Whether you’re looking for a day trip from Denver or one of Colorado’s best family destinations, head south to Colorado Springs.
Even Coloradans may be surprised to learn about all the adventures this city has to offer. It’s known for its Olympic training center and military base, but Colorado Springs can also be super playful. Where else can you feed a giraffe at the country’s only mountain zoo? climb through mysterious ancient caves underground, and jump out of a canyon on a zip line?
Colorado Springs has more than 55 attractions, and we’re not talking about little pit stops. This city is home to one of Colorado’s most amazing natural features, the Garden of the Gods, ancient cliff dwellings, and the state’s first indoor water park complex.
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Although it is impossible to limit, here are 10 things you cannot miss in Colorado Springs.
- Stay where you play
Colorado Springs is home to the state’s first indoor water park complex, the Great Wolf Lodge. Since its opening in 2017, it has already become a huge draw for locals looking for a stay, as well as a huge draw for families landing in Denver.
The highlight here is a large, kid-friendly indoor water park with tons of slides, a wave pool, water games, and more. When your fingers are wrinkled from excess water, you can challenge yourself on a ropes course and mini-golf or relax at storytime and crafts.
While you’re here, the best place to eat is in Barnwood. (There are several dining options at the resort to make things easier.) Barnwood is so much more than hot dogs and French fries. The goal here is healthy, sharable meals that are still kid-friendly but also exciting for adults, like street tacos, grilled Colorado trout, and baked goat cheese dip.
- Treat your self
After a night at the busy Great Wolf Lodge, you’ll be ready for some luxury and peace. The Cheyenne Mountain Resort has that covered.
Get a spacious room with a balcony with direct views of the mountains (including the mysterious Norad) and the private golf course. Cheyenne Mountain Resort is spread over 217 sprawling acres in the heart of the city. It even has its own private lake with a swimming beach. Also on site: the top-notch Colorado Country Club, which beats any gym in any other hotel we’ve stayed at in Colorado.
An absolute must-see at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort is enjoying Champagne Brunch on Sunday at the Mountain View Restaurant, named for its entire wall of windows that overlook the mountains. This award-winning brunch has everything from meat carving to ribs to macaroni. The selection is extensive. Wash it with a mimosa.
- Cover yourself in coffee
Take a coffee in the cafe of the Cheyenne Mountain Resort then give a walk in the country club to the newly renovated Alluvia Spa and Wellness Center. Inside, there is a smoothie bar, where you can have a healthy green smoothie to take to the spa’s private outdoor patio with fireplace (with mountain views of course). When you’re relaxed enough, try the 80-Minute Espresso Mud Body Treatment.
If you think you like to drink coffee, you will love being covered, from head to toe. Turns out, the espresso blend is great for exfoliating and nourishing dry skin in the Colorado climate.
Finish off your treatment with another unique feature: a tea bar featuring remedy-based teas designed to be mixed and matched with various tinctures and fortified types of honey. Follow the guidelines for hand brewing a cup of healing tea to suit your unique needs. Do you need an energy boost or a stress detox? Glossy skin or better sleep? There is a tea for that.
- Explore the Colorado Springs metro
Imagine exploring Colorado wilderness and stumbling across a hole in the mountain. Now imagine if you look inside that hole and realize that it was the entrance to a complete and elaborate series of natural underground caves. This is how two brothers discovered the Cave of the Winds in the late 19th century.
Today, you can take a guided tour through this remarkable 500 million-year-old underground world lined with stalactites and stalagmites and curious rock formations. You can even experience the “darkness of the cave” when the guide turns off the flashlight for a moment. This is total darkness, deep beneath the Earth, where natural or ambient light cannot penetrate. It’s trippy. Are you feeling brave? Sign up for the ghost tour.
As if that wasn’t adventure enough, the Cave of the Winds also offers a handful of thrilling above-ground attractions, including the Wind Walker (an obstacle course perched on the edge of a 600-foot cliff), the Bat-A- Pult (a zipline that flings you through the valley 1,200 feet above the ground) and the Terror-Dactyl, which launches 150 brave visitors into the bowels of the canyon at nearly 100 miles per hour. It claims to be the first of its kind anywhere in the world.
- See rocks in the wild
The Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado’s most amazing natural features, and you can visit it for free in Colorado Springs.
This National Natural Landmark appears to be on another planet, almost defying physics. It is a series of red rock formations, created along with a fault line millions of years ago, that eventually tilted vertically during the formation of the Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak. What is left now is a crazy variety of unusually shaped and perched rocks, some balanced, some sloping, and all tell the story of the region?
The human history of this region is also rich. Here is evidence of Native American life dating back to 250 BC.
