The Gods Got it Right!
Garden of the Gods is a magical place that is free to the public and open year round. It sits on the west side of Colorado Springs, Colorado in the shadow of the mighty 14,115 feet Pikes Peak. Encompassing four hundred and eighty acres of rock formations, hiking trails and stunning beauty, this National Natural Landmark is one of the most popular destinations in the Pikes Peak region.
I have been visiting Garden of the Gods most of my life. Having lived in Colorado Springs for a few years as a child, to living here again as a young parent, and now visiting my youngest son who lives in the city, I go to Garden of the Gods every time I am in town. It never gets old! The sheer beauty of the looming red rock formations and the meandering hiking trails throughout the park always calls me back.
What to Do at Garden of the Gods
The great thing about Garden of the Gods is that you can choose to spend a few minutes just driving through the park, or spend the whole day exploring, taking in the visitor’s center and trading post, grabbing a bite to eat, or indulging in a plethora of other activities offered within the park.
Visitor and Nature Center
This is where I recommend everyone that is new to the park start their visit. Everything you need to know, and didn’t know you needed to know, can be found within its walls. You can get park maps, watch videos, check out the exhibits, pick up the trolley and sign up for activities here. There is even a small cafe if you want to grab a coffee or treat. Before you leave, step out onto the front patio for an epic selfie with Pikes Peak as your backdrop.
On a recent visit to Garden of the Gods, I took the 1909 Trolley Tour offered through Adventures OutWest for the first time. It was fun and informative and circled the park stopping at multiple places for photo opportunities.
Our guide, Sidewinder, was engaging and I was able to see the park through his eyes. The trolley is $17/person, runs every hour and lasts about 45 minutes. It is an open trolley so dress accordingly.
There are tons of other activities available for all ages. Some of these tours are run through Garden of the Gods while others are run from an outside company. Jeep and Segway Tours; nature walks; adventure programs; and junior ranger programs are a sampling of what visitors can sign up for. There are also several other activities, like horseback riding, that are available outside of the park. While the park is free, there are costs for activities.
After taking in the Visitor Center, you are going to want to head straight for the red rock formations. The rocks are what gives the park its name and what most visitors come to see. There are about 17 formations to see, including a white formation called ironically “white rock”. Some formations can only be seen from the road while others offer hiking trails to their base. Hopefully you picked up a map at the Visitor Center before entering the park and you have all the information you need.
Kissing Camels formation and Balanced Rock are two of the most popular formations. I used to walk my two small sons past Kissing Camels most Sundays when I lived in the area over 20 years ago. Just look up in the center of the park and you can’t miss them!
Balanced Rock can be found in the southwest part of the park and is always busy with people and cars, so slow down and be careful. Seems like everyone wants to get a picture here. It’s fun to have a picture like you are holding up the rock…
Be courteous though. If there is a large amount of people, there is generally a line to take turns getting the perfect picture. If you’re not in a line, make sure that there isn’t one before going in for the shot.
There are numerous hiking trails in the park. Some are as short as a half mile and others meander throughout the park. Many trails, like the main ones in the center of the park, are paved, while others are dirt trails that go up and over terrain. Whatever skill level you are, you can find a trail right for you.
A lot of the trails intersect so you can hike for as long as your legs will carry you. Don’t forget your water! It is always a good idea to stay hydrated in the foothills of the Colorado mountains.
As you make your way through the park either on foot, horseback, trolley or car, make sure to always keep your eyes on the lookout for deer or coyotes. I almost always see deer wandering through the trees or in the meadows and occasionally spot an elusive coyote hightailing it across an open field. You will most likely see chipmunks, squirrels and birds on your visit.
No trip to Garden of the Gods is complete without a stop at the Trading Post! You can find almost any gift or souvenir, including Native American items, while you sample a piece of fudge or grab a bite to eat at the restaurant. The restaurant offers a bigger selection than the one at the Visitor Center and you can eat inside or outside on the patio. There is also a local ice cream shop and coffee bar inside.
Why the Park is Free
Many visitors to this magnificent park wonder why there is no admission fee. In 1909, the children of Charles Elliott Perkins gifted the land to the City of Colorado Springs with the stipulation that the park remain free to the public. Their father, who was then head of the Burlington Railroad, had purchased the land years before. Unfortunately Perkins died in 1907 before he could make his beloved land a public park. His children took care of his wishes and the park was established posthumously.
Extraordinary & Dog-Friendly
As I’ve mentioned, Garden of the Gods is an extraordinary place that I look forward to visiting every time I am in Colorado Springs. This leashed dog-friendly park is worth a visit if you are in Colorado at any time. You can find more information about the park at gardenofgods.com.