Our second stop in the beautiful state of Colorado was Colorado Springs, where we drove from Denver in a rental car. Based on the advice of our friend, Jana, we booked only one night in Colorado Springs, and it was just right based on the activities we wanted to do. So, what’s the appeal of this city for tourists? Red rocks, big heights and so much more!
Our 12-day Itinerary
To summarize our trip, we did a big loop clockwise starting with Denver and drove a total of over 500 miles.
Here’s how our itinerary ended up. We only booked the first four nights in hotels before arriving, and played the rest by ear based on our tentative plan.
Location (by letters on map)
|1-3||A, G) Denver – starting and ending point|
|3-4||B) Colorado Springs|
|4-6||C) Buena Vista|
|7-9||E) Glenwood Springs|
REI stop in Denver prior to departure
Since Colorado Springs would be our first official hiking stop, we made sure to have all the essential apparel beforehand. We bought our boots and some clothes back in Philly, but we still stopped by the Flagship REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) store in Denver. We picked out a few other items on sale and returned a few of the full price items we got in Philly. It’s never to late to save money. 🙂 The store is huge and it’s inside an old, historic building from 1901, which added to the experience. REI is great for stuff on sale.
We also shopped in downtown Denver’s TJ Maxx and found some great prices on hiking clothes. Since Colorado is a hot spot for hiking, you see a much bigger selection of outdoorsy apparel here.
FI tip: If you need to buy hiking apparel and supplies, do so when you arrive in Colorado, since there are many stores that specialize in these goods and you get more selection and better prices. Except for boots, which you could try on in a store and then get online for less.
Getting to Colorado Springs
The road from Denver to Colorado Springs is pretty simple, as you stay on one highway for most of the way. We headed out at 2 p.m., which ended up being a bit late for our itinerary, so we recommend you hit the road by noon. We drove south along the mountains, which proved to be quite scenic.
About 30 minutes before arriving, we stopped at a Chipotle right off the road and refueled. We both get hangry when we are due to eat, so this was a strategic stop for us to enjoy our plans later.
We decided to stay at a budget motel, since it was only for one night and chose the Silver Saddle Motel based on reviews. Alas, we were disappointed in the room, mainly due to lack of cleanliness (we could tell the maid didn’t vacuum). The musty air, which clogged our noses, also made it hard to breathe.
We don’t mind staying at budget venues, as long as they are clean, so this one lost us due the room condition and the super watery coffee they provided for their complimentary continental breakfast. If one creamer container turns your coffee white, run away. 🙂
That being said, the reason we chose this place was also due to location. It was just a five-minute drive to the cute Western town of Manitou Springs, about 15 minutes to Garden of the Gods, and about 30 minutes to Pikes Peek. I’d recommend staying in this general area if you want to hit up the same places.
Garden Of The Gods
This was such a nice park to visit and was the number one on our list for this stop. It’s not a big place, and is quite accessible. The best part–it’s free to enter and park, as long as you find a spot. We came around 5 p.m., which was a bit later then we wanted, since we left Denver late and stopped by our motel to check in and change. I’d recommend getting here a few hours before sunset, as it gets dark and cool pretty quickly.
We parked in the first lot and did the main hiking trail (all paved) around the red rocks. There are some signs in the area for rock shapes to look out for and my favorite one was of the kissing camels.
You can also hike up to the top of some rocks and enjoy a beautiful sunset if you timing is right. We spent about 1.5 hours walking around and even spotted some wildlife. I love Bambi!
Just be sure to leave some time to drive to the Balanced Rock. By the time we got to it, the sun has set, but thankfully, you could see it in the picture below better than we could in person due to the advantage of the camera lens. Nature is incredible!
The next day, we got up early to have breakfast and check out, so that we could head up to Pikes Peak before the afternoon storms or rain. Something to be aware of in Colorado overall is how much the weather changes throughout the day. As we learned from the locals, the morning hours are generally dry, and rain comes in the afternoon. Using this guideline, we tried to fit all of our hikes in the mornings.
