A thin band of light illuminates the red-orange sandstone slabs which scrape the cloud-streaked sky high above the Centennial State.
This is Colorado, land of soaring peaks, plunging canyons and ginger-hued granite. Here are the best places to visit to make the most of your trip to the majestic Rockies.
Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Begin your Rocky Mountain adventure aboard the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, a cherry-red train that ferries passengers nine miles to the top of Pikes Peak. Wind through heaps of tan boulders with an awe-inspiring view of verdant valleys and sapphire summits beyond. Keep an eye out for the stately elk and bighorn sheep who wander the hills as well as the groves of 2,000-year-old Bristlecone pines that line the train tracks. Upon reaching the pinnacle, head to the Pikes Peak Summit House visitor center to sample a fresh cocoa, cinnamon, sugar or nutmeg donut —delicious fried treats which make the stunning view from 14,115 feet even sweeter.
Keep in mind that there is a drastic altitude change from the base of Pikes Peak to its summit which can affect visitors who are used to lower elevations. Drink plenty of water and walk slowly as you acclimatize to the thinner air on the mountaintop. If you experience any symptoms of altitude sickness — fatigue, nausea, headaches or mild disorientation — sit down right away and have a bottle of Gatorade with some electrolyte-rich foods like bananas or granola to recover.
Colorado Springs Balloon Tour
Soar above the Rocky Mountains on a sunrise balloon tour with breathtaking vistas of the rugged, hilly terrain beneath. Glide seamlessly through the air while nestled in your secure perch inside the wicker basket. Overhead, the dark silhouette of a cowboy riding a bucking horse prances across the balloon’s bright yellow fabric. Below, dark green trees stand guard over deep blue ponds that are only miniscule specks from your seat on top of the world. Rows of houses that look like tiny Monopoly homes from the air stretch as far as the eye can see.
Floating through clouds is priceless but not cheap. The Adventures Out West hot air balloon tour costs $275 per adult and $225 per child, so make the most of your once-in-a-lifetime thrill ride. If you would rather have an exclusive flight for two, prepare to fork over $1250 for your private midair adventure. We recommend that you schedule your flight at the beginning of your trip; since your balloon is at the mercy of the weather, you may have to reschedule due to foggy or rainy conditions.
Garden of the Gods
Fiery red slabs of stone tower over the lush forest in the incomparable Garden of the Gods, a designated National Natural Landmark peppered with sheer rock formations. The landmark’s unique name stems from a comment by Rufus Cable, an 1859 surveyor so taken by the splendor of the amphitheater that he declared it “a fit place for the gods to assemble.” Whether deities congregate in the rocky arena is up for debate, but humanity’s presence there is undeniable. An estimated six million visitors pack the park every year, so get ready to mingle with an abundance of fellow tourists as you make your way around the Garden, which is free to enter and enjoy.
There are a variety of ways to experience the splendor of the stone-strewn landscape. Hop aboard a 1909 Trolley Tour for an up-close view of the magnificent red-orange rock towers that loom above the dry sagebrush below. If rock climbing and rappelling on sheer cliff faces is more your style, get a free permit before scrambling around — just make sure you do not climb a rock formation more than 10 feet from its base without the necessary equipment as this is a violation of the law.
Enjoy the best of what Colorado has to offer as you cross these can’t-miss destinations off your bucket list.