Denver and mountain towns like Aspen and Vail might be the most well known places in Colorado, but Colorado Springs shouldn’t be overlooked. As the second most populous area of the state, Colorado Springs offers the conveniences of an urban area, but within minutes, you can be surrounded by nature. Outdoor activities abound, as well as many cultural and art offerings. I first visited Colorado Springs as a child and recently returned some thirty years later. Returning was like opening a photo book of memories. There are countless reasons to visit Colorado Springs, but here are five of my favorites.

 

 

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods_Leah Walker

The Garden of the Gods is open all year long – image by Leah Walker

In 2014, Garden of the Gods was named the #1 park in the United States and the #2 park in the world. That’s lofty praise for this 1,367-acre National Natural Landmark. At over 300 million years old, this geological treasure is made up of sandstone formations. Evidence shows that prehistoric people were there as far back as 1330 BC. The park got its name in 1859 when two explorers deemed it a perfect place for a beer garden. Because of its beauty, one exclaimed, “Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” Free for visitors, an entire day can be spent on the hiking and biking trails. Be sure to stop by the new Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center for maps and additional information about the park.

 

Broadmoor Seven Falls

Broadmoor Seven Falls - click for more information -image by Kevin Syms

Broadmoor Seven Falls  -image by Kevin Syms

Flooding two years ago destroyed Seven Falls, but The Broadmoor purchased it and put $12 million into the restoration. It reopened in August 2015. This series of waterfalls is located in box canyon and has offers some magnificent views. Fun for the entire family, there’s panning for gold, hiking and walking trails, as well as the Restaurant 1858, which offers local dishes, spirits and beer in a beautiful and historic setting. For the more daring, try the new Broadmoor Soaring Adventure, which includes a series of rope bridges, rappelling and zip lines.

 

Pikes Peak Cog Train

Cog Train_Leah Walker

Pikes Peak Cog Railway image by Leah Walker

As the most famous mountain in the Colorado Springs area, Pikes Peak was named after American explorer, Zebulon Pike. There are plenty of options to get to top of the 14,115-foot mountain: hike, bike, drive or take the cog train. As the highest cog train in the world, the Pikes Peak Cog brought its first passengers to the summit in 1891. Now, the trip takes an hour and a half and snakes through some of the prettiest landscapes, featuring 360-degree views. The views from the top are extraordinary, and on a good day, you can see all the way to Kansas. Altitude can cause havoc, but that’s nothing that one of the famous high-altitude cake doughnuts won’t cure. Make sure to try one from the gift shop. The secret recipe only works above 14,000 feet and has been made for over 100 years. Instead of taking the train back to town, ride a bike down with Pikes Peak Mountain Bike Tours. It’s a thrilling experience.

 

United States Air Force Academy

USAF_Leah Walker

The United States Air Force Academy, one of the four elite Military Academies in the United States. image by Leah Walker

Located north of Colorado Springs is the sprawling campus of the United States Air Force Academy. Its picturesque setting is reason enough to visit, but it’s the 150-foot high Cadet Chapel that draws most people. Representative of aviation, the Cadet Chapel has become the symbol of the institution. Made of glass, steel and aluminum, the chapel took five years of design and four years of construction before it was dedicated in 1963. The building is unique in that there is a Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist chapel all under one roof. Muslim and earth-centered spirituality cadets have services in one of the four multi-faith rooms. Make sure to stop by the Visitor’s Center for a look inside a cadet’s life at the academy and to pick up information about the campus.

Manitou Springs

Historic Manitou Springs has something for everyone

Historic Manitou Springs has something for everyone

Six miles west of Colorado Springs is the small town of Manitou Springs. Once home to Mountain Utes and other tribes of the plains seeking the healing powers of mineral springs, this quirky town is now home to artists, galleries, street musicians, shopping and dining options. Manitou Springs has eight cold springs, each with distinct flavors, which are open and free to the public. Make sure to sample all of them.

Keeping in the history and culture of the area, is the recently opened SunWater Spa. Upon seeing Indians bathing in the Ganges River, the owner, Kat, created this unique spa in the shadow of Pikes Peak. Using water from the nearby 7 Minute Spring, SunWater has numerous soaking tubs and uses mineral water in its treatments. It’s another way to experience the waters that made this little town famous.