We left the hotel around 10 a.m. and made it to Pikes Peak in about 1.5 hours. You pay $12 per adult when you drive up in your car. It was funny that the ticket agent asked us for how many people we needed tickets for when you could obviously see that there were two of us in the car. Be sure to check for any events goings on that could impede your ascent, as sometimes the road is closed.
Just be sure to have your AC/heater off and preferably a four-wheel drive car. I heard from others who had small compact cars that their vehicle gave out before reaching the top. Just like people need to acclimate to higher altitude, so do cars. We had a Jeep Compass, which did well on the ascent.
Mr. Enchumbao drove up, and as I now learned, he doesn’t do too well with a combination of heights, cliffs without rails, and 14,000-foot mountains. 🙂 He kept driving on the yellow divider lanes every time there was a cliff on the passenger side. Thankfully, we made it up alive, but you better believe that I took the wheel on the way down.
At the top of the mountain, you can park and go inside the store. They have, what they call, world-famous donuts sold in the little cafeteria, so we bought one to see what the hype is all about. Alas, it was a greasy donut that lacked in flavor. Save your money.
Something to be prepared for is altitude sickness or feeling dizzy as you ascent and at the top. Mr. Enchumbao felt OK the whole time, while I was a bit dizzy when we made it to the top. Just take your time and don’t do anything to over-strain yourself. Most people seemed fine. They do sell oxygen at the store, which was handy just in case you need it.
The alternative to driving up is taking a historical cog railway from the town of Manitou Springs. While the prospect seemed appealing as no one would have to drive, there are limited times you can go up and down. You also can’t stop along the way, and it’s quite pricey at $38 per adult. Plus, it made sense for us to drive, since we already checked out and were going to leave town after this scenic adventure.
We purposely held off on stopping at scenic views along the way (except for one restroom stop halfway), to ensure we’d make it to the top before the weather changed. Luckily, the good weather held, so we got to stop along the descent and take in the views and climb on some rocks.
On our arrival night and after hiking around Garden of the Gods, we drove into the town of Manitou Springs for some late dinner. It was a Sunday night, so all the shops were already closed. The main street has a western town charm to it, and it’d be a nice place to walk around during the day, window-shop and people-watch. At 9 p.m. though, it was chilly, so we just grabbed dinner and went back to the hotel room.
Indulging and savoring
We aren’t the kind of tourists who go to museums or on day-tours much, but we are hard-core gastronomic tourists. Our goals is to try as many great restaurants as possible, without breaking the budget, when in a new place. Here are the restaurants we tried and how our tummies voted.
Garden of the Gods Market and Cafe
This was Trip Advisor’s number 1 place in Colorado Springs, and we were impressed. We came here after our Pikes Peak ascent for a late brunch, and it was so worth it. Everything was delicious, the service was great and the space very cozy. We’d definitely go back there and strongly recommend you try it, if in the area.
Yumminess score: 9/10. I kept one point hostage since the frittata and hash browns could have used more spices according to my palette.
Hell’s Kitchen Pizza
As I mentioned, on a Sunday night at 9 p.m., most places in Manitou Springs were closed, but luckily we saw this pizzeria online and decided to try it out. It’s a casual dining spot with a few tables inside and TV for sports fans, but we were there for the food. The pizza was actually quite good. Maybe not my favorite one ever, but a good solid meal. I’d have it again.
Yumminess score: 8/10.
Overall, we felt safe everywhere we stayed and visited. We were never in Colorado Springs per say, as we stayed closer to Manitou Springs, so I am basing the assessment on our locality. The people were nice in general and we did come across some beggars. After we left the pizzeria, a young guy asked if we could spare some leftovers and we kindly gave him what was left in the pizza box. Generally speaking though, there aren’t many people out and about once it gets dark, so don’t go strolling around on your own, just to be safe.
This spot was a good one-night stop along our big loop and I recommend including it in your itinerary.