On Day 9 of our family road trip the PapiMobile came to a virtual halt in Colorado as we paused from days of heavy driving and medical emergencies only to accidentally discover the majesty of Colorado Spring’s Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak and the quaint little town of Manitou Springs.
Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado Springs’ best bets for family travel and exploration. The park is considered a national natural landmark and was named Garden of the Gods in the late 1800s when two men who came to survey the land got into a discussion about whether the land looked like a garden of beer or a Garden of the Gods. It’s been named Garden of the Gods ever since.
At first glance, from a distance, the 480-acre park looks both beautiful and too big to see because of the sheer size and beauty of its rock formations. In fact, Garden of the Gods is not Grand Canyon-sized huge and is actually perfectly sized for a family outing related to hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, Segway riding or even rock climbing. If you’re in a hurry and just want to take in most of the park’s best vistas, you’re also in luck because all you need is to do is drive the park’s short loop for about an hour of stopping and going and you’ll get all the photos and videos you need. From a photograher’s perspective I would rate this park a solid 10 for how easy it is to photograph it’s best parts with minimal efforts.
When you go, don’t miss driving the outer loop as well as that’s where you’ll find the iconic Balanced Rock formation. The best time to see Balanced Rock is during the first two hours of daylight, when the sun hits it with a perfect light.
Pike’s Peak and Manitou Springs
About a 15-minute drive south from the Garden of the Gods is Manitou Springs, one of the most delightful small towns we’ve seen on this trip and also home to the cool cog train that takes you up to the top of the famous Pike’s Peak.
Pike’s Peak is named after Zebulon Pike Jr., an explorer who led an expedition to the southern Colorado area in 1806 and while it is not the tallest mountain in Colorado (it rises 14,115 feet) it is easily the most famous one because annually more than 5.9 million visitors reach its summit. Pike’s Peak is one of Colorado’s 54 fourteeners (mountains that rise more than 14,000 feet (4,267.2 m).
Manitou Spring’s Pikes Peak Cog Railway is the main reason the mountain gets the amount of visitors that it does annually, making it one of the nation’s most visited mountains. Last summer, while visiting the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park we discovered that the most famous natural wonders in the U.S. are not necessarily the tallest ones but instead the ones that are most accessible.
The train ride up Pike’s Peak is an hour and 20 minutes of sheer beautiful vistas and wildly shifting weather that can range from sun, to rain, to snow and even to hail. The view atop the mountain is so breathtaking that it is credited with inspiring Katharine Lee Bates to begin writing “America the Beautiful” there. A plaque commemorates this fact. When you go, be sure to reserve your train ride at least a week in advance.
Due to time constraints we didn’t get to take in all that historic Manitou Springs has to offer but a quick drive around town left us wanting to return for the many antique stores, coffee houses, candy shops, restaurants and bed and breakfasts that Manitou boasts. You could say the same thing about many small towns in the U.S. but in order to show you why we feel Manitou Springs stands out we’re posting a small video here from our own PapiMobile’s PapiCam.
Disney Vacation Tip of the Day
Don’t be afraid of improvising drastic changes to your itinerary. Some of life’s most delightful vacation spots are discovered by chance situations like a late travel start, a flat tire or other unexpected events. Embrace those times and don’t stop thinking about enjoying the possibilities of wherever your family road trip finds you. Kids are generally easy to please even if all you have to give them is a pool at an unplanned hotel stay.