to savor the views and the Summit House’s famous doughnuts.
Santa’s Workshop / North Pole. If you have children with you, you’ll want to make sure to visit the North Pole. From May 17 through Christmas Eve this year, the Santa’s Workshop amusement park will once again open its doors to the public. Here, you’ll find more than 25 rides, magic shows, a 1919 Band Organ, a variety of gift shops, plenty of merry Christmas music and even an ice-covered North Pole. This full-day experience will be fun for all ages.
U.S. Olympic Complex. This facility is the flagship training center for the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Olympic Training Center programs, and it’s the national headquarters for USA Swimming and USA Shooting. The $8 million Olympic Visitor Center welcomes roughly 140,000 visitors per year; you’ll see the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame Rotunda, the U.S. Olympic Store (featuring gifts for the folks back home), rotating art exhibitions, interactive kiosks, the Carol Grotnes Belk Sculpture Garden, the Irwin Belk Olympic Path and a stunning rooftop terrace. Make sure to take a tour.
Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center. This educational facility provides appropriate care and habitat for wolves, coyotes and foxes (including Mexican grey wolves and swift foxes) that can no longer live in the wild. One of the few U.S. sanctuaries that has been certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the center provides one-hour standard tours and feeding tours for guests. It also offers wolf and fox photo sessions, special tours at the full moon, and a hands-on “Ultimate Alpha Experience,” all of which are limited to guests of certain ages.
Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. Located in nearby Woodland Park, this privately owned museum features displays of dinosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles, pterosaurs and fish species from North America’s late Cretaceous period. You’ll view more than 30 fossil skeletons and life-size sculptures, supplemented with graphics displays. Especially cool: You’ll also see a working lab, where scientists are working on fossil preparation, restoration, molding, casting and mounting. Be prepared if you’ve brought the kids: The Dinosaur Resource Center also boasts the area’s largest dinosaur gift shop.
We couldn’t possibly put together a comprehensive list of all of Colorado Springs’ attractions here, because there is quite simply so much to see and do in the area. So we’ve highlighted a few of our favorites; to learn more about Colorado Springs and its nearby attractions, visit the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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