If you have never been to the Colorado Springs area, start planning your trip now. You will love it! It is gorgeous and there are so many wonderful things to do.
While I grew up between here and the midwest, Ryan and I moved our family here about three years ago after our boys had so much fun on a prior vacation to the Colorado Springs area. When you are raising three boys that love the outdoors, this is a fantastic place to enjoy the sunshine and have fun outdoor adventures. We are still exploring but below are 10 of our favorite things to do that are free in the area.
I also compiled a list of our favorite activities that have a cost associated (but are totally worth it)! Check out that list here – Paid things to do near Colorado Springs.
1. Garden of the Gods – When you think of Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods is one of the iconic places that may come to mind. These red rocks are frequently pictured in anything Colorado Springs related. Its gorgeous and at the top of our list. It can be crowded but it is one of the places that you must visit while in the area.
I wouldn’t call it ‘hiking’ at Garden of the Gods but more wondering down trails or sidewalks to admire the nature’s beauty. The kids always love playing on the rocks and there is a good chance you may see some wildlife. We see a couple deer on every trip.
Make sure to stop in the Trading Post for some fudge or a great souvenir. This gift shop is huge!
2. Red Rock Canyon – Not far from Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon is another beautiful area to hike or bike. Gorgeous red rocks line the trails. In addition to hiking, we enjoy biking these trails. For serious bikers, there is an area with jumps. Red Rock Canyon also offers an off-lease dog park so the fur babies are able to some exercise.
3. Manitou Incline – Are you ready for an extreme workout? If so, the Manitou Incline is where you should head. Located in Manitou Springs, the Manitou Incline is a hike straight up the side of a mountain on old railway ties. Its not for the faint of heart. However, once at the top of the mountain, the view of the city is outstanding. The payoff at the top is worth the trek.
There are two options for getting back to the bottom. Some choose to hike the incline back down although it is discouraged. The barr trail is the path we have always taken down but its not short. The barr trail is four miles switching back and forth through the trees.
Having adequate amounts of water is key to this workout! While we have taken bottles of water, we prefer to carry our camelbacks. These great backpacks make it easier to sip water on the way up. I also recommend fresh fruit and granola bars for a snack during this workout. Be aware that there are no restrooms anywhere along the trail. There are port-a-potties at the beginning of the trail and a restroom and drinking fountain once you reach the end of the barr trail.
4. The Penny Arcade in Manitou Springs – While it is called the Penny Arcade, don’t take your pennies. All the machines take quarters! However, with a pile of quarters, everyone will have a great time. The Penny Arcade provides room after room of old arcade games. There are certain games that you can win tickets to exchange for prizes.
5. Pancake Rocks hiking trails – This trail can be found between Divide and Cripple Creek which is about 45-60 minutes west of Colorado Springs. The shorter hike option takes you to a waterfall. You are also able to continue up the trail to pancake rocks. The trail can be steep but its well worth the hike not only for the exercise but for gorgeous scenery.
6. Rafting – White water rafting is popular in Colorado but we also like to ‘float’ down the river with a drink in hand. Well, as long as its a calm water day. We highly recommend life vests even in shallow water.
7. Peterson Air and Space museum – This is a wonderful educational and fun activity. While it is free, you must register register in advance as it is on the Air Force base. (Check the website for details as it is only open certain days. https://petemuseum.org/) There are a couple buildings to walk through and several exhibits to see outside. We had a wonderful docent who shared such great information with us. You get to see many types of aircraft and learn about our country’s defenses. If you have the opportunity, don’t miss this experience!
8. Focus on the Family – This Christian based visitors center is a fun activity to visit the bookstore, enjoy a treat in their soda shoppe, let the kids go down a 3-story slide (yes!) and play in the children’s activity center.
9. Paint Mines Interpretive Park – Has there ever been a place that you frequent an area and never realize something incredible is right there. I have driven through Calhan, CO countless times and never realized that over the hill was an incredibly different landscape. At the Paint Mines Interpretive Park, you will find these gorgeous rock formations with many different colors including pink! There are several miles of trails to wonder around and admire the scenery. Dogs are not allowed (nor bikes or horses) and you are not supposed to climb on the rock formations. That’s not the easiest thing to enforce when you have three active boys! (They kept off the rocks but they sure though climbing would be much more fun than looking!)
10. Camping in the National Forest or BLM land – As an RV travel family, we saved the best for last! Whether you are RV or tent camping, there is plenty of free land to get out and enjoy nature. Colorado is a beautiful state to get out an enjoy nature!