More than 23.7 million people visited the Pikes Peak Region in 2021, according to Visit Colorado Springs. You might be wondering what is drawing so many to the “Centennial State.”
“Colorado Springs has attracted multi-generational visitors for years,” said Alexea Veneracion of Visit Colorado Springs. “Iconic, historic attractions like Pikes Peak, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Garden of the Gods Park, and Flying W Ranch instill a special sense of wonder in those of all ages.”
“There are so many incredible stories of people visiting with their families when they were kids and then coming back decades later and bringing their kids and grandkids to make more memories in the Pikes Peak Region,” Veneracion said.
Here’s a closer look at five of the most popular things to do in Colorado Springs.
1. Flying W Ranch Chuckwagon Dinner and Show
Flying W Ranch has been one of Colorado Springs’ premiere attractions for nearly 70 years. This chuckwagon dinner venue attracts guests from all around the country who come to experience an evening of fun and entertainment.
The gate opens at 5:00 pm, and guests can tour the property before dinner. Come early to pet the farm animals, ride the miniature train through Christmas Rock, and play a game of horseshoe, among other activities.
The stunning views surrounding the location lend to the feeling of stepping away from the city and into the old days.
Dinner begins at 6:30 pm, and staffers then guide the crowd (often over 600 people) through the dinner lines. It’s all hands on deck as everyone from the ranch hands to the band members take their stations to serve up smoked brisket, buttermilk biscuits, and ranch-style beans. The foil-wrapped baked potatoes and old tin plates add to the nostalgia, and guests sit at long rows of picnic tables in the dining room.
It isn’t just any old dining hall, though. The six-million dollar facility can seat 1200 people, and the design includes rolling glass walls that showcase the beautiful mountain scenery on all sides.
Once everyone is seated, the highlight of the evening begins as the world-renowned Flying W Wranglers take the stage. This five-man band is the world’s second-oldest western singing band and has performed all around the globe. The hour-long concert is a foot-stomping, clap-along event that guests will not soon forget.
2. Olympic Museum
If the word “museum” has you thinking of dusty old artifacts and boring paintings of people you don’t know, prepare to have your athletic socks knocked off. The Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs is a 60,000-square-foot, cutting-edge facility full of interactive displays and hands-on exhibits. It’s a one-of-a-kind destination that brings the history of the games to life right before your eyes.
From the time you enter until you leave two hours later, this immersive experience will entertain and fascinate you as you work through the museum’s 12 galleries.
Grab some skis and see firsthand what it’s like to race down the slopes in the Alpine Skiing event.
Think Archery looks easy? Pick up a bow and take a shot.
You can even “race” against an Olympic Champion on a 30-meter track.
You may never compete in the actual games, but these multi-sensory immersive experiences give you a glimpse of what it might feel like if you did.
The US Olympic & Paralympic Museum is considered one of the most accessible museums in the world. The facility pays tribute to some of the finest athletes in the country. It also allows all guests to experience the tour without difficulty.
While there, you’ll see an impressive collection of torches used in the opening ceremonies since Berlin, Germany, in 1936. You’ll also walk past the nearly-complete collection of gold, silver, and bronze medals representing each game since the modern Olympics started.
You won’t find another museum like this one anywhere in the country, which is why it deserves to win a spot on your itinerary when you visit Downtown Colorado Springs.
Tip: Don’t confuse the location with the Olympic Training Center — they are two different places in Colorado Springs.
3. Pikes Peak Cog Railway
One of only two cog railways in the country, The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway is also the highest in the world.
Why take the Railway instead of driving up Pikes Peak Highway? For starters, drivers must navigate 156 hairpin curves and switchbacks going up the 19-mile highway, (and what goes up must come down!) Also, Pike’s Peak Highway charges a fee of $15 per person just to drive yourself. If driving up the winding mountainside road with few guardrails along the way isn’t your thing, then say no more – the train is your ticket to the top!
As you ascend the 14,115-foot mountain, you’ll see pieces of history you can only observe from the railway tracks. You’ll climb Sun of a Gun Hill and pass the remains of Halfway House Hotel on the way to the summit.
Keep an eye out for wildlife along the way since it’s not uncommon to see elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and yellow-bellied marmot in the fields.
Be sure you bring warm clothes to bundle up because temperatures at the high elevation are much cooler than at the base, even during the summer. Spend time taking in the breathtaking views, exploring the visitor center, and enjoying some hot chocolate and donuts before returning to the train.
In 1893, Katharine Lee Bates’s experience at the top of Pikes Peak was so moving that she wrote a poem to commemorate it. “America the Beautiful” is now one of the most patriotic songs in American history.
This leisurely four-hour excursion is a peak experience for many visiting Colorado Springs.
Tip: Book your tickets as soon as you know your itinerary since seats sell out fast. Want the best seat on the train? Reserve the three seats on the left side of car number one, and you’ll have unobstructed views the entire way!
4. Garden of the God’s Trading Post
Your visit isn’t complete without taking time to drive the 5.6-mile scenic drive through the Garden of the Gods. The iconic scenery is synonymous with Colorado Springs and rates number one for things to do in Colorado Springs, according to Tripadvisor. You’ll find it just outside Old Colorado City proper, nestled at the base of Pike’s Peak.
Exploring the area is free, and many visitors take time to climb the easier red rock formations near the entrance. They make a great photo op, even if they get crowded. More serious rock climbers need to get a valid local climbing permit before ascending larger rock formations.
Before you leave, make your way to the Garden of the Gods Trading Post. It’s the largest and oldest gift shop in Colorado and is a fantastic place to get all your vacation souvenirs. Why not stay for lunch? Their bison burgers get rave reviews, and you do not want to miss their famous fudge!
5. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Do you feel all zoos are alike? Colorado Springs doesn’t monkey with this – its zoo was voted third-best in the country!
The first exhibits you’ll experience set the bar high (quite literally!)
You’ll be eye to eye with the tallest animals in the world with the 17-member giraffe tower. Many people say this is their favorite experience at the Cheyenne Mountain View. Spend a few dollars on a handful of lettuce and feed the giraffes right out of your hand.
The zoo covers over 146 acres of hillside. Whether you walk, take the gondola or ride in a cart, you’ll make your way through the different zoo sections on your way to the top. Stay for lunch at Pizza With a View and take in the scenery before rewinding your way downhill to ride the carousel.
Plan at least two hours to see all the exhibits and longer if you like to linger. There are 750 animals at this zoo, so bring your camera and be ready to explore!
More Things To Do in Colorado Springs
There’s plenty more to do in and around Colorado Springs. A few worth mentioning include crossing the Royal Gorge Bridge, exploring Cave of the Winds, and spending time in historic downtown Manitou Springs. Book a stay at the Broadmoor Hotel or walk to the Seven Falls. You could also take a tour of the United States Air Force Academy Colorado Springs – it is just over an hour from the Denver International Airport and 2.5 hours from Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether you visit Colorado Springs on a day trip or make it your base camp as you explore the surroundings, this city deserves a spot on your itinerary when you visit the beautiful state of Colorado.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.