Without Trails

More than nature walks: 9 free things to do in Colorado Springs – Lonely Planet

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Breathing in the fresh air and taking in the stunning Rocky Mountain vistas in Colorado Springs are, of course, priceless. So are the many scenic drives and nature walks. But you might be surprised how many other things there are to do in Colorado Springs, and so many of them are free. Here’s a list of exciting attractions to explore when you’re watching your wallet.

Hike Garden of the Gods

The gorgeous Garden of the Gods was given to the city of Colorado Springs with the understanding that the park would be forever free to the public. Although you can spend a few bucks on tours and experiences exploring the park, simply driving, walking and hiking through it is absolutely free. There are nearly two dozen trails weaving in, out and around these stunning rock formations, so you can view famous sights like Kissing Camels, Siamese Twins, Steamboat and Balanced Rock and beyond. If you have time just for one hike, the Central Garden Trail is a top choice. Avoid the crowds by going early or late; the light is better at those times for photos. There’s a free 45-minute nature walk daily at 10am and 2pm. The Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center is a great place to get oriented before you get started.   

The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs
The Broadmoor hotel has free art history tours three days a week © Jim Lambert / Shutterstock

Enjoy the art and architecture at the Broadmoor

If you didn’t splurge for a room at the luxurious Broadmoor hotel, you can still have a peek around the property for absolutely no charge. Walking around the lake and admiring the architecture and decor indoors is entertainment enough. While it’s not widely advertised, you can join a free art history tour on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 10:30am or download a brochure to learn about the artwork on a self-guided tour. Even if you’re not interested in art, it’s well worth an hour of your time to learn about the history of the hotel and cheeky stories of the past. Broadmoor’s collection includes original works as well as reproductions – see if you can determine which is which. Ask the concierge for the scavenger hunt to test your comprehension and see additional areas of interest.

Go back in time at the Penrose Heritage Museum

Step back in time and learn about the history of the Pikes Peak region at the Penrose Heritage Museum in the Broadmoor. You’ll find an impressive collection of race cars, carriages, and Western cultural artifacts from the personal collection of philanthropists Spencer and Julie Penrose. If you plan on visiting Pikes Peak, you’ll enjoy learning about the construction of the Pikes Peak Auto Highway and its most famous event, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Gain insight and elevation as you follow the winding road to make pit stops at interesting exhibits. The other half of the museum features a beautiful collection of carriages. You’ll see how people used to travel in style before cars. Not only is the museum free, you can pick up a free 1½ hour parking validation ticket and peek at the five-star Broadmoor resort before you leave.

Cadet Chapel at the US Air Force Academy
Cadet Chapel on the United States Air Force Academy campus  © photo.ua / Shutterstock 

Tour the US Air Force Academy 

The United States Air Force Academy in northern Colorado Springs is one of the most popular attractions in Colorado. It serves as a military base, a national landmark and a college campus.  Visitors are welcome daily. Driving in from the North Gate, and you’ll be wowed by the B-52 bomber on display. Driving in from the South Gate, you’ll be greeted by an A-10 and a T-38 at the airfield. With your eye on the sky, look for powered aircraft, gliders, and solo freefall jumpers in training. The updrafts here next to the Rocky Mountains create ideal conditions for flying. Get a view of Falcon Stadium before stopping at Academic Overlook to admire the view. Step inside the Barry Goldwater Visitor Center and catch a 20-minute film about cadet life. Follow along the nature trail about a third of a mile to campus, where you can sometimes see the cadets line up for lunch at noon. The Cadet Chapel, currently closed for renovations, is a house of worship for all spiritual practices that has a roof pointing 150 feet into the sky. The planetarium is also open to the public and has regular shows, but it’s also currently closed. Nearby, Polaris Hall, which resembles a jet tail made of glass, acts as an incredible skylight pointing at the North Star.  

Explore Manitou Springs and sample mineral spring water

Manitou Springs is a must-visit. Although this charming mountain town can be busy during the summer season, it has plenty of interesting art galleries, shops and restaurants to visit. Kids and adults will enjoy a trip to the penny arcade where some games still only cost a penny. 

While you’re in town, get ready for a different kind of scavenger hunt – for water. Manitou Springs was initially known as a health resort because of its natural springs.  Today, you can try to locate and sample all eight mineral springs. Stop at the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau at the edge of town to grab a tasting cup and a map so you can have a cheat sheet. The fountains each have their own look and story. The taste?  Each one has a distinct flavor due to the mineral makeup – for example, some are more bubbly while others are more bitter. You’ll just have to see for yourself! Soda water from Cheyenne Spring was once bottled and sold, and water from Shoshone Spring was recommended by doctors. Bring your water bottle so you can fill it up with your favorite.

Hoodoos at Paint Mines Interpretive Park
Hoodoos at Paint Mines Interpretive Park, one of the three places in the US where the rock formations can be seen © Karenl1 / Shutterstock 

See natural wonders of the Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Start at the lookout to get a lay of the land. From above and as you drive in, it just looks like a prairie, but keep going because this incredible geologic site is well worth exploring. There are 4-5 miles of fairly level hikes through the park allowing you to hike through the bottom of the canyon to see the hoodoos up close. Paint Mines get its name from the colorful sandstone exposed on the hoodoos. This area was a gathering place for many Native Americans who used the sandstone to make paint.

View from Manitou Incline
A view from the Manitou Incline. If you change your mind during the hike, there’s a bailout route © melissamn / Shutterstock 

Climb the Manitou Incline

Hiking the Manitou Incline might be considered fun, but for most people, it’s a very tough workout. Manitou Incline was once a cable car route to carry materials to Pikes Peak, and after it was closed because of damage from a rock slide, the former railroad ties became a giant staircase. It’s one foot after another, up 2768 steps to be exact. You’ll gain 2000 feet of vertical in a hike that’s just less than a mile. The average slope is a 45% grade (that’s like skiing down a black diamond). Successful hikers are rewarded with a great view of Colorado Springs and the Eastern Plains. You’ll feel like champ when you get to the top. On the way down, avoid congestion on the stairs and take the Barr Trail to the bottom. Have no fear, if you change your mind part way, there is a bailout route called the Northern Incline Return Trail. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and it’s all free except for parking. 

Explore Old Colorado City

Founded in 1859, Old Colorado City was the first capital of the Colorado Territory, and was once home to saloons, gaming parlors and brothels. Today, there are tons of independently owned shops, art galleries and restaurants to enjoy along Colorado Avenue. Make a stop for a waffle cone at the Colorado City Creamery, where they make their own ice cream and feature a build-your-own sundae bar. Down the street, peek into Michael Garman’s Magic Town to look at colorful characters inside miniature city scenes that are likely to remind you of somewhere or…

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