2020 is the year of the unthinkable as existing plans have unraveled in the wake of travel bans and cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, with fresh air, wide open spaces, and ample opportunities to keep moving, mountain destinations have blossomed in popularity among travelers looking to cure their cabin fever. And, with mountains in mind, where better to head to than Colorado Springs?
Within one hour of this central Colorado town and the towering 14,000 foot Pike’s Peak, you will discover over 20 craft breweries, endless good eats, and numerous adventures. Precautionary protocols are in place to ensure you feel safe while traveling, and renewed upon returning home.
Here are six of our top outdoor picks, to help chart out an active escape from quarantines and screens.
1. Visit Garden of the Gods Park
Beloved by locals and visitors alike, Garden of the Gods Park can easily warrant several hours of your time. In 1929, the 480 acres of land were designated as an exclusive park space, still free for all to enjoy. Sidewalks are wide and known for their accessibility, including to visitors in wheelchairs. Touted as the most visited attraction in the Pikes Peak Region, Garden of the Gods Park sets the stage for learning about the rich geological history of this area.
Stop by the Visitor and Nature Center (no-fee entry), celebrating 25 years in 2020 with their adventure series.
Take a self-guided hike, or opt for a complimentary guided walk. Don’t miss lunch at the park’s cafe, and savor one of the best dining views in town. Feeling up for a higher challenge? Try out a unique rock climbing experience, or rent a bike (regular or motorized) to cruise the paved trails, while looking for wildlife along the way. Guided photography excursions and geological hikes are available and professionally led. Hours, tours and events vary by season, so be sure to check the website for updated schedules. Check into Garden of the Gods Resort and Club, for premium lodging just down the road.
2: Ride the Rapids
You may be in Colorado, but you can whitewater raft down the Arkansas River running right through the 1,000 foot deep Royal Gorge in neighboring Canyon City (1 hour by car). We highly recommend rafting with Echo Canyon River Expeditions. From family floats to Class V rapids, this company offers a variety of rides. All guests should be strong swimmers in good physical shape. Minimum age is determined by water flow, which typically peaks in June. Experienced guides lead you safely through the rapids so there’s no need for novice rafters to worry. Each raft is also equipped with a GoPro, to capture the thrills, while in-house photographers perch at the river’s edge to create memories you can purchase without having to risk loss of your own devices. Safety is emphasized both on and off the water. Masks are required inside the office, within 6 feet of others, and while riding shuttles. Hand-washing stations are positioned outside, interior bathrooms are cleaned routinely, and rafts accommodate no more than six people. More details on protocols can be found online.
After working up an appetite, stop in at the 8-Mile Bar & Grill, for burgers and beverages (sixteen beers on tap). Water shoes are recommended for rafting, with a good pair of walking shoes for later adventures on foot.
3: Be Awed By Royal Gorge Park, a National Treasure
Drive 15 minutes from Echo Canyon to the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Home to one of the highest suspension bridges in the world, the Royal Gorge has drawn thousands of visitors since the bridge’s opening in 1929. Walk across the 955 foot high and 1000 feet wide wood and iron structure (designed by Texan George E. Cole), and stop for stunning gorge views beneath your feet. You will feel the gentle sway as you look for your favorite state flags along what is known as America’s Bridge.
From the top of the gorge, the river rafters appear as tiny ants below. Scenic gondola rides take you across the gorge, and you can take your time walking back across the bridge. Zip lining across the canyon is also an option, after walking the bridge. The Skycoaster provides a thrilling flight across the canyon, for the most fearless of visitors. However, be prepared for these features to be closed, if conditions are deemed too risky (lightening or high winds). At least a half day is suggested to explore this area, and weekdays tend to be less busy.
4: Rent a Mountain Bike, Hit the Trails
The Royal Gorge region has five scenic and established trail systems and over a dozen parks and recreation areas for your enjoyment. Whether you choose to explore by foot or bike wheels, you can plan an entire day for this leg of the trip. Burn some serious calories, soak up expansive views of nature, and bask in the sunshine, well into the fall months. With several local businesses offering bike rentals, Canyon City has rapidly grown as a preferred destination for mountain bikers and hikers alike. To check conditions, trail routes, sample itineraries and event information, visit the Fremont Adventure Recreation website.
5: Ride the Royal Gorge Route Railroad
Just a two-hour ride through the Gorge, this locomotive is nothing short of spectacular on views. Also known for its dining experiences, Royal Gorge Route Railroad strongly suggests planning a special meal on their train. The railway plans year-round holiday events and meals, up to date and bookable through their website. Passengers can feast their eyes upon the magnificent fall foliage of the Rockies, while celebrating Oktoberfest with local craft brews on the tracks. Willkommen An Bord der Bier Train, and raise your glass to America’s favorite German Holiday. No passport required, for this five-star ride complete with social distancing enforcement. Live accordion music included, with trains leaving several times daily. To this, we appropriately say, “Prost!”
6: Zip into The Broadmoor Seven Falls
Founded in 1918, the The Broadmoor Resort is steeped in history and certainly worth a visit. If you don’t lodge here, at least plan a visit to Seven Falls. Acquired by the Broadmoor in 2015, this collection of unique water falls is known as the Grandest Mile of Scenery in Colorado. The South Cheyenne Canyon is formed by the towering Pillars of Hercules and located only five minutes from The Broadmoor. Parking at The Broadmoor and catching a shuttle to the entrance is the best way to access the Falls. Climb over 200 steps to access the highest vantage points and moderate hiking trails. Zip line enthusiasts won’t want to miss Soaring Adventures, where you’’ fly your way around this geological wonder. Ten lines (300 to 1,800 feet long) let you feel a rush, while experiencing panoramic views of the canyon and the surrounding wonders of nature.
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Cover photo courtesy Visit Colorado
Brian and Dana Maass are married and live with their dog Chester in Round Rock, Texas. When not working their day jobs, they can be found traveling, writing, capturing scenic photos, exploring the Hill Country, and serving the community. Follow them on Instagram at @Dana_Maass_Adventures and @Brian_Maass_Adventures.