After several weeks of completing a long, clockwise visit through the state, we concluded our tour of Colorado with a visit to the Colorado Springs area — at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains and near the 14,115-foot Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest.
We had planned to visit Pikes Peak during this trip, but the cool Cog Railway is under new ownership and under renovation and not currently running and the road to the top (a paid toll road) was still not open to the summit because of all the snow.
Instead, we decided to start with a visit to the Garden of the Gods, a 1,300-acre National Natural Landmark of towering sandstone rock formations (created during a geological upheaval along a natural fault line millions of years ago) against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
These beautiful formations are a (free) park of the city of Colorado Springs… thanks to the generosity of one family: the Perkins. In 1879, Charles Perkins bought almost 500 acres of land that included a portion of today’s park, and true to his dying wishes, his family gave the land to the city in 1909 — with the provision that it would forever be a free, public park.
We started at the visitor center, where we picked up a map and a magnet. From there, we drove across the street into the actual park and hiked the Perkins Central Garden Trail (an easy 1.75-mile loop) in the heart of the the amazing rock formations. The park also has several other short and fairly easy trails, as well as picnic areas.
The next day had us itching to travel up into the mountains, which led us to a day-trip to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, just south of the town of Florissant — and about 50 miles northwest of Colorado Springs.
This national monument is unique for several reasons. First, it is one of a handful of national monuments created (and protected) by the U.S. Congress though legislation (unlike the majority, which have been created by presidential order through the power of the Antiquities Act of 1906). Second, it is home to the trunks of an ancient forest of petrified redwood trees. (The valley was once partially covered by a large, shallow lake, surrounded by a dense, moist forest, during the late Eocene period around 35 million years ago.) Third, thousands and thousands of fossils have been collected here, making it one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world.
We started in the visitor center and the movie, later chatting with both seasonal rangers about the ancient trees, the park, and the 15 miles of hiking trails. We ended up hiking about 5 miles of those trails, including the Sawmill Trail, Ponderosa Loop, Petrified Forest Loop, and part of the Hornbek Wildlife Loop. We would have also hiked the Geological Trail, but Ran’s phone was down to about 2-percent power and we needed to recharge.
Highlights of our visit include the amazingly preserved, massive redwood stumps; hiking through beautiful forests of pine, spruce, and fir; seeing excellent views of Pikes Peak (from the Sawmill Trail); and witnessing our first-ever Abert’s squirrel (nearly jet-black in color).
We ended our time in Colorado Springs with an unusual experience for us — hiking in a privately-owned (and managed) waterfall and forest tourist attraction at The Broadmoor Seven Falls. The 181-foot falls are a series of seven cascading waterfalls (named Bridal Veil, Feather, Hill, Hull, Ramona, Shorty, and Weimer) on South Cheyenne Creek… and have been privately owned since the early 1880s!
If you go, be forewarned that you must park several miles from the actual falls (at the Norris Penrose Event Center) and take a “free” shuttle to the actual location of the park. Once at the park entrance — and after you pay the entrance fee (currently $14 for adults), you walk about a mile along a paved roadway through the canyon up to the falls. At that point, you can take a series of stairs or an elevator (as we did) up to the Eagle’s Nest for a nice panoramic view of the canyon and falls.
For some folks, the adventure ends there — or perhaps at the 1858 Restaurant — watching people climb the 224 steps up the side of the falls that lead to hiking trails and the banks of the glistening stream that feeds the falls. We, of course, hiked all the way to the top of the falls — and then into the forest beyond.
Once at the top of the falls, visitors have a two trail options: Inspiration Point Trail offers a one-mile out-and-back hike to a lookout with views of the Great Plains and Colorado Springs and takes about an hour to complete. Midnight Falls Trail is a shorter, easier hike and takes about 30 minutes to complete.
We hiked both trails, starting first with Midnight Falls and ending with Inspiration Point, which is where all these second set of photos are from.
The Midnight Falls Trail used to be a favorite and secluded spot for Colorado College students to visit late at night. Midnight Falls is near the headwaters of South Cheyenne Creek, which is formed by springs and from snowmelt on Pikes Peak. Meanwhile, Inspiration Trail, which was opened in 1883, has been the most popular of the trails for well over a century. The winding (uphill) trail leads to Inspiration Point, the location of the original grave site of author and Indian Advocate Helen Hunt Jackson.
For those with more time (and money) and wanting more adventure, the park also offers The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure, which consists of 10 zip-lines (split between two courses) ranging in distance from 300 feet to 1,800 feet, and ending with a controlled rappel. (Prices range from $140 to $242, per person, plus gratuity.)
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in all parts of Colorado; it truly is a beautiful and diverse state. It is, however, also a very crowded and popular state — for residents and tourists.
Next up is an adventure into Kansas.