Known as America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak offers hiking, rafting, fly fishing and more
The Royal Rush Skycoaster involves swinging over a 1,200 foot gorge with a river raging below — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
The Pikes Peak Region lies where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. At its heart is Pikes Peak, one of Colorado’s 58 formidable “fourteeners,” or mountains over 14,000 feet high. Known as “America’s Mountain,” Pikes Peak towers above the town of Colorado Springs. Its views are so sweeping and grand that the mountain inspired the words to “America the Beautiful,” an ardent love poem to the nation.
Poetry aside, Pikes Peak is a paradise for mountain bikers, hikers, wildlife viewers, casual visitors and train buffs.
Here are 5 ways to experience the best of the Pikes Peak Region, where stunning Colorado landscapes, superb outfitters and stellar accommodations make for a most memorable outdoor adventure.
Are we there yet? How long is the car ride up Pikes Peak?
Pikes Peak Highway is 19 miles of alarmingly steep grades and switchbacks. — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Summiting Pikes Peak can be done in multiple ways. You can hike, mountain bike, take the cog railway or ride in a four-wheel-drive vehicle — or a combination of these. It’s possible to drive your car to the summit, but make no mistake: Tackling the mountain involves over 19 miles of seriously steep grades and 150-plus hairpin turns. It’s still a great road trip, and you’ll quickly learn there’s a good reason that the rangers check all descending cars for overheated brakes.
If you choose to have someone else do the driving, the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway offers picturesque views and plenty of wildlife spotting. You might see elk, deer, yellow-bellied marmots and the occasional bighorn sheep along the way. To take the train up and bike back, book with Broadmoor Outfitters as they’ll have bikes waiting for you at the summit. There are also tours that allow you to ascend the mountain in an open Jeep and go back down by bike.
Hike Barr Trail on Pikes Peak
A must-do experience on Pikes Peak: Get a photo on the summit — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
For avid, experienced hikers, Barr Trail is a solid option. With an elevation gain of more than 7,000 feet over 13 miles, it demands good health as well as lots of water. In addition to altitude, there can be a 40-degree temperature difference between bottom and top, with summit snow possible even in summer.
Rewards at the top include spectacular views, engaging visitor-center exhibits, food and restroom facilities. There’s also a fun photo opportunity beside the summit marker to prove you made it!
Practice your climbing skills at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park
Harness up for Via Ferrata at Royal Gorge Bridge & Park — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Fifty-eight miles southwest of Colorado Springs, Royal Gorge is home to adventures galore, both manmade and wrought by nature. Royal Gorge Bridge and Park sits at the top of the gorge in Cañon City, while the Arkansas River roars 1,200 feet below, beckoning rafters and kayakers to take it on.
The gorge is for outdoor adventurers of all ages. For parents with young children, gliding across Royal Gorge via gondola may be exciting enough, while those with older kids might go for the Via Ferrata, a melding of hiking and climbing.
Climbers are safely harnessed in, but scrambling around vertical cliffs isn’t for the faint of heart. Nor is Royal Rush Skycoaster, which flings daredevils in a momentary free fall over the edge of the gorge into nothingness at 50 mph.
Go rafting on the Arkansas River
Rafting through Royal Gorge offers gentle scenic stretches or raging rapids — Photo courtesy of Echo Canyon River Expeditions
Down the road, Echo Canyon River Expeditions runs trips for visitors of all levels who wish to enjoy some time on the river. Tours are available for families, thrill-seekers and those who merely want to cruise over a few fun rapids, chilling as the scenic landscape rolls by.
Before you book a rafting trip, be sure to check on the best times of the year for your level of experience.
Visit Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience and May Natural History Museum
No fear of heights? Climb up the ropes course at Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience (but look out for T-Rex) — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience is a cool learning and action adventure excursion rolled into one. Wander around the museum then head out to the ropes course, a fun climbing activity that’s guarded by a menacing animatronic T-Rex. Additionally, a well-maintained outdoor trail offers more exciting dino interaction.
Just south of Colorado Springs, there’s a unique camping destination that happens to be adjacent to a museum — May Natural History Museum. It will engage the youngest adventurers, as it’s considered a world-class “bug museum” and has thrilled entomologist wannabes for decades. The impressive insect collection here is mostly gorgeous butterflies and iridescent beetles, but there are singularly creepy displays, too.
Nearby, there’s comfortable yet rustic lodging in the museum’s campground. It’s a casual, family-friendly place to stay and well located for exploring the area.
Go fly fishing on Tarryall River in Lost Creek Wilderness
Fly Fishing guide at Broadmoor Fly Fishing Camp — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Who doesn’t want adventure with amenities? That’s what you get at The Broadmoor Fly Fishing Camp, one of the upscale resort’s rustic retreats.
Just over an hour from town, the camp borders 120,000 acres of Lost Creek Wilderness along the Tarryall River. Wild brown, brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout test anglers’ skills, and expert guides give willing students a sporting chance. (My personal guide recommendation is Chris Ramos.)
After a day of fishing, you’ll return to accommodations and meals that easily meet the Broadmoor’s impeccable standards. Rustic doesn’t have to mean lacking anything.
Test out a camping deck at Kinship Landing
Broadmoor Fly Fishing Camp sits in the middle of the Colorado wilderness by a trout-filled river — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
For a hotel that understands adventurers — and can accommodate the ton of gear you have with you — book Kinship Landing in Colorado Springs. It has the vibe of a European mountain lodge, with gear lockers and a casual communal café.
Need to test your new camping gear before heading to the backcountry? Or do you wish to give inexperienced travel companions a taste of the outdoors before going “all in”? This hotel offers a great solution. It has a unique outside “guest room” within the hotel (also called the camping deck), which is booked like any other room, but it’s ready for a tent set-up and camp chairs. Fortunately, unlike the wilderness, it comes with the comforts of home, including a modern bathroom and a shower.