Mountain life is not for me…or so I thought! If I could have it my way, I would live by or on the beach 365 days a year.
When I arrived at Denver airport after a 4 hour flight from New York City, I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of Colorado. The only other time I’ve ever visited was a weekend in Denver nearly 10 years prior for a friend’s 21st birthday, during the height of the Winter. I’m the furthest thing from a “snow” person and don’t care for skiing, so you can imagine why I was underwhelmed.
Despite that, we arrived around midnight and stayed in Denver overnight since it was so late. I would highly suggest doing the same thing if you’re too tired to drive! We rented a car from the Denver airport and drove directly to Colorado Springs the next morning, which is about an hour and 15 minutes from Denver without traffic.
The wedding we went to was on a Sunday night so we flew in late on a Thursday and did a lot of exploring within the 48 hours leading up to the wedding. Based on our time in the Springs, here is my compiled list of the must see and do activities you should most definitely add to your list if you’re limited to 48 hours. Note that these are Summer recommendations ONLY as my time here was in late August. The weather is very pleasant during this time of year and was a perfect 75-80 degrees every day.
Visit Garden of the Gods Park
Garden of the Gods Park should be your first stop in Colorado Springs. The park is located at the bottom of Pike’s Peak mountain and does not require any hiking to see the beautiful natural rock formations. There are multiple parking lots in various areas of the park, but I would suggest parking in the main lot. It’s free parking, free entry and there are public bathrooms that are pretty clean if you have to go!
You can walk through the park at your leisure and take as many photos as you’d like. There are a couple of areas where you can climb up on the rocks and others where you cannot as noted by many signs. You can hike, horseback ride and rock climb in the park and you might even get lucky enough to see some wild deer like we did!
Take a photo with Balanced Rock
When you go to exit Garden of the Gods Park, follow the signs to Balanced Rock. You will definitely know when you see it!
This stunning natural beauty is 290 million years old and weights 1.4 million pounds. There is parking right in front where you can get out and climb up the rock. Be sure to take photo with it to send to your friends! This rock is giant and a photo with it will showcase the rock’s massive scale.
Spent time at the Air Force Academy
Open to the public and completely free, all you need to enter the park is a valid ID before driving through the security entrance. Unfortunately we were pressed for time so we only have a quick 15 minutes to drive up to Cadet Chapel and explore the inside. The campus is absolutely beautiful, even if you decide to just drive around it for a bit.
Drive up to the summit of Pike’s Peak
Start your day with a drive up of Pike’s Peak, the highest peak within the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Pike’s Peak is 14,000 feet above sea level and is 1 of 54 massive mountains in the state of Colorado. Make sure to have a FULL tank of gas before you go up the mountain and note that it costs $15 per person to drive up.
In all honestly, I’m a little afraid of heights so be prepared that it could be a little scary. There are not guardrails all the way around up so be sure you pay attention to the roads and signs.
Fun fact: When you get to the part of the mountain where the treelike ends (the timber line) you are 2/3rds of the way up the mountain. The trees immediately stop due to the lack of oxygen at the top of the mountain due to the elevation height!
When we visited, there was quite bit of construction at the top of the mountain because they are building a new visitor center. In addition, the cog railway no longer runs to the top of the mountain but was pretty cool to take photos with.
A little advice and a couple of important tips:
1. Make sure you purchase donuts in the gift shop! These special donuts are only made at the top of Pike’s Peak because the dough can only rise around 14,000 feet elevation at the top of the mountain.
2. Make sure you bring a jacket as it can be pretty chilly at the top, even during the Summer. Luckily it was a perfect 70 degrees at the top of the mountain when we visited but can drop into 30s and 40s depending on what time of day you visit, especially in the morning.
3. Wear sneakers. I made the mistake of wearing sandals and had a hard time taking photos close to the edge of the mountain in fear of falling. My sandal had no grip so I slid a couple of times and decided it was best to just take photos further away. (probably a smart choice anyways!)
Hike up the Manitou Spring InclineThis hike is not for the faint of heart. Make sure you are in excellent health before committing to going all the way up. I had been a part of an intense work out class before doing this hike and it was still extremely hard. If you have knee, back or health problems in general, I would strongly advise you not do this hike!
The incline is 2,744 steps and you gain 2,000 feet of elevation within a mile which makes it that much more difficult to breathe. It takes the average person 2 hours just to go up which means it also takes 2 hours to get down, should you choose to go down the way you came up. The other option of going down is a 4 mile hike down Barr Trail which I would highly suggest doing because it’s absolutely beautiful and the views are stunning. It’s also a lot easier than going down the 2,744 stairs you just climbed!Make sure you well hydrated before you leave the parking lot and bring plenty of water with you to drink while you climb. In all reality, this hike is equivalent to being on a stair master for however long it takes you to complete it! FEEL THE BURN!!
Also note that parking is $10 per vehicle and that it’s only good for 4 hours. There is a gift and coffee shop by the parking lot with restrooms which I would suggest using before you start your hike.
Hike Barr Trail
If hiking up 2,744 stairs is too intimidating or challenging for you, but you still want a great hike with stunning mountain views, Barr Trail is for you. There is a separate parking lot just passed the incline lot where you can begin your hike. Go as far up as you’d like (or can) but just know the trail ends after 13 miles at the summit of Pike’s Peak!
Explore Downtown Manitou Springs
Manitou Springs is the cutest little town! There are a ton of restaurants, coffee shops, gift boutiques and ice cream shops. Parking is pretty cheap and it’s best to park and walk around. I would highly suggest dropping by Good Karma for a coffee (their nutty Carmel latte is incredible!) and/or dropping by Border Burger’s for a tasty hamburger.