For a lesser-known local tip, after seeing the rocks, head to Manitou. In this adorable little town, you will find a game room full of old games. It’s cheap, old-fashioned entertainment, and kids (and hipsters) love it.
- Hand fed giraffes
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has been named one of the best zoos in the United States and lived up to expectations. This is the only mountain zoo in the nation, perched 6,800 feet above sea level. The highlight is the giraffe exhibit, where you can buy an inexpensive handful of lettuce and feed it to the giants from the top of a bridge that puts you face to face with these dramatic and gentle giants.
The zoo is a full-day experience, with more than 750 types of animals and 150 different species, including more than 30 endangered animals. The zoo works to protect endangered species both internally and by raising money for conservation. A portion of the ticket sales goes towards the cause.
The history of the zoo is also quite peculiar. It was started in the 1920s by a man named Spencer Penrose, who is also the founder of the Broadmoor Hotel in town. Remembered as an unusual character, he had actually been collecting exotic animals, as pets, but eventually opened them up to the public. It is now a non-profit organization.
Other stars here include free-range wallabies that just walk (er, jump) alongside visitors in the Australian exhibit. You can also feed the parakeets and cockatoos in a beautiful, bright birdhouse. Even if you don’t like snakes, be sure to check out the Scutes Family Gallery, which has to be the most exquisite reptile exhibit in the world. It’s designed as a high-end modern art gallery, and snakes, turtles, and lizards live amongst the sculptures, ceramics, and artwork. It will totally change the way you view reptiles and make just about anyone a snake fan.
Lesser-known local tip: After seeing the animals, drive through the zoo to the Will Rogers Sanctuary of the Sun Lookout (included in admission). At this unusual tower and chapel at the top of Cheyenne Mountain, you can get some of the best views in the city.
- Climb to the top of the world
Here is a fourth player that you can climb without having to walk.
Colorado has 53 fourteen, or mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet above sea level. Many, like Longs Peak, require good fitness, planning, and good equipment to conquer. But you can stand on top of Pikes Peak without breaking a sweat (a reasonable warning though: the air is still thin and can make you huff and puff).
Pikes Peak is the most visited mountain in North America, attracting more than half a million visitors each year.
There are several different ways to get to the top of Pikes. You can hike the Barr Trail, if you want it to be “count” among the climbers. Athletes can also try bike pikes. For less effort, you can take your car down the Pike Peak Highway and enjoy the views along the way. Or for the route that is especially popular with tourists, try Broadmoor’s Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
This is the tallest rack railway in the world and has been open all year round since the late 19th century. This is not an ordinary train. It’s built to handle a pretty dramatic grade, sometimes as steep as 24 percent. So even though it’s relaxing with serene views, you’ll still feel the thrill.
- Visit the ‘Great Mile of Landscapes’
Seven Falls has been called the “greatest mile of scenery in Colorado.” It’s more than just a waterfall (although the series of waterfalls culminating in a spectacular 181-foot waterfall is an attraction enough on its own).
This Broadmoor-owned destination also features an excellent restaurant with patio seating, shopping, hiking trails, gold panning, zip-lining, and mountain streams. Take the free shuttle from the Broadmoor hotel (you’ll need to purchase park admission) and spend a morning taking in some of the best views in Colorado Springs.
- Dining on a 1953 plane
In a military city, it is fitting to find an old plane turned into a quirky restaurant. Solos Restaurant, better known as The Airplane Restaurant, is a popular casual dining destination where seating has been converted into booths and tables aboard a fully intact 1953 Boeing KC-97 tanker truck.
Forty-two lucky “passengers” get the seats on board (and the kids can play in the cabin until the food arrives), but there are other tables in a much larger attached restaurant that is decorated with aircraft paraphernalia, pictures and artifacts. The restaurant itself is an aviation museum.
The food here is nothing fancy, but really, you are paying for the atmosphere. It’s good, comfort food: juicy burgers and fries, sandwiches, and even barrels (named for the plane’s rotation), which are tortillas stuffed with chicken, bell peppers, cilantro, cheese, and a pinch of jalapeño.
- Taste Rocky Mountain Oysters
If you don’t know what Rocky Mountain oysters are, we won’t tell you. Just give them a try. They are not that bad.
OK, well, we will tell you. They are bull’s testicles and a basic challenge of the region. Find them at the Elevations Lounge inside the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, a cozy sports bar with a monstrous TV and pool tables.
Not only can you order a plate of no oysters, but you can also find other adventure options, including sauce made with ghost peppers that will burn our souls.
Wash it down with a local Phantom Canyon Brewing beer made especially for the resort. The beer, called 6035, is named after the Colorado Springs elevation.