Family Travel: 8 Ways Colorado Springs and Royal Gorge Rock
posted by: Lori Holden
For a mid-summer treat, my husband, tween son, teen daughter and I recently loaded up the family car and made the very doable trip to Colorado Springs for a long weekend. Thus began a super fun, highly memorable, and delightfully low-key trip.
I’m sharing our itinerary with you in case you, too, want to take a day-trip, a weekend trip, or a long-weekend trip with your family. Pick any day’s activities (they’re grouped strategically), or switch out your own ideas from an extensive list at VisitCOS.com.
1. You can’t go wrong using the fabulous Cheyenne Mountain Resort as your base. Cheyenne Mountain Resort has families figured out, judging by how many parents and kids of all ages we saw during our stay, some even with the family dog! There’s a little something for everyone: golf, tennis, swimming (5 pools and a lake, complete with watercraft), a state-of-the-art fitness center, a brand new full-service spa, and even a KIDZ camp so that grownups can, well, do grownup things.
One Awesome Day in Colorado Springs
2. Make a stop (even before checking into the hotel) in the quaint and vibrant mountain town of Manitou Springs. Though we could have spent the whole weekend there (and we will one day), we took the time only to eat at BooDad’s Louisiana Cafe and to indulge in what has become our Mother-Daughter tradition. We stopped in the charming La Henna Boheme for funky shopping and quick henna tattoos.
Tip: Drink from one or more of the town’s mineral springs fountains.
3. Face down your fears (in a fun way) at Cave of the Winds. We booked a Discovery Tour through the caves and learned about different formations. At one point and for just a few moments, we experienced a phenomenon called Total Cave Darkness. The closest equivalent for lack of light, said our guide, would be at the bottom of the ocean.
Afterwards, the two brave ones among us (Daddy and Daughter) rode the Terror-Dactyl attraction while Mom and Son watched from firm ground. See Jenna Bush Hager and Natalie Morales of The Today Show demonstrate here (“Mommmmmmyyyyy!!”)
Tip: Check out discounts and deals before you go.
4. Dance with wolves at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. Well maybe not DANCE but definitely get fairly up close and personal.
With a little bit of planning it’s easy to get to the day’s last stop just prior to feeding time at 6pm (it’s not far from Cave of the Winds). Meet the resident canids — foxes, coyotes, and wolves — and observe them when they are most active. Learn about the connection between age-old fairy tales and the current dire situation for these majestic animals, as well as the ecosystems that rely on wolves as predators to maintain nature’s balance. We were awed by their powerful jaws, able to gobble hunks of meat — bones and all — within minutes. A special treat is witnessing the group howl.
Tip: If you’re lucky enough to be in Colorado Springs on the Saturday near a full moon, check out this special tour.
Head back to Cheyenne Mountain Resort for a night swim or your preferred way to wind down. So ends one fantastic family day in Colorado Springs.
Another Awesome Day in Colorado Springs
5. Schedule in time to find your bliss from the numerous amenities at Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Whether your thing is tennis golf, swimming, kayaking or aqua-biking, go work it, play it! If it’s a yoga, Pilates or Zumba class, take it!. If your thing is chillaxing, like it was for my daughter and me, visit Alluvia Spa, right on premises. We opted for a mani (her) / pedi (me).
6. Take in the stunning scenery surrounding the Royal Gorge Bridge. Atop the gorge carved by the Arkansas River stands the highest suspension bridge in North America. You can walk or drive across the gorge and as you do, you’ll see the John F Kennedy range in the distance (named for his apparent likeness, as if he were lying down), the gorge bed nearly 1000 feet below, and its little-bitty train tracks (this will factor in later). Newly reopened, the park and bridge have been revived since the fire that devastated it in 2013 — better than ever.
The impressive bridge and vistas are only one part of the adventure. There are also rides from gentle to death-defying. On the gentle end are the miniature train, as well as a gondola that takes you across the gorge (both included in general admission). In the middle is a zipline across the gorge, which I am surprised to say I had the gumption for. There’s no steep drop, and the rider doesn’t have to apply a hand brake. The zipline was exhilarating and I highly recommend it for middle-brave people.
On the insanely brave end is the skycoaster: “Imagine a free-fall sweeping you 50 mph to hang momentarily over 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River.”
Power to ya.
Tip: If you get an early enough start, take a short detour along SkyLine Drive between Cañon City and the Royal Gorge.
7. Have a gourmet meal on the Dinner Train on the Royal Gorge Route. If you get here prior to 6 pm boarding (it’s advised to arrange for tickets ahead of time), you’ll enjoy a 3 hour tour that takes you 11 miles into and back from the gorge, all while dining on a delicious 3-course meal. The dining cars (including the higher-priced Vista Dome cars) offer fascinating views from inside geological formations, beside a river, and alongside the mining and prison history of the local area (your server tells you about all of it). There are scenic stops — including 1000 feet under the bridge you were on earlier in the day — and you can leave your dining car for an open-air car to get a glimpse up.
How many times in recent memory has your family spent 3 hours together, uninterrupted by friends, the phone, a TV, tablet or smart phone (no service here)? The four of us laughed and luxuriated in each others’ presence in a way that happens not often enough. Wonderful memories were made on the Dinner Train aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.
Tip: On Saturday evenings through Halloween, kids under 12 ride the dinner train free.
Head back to Cheyenne Mountain Resort for a good night’s sleep. So ends another fantastic family day in Colorado Springs.
Yet Another Awesome Day in Colorado Springs
Take the early part of the morning to eat and enjoy the amenities at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, or do your own hiking or biking or relaxing.
Then by mid-morning (for weather purposes)…
8. Wind your way up Pikes Peak Highway to the 14,115 summit of Pikes Peak.
It’s 19 miles of switchbacks and awe-inspiring views, which will take at least an hour to get there. When you do, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. We didn’t get started early enough and were met with the predictable early afternoon clouds/fog. But still, the scenery was jaw-droppingly beautiful on the way up and down.
Above tree line you’re looking down on other mountain ranges. You might see bighorn sheep, like this mama and baby. Katherine Lee Bates was so struck by the view in 1893 that she wrote the words to what would become the song America the Beautiful (“purple mountain majesties”), and there is a monument to mark this.
Even during the heart of summer, it was chilly at the top, so bring jackets and maybe rain gear.
Coming down we stopped at the spots we’d missed on the way up. There are beautiful flora and fauna, a special treat for enthusiasts and photographers.
Tip: Make sure you have at least a half-tank of gas for the drive up and decent brakes for the way down. May be a difficult trek for kiddos with motion sickness.
Yes, this post says 8 ways Colorado Springs Rocks for Families, but I’m adding a 9th and 10th. Even though we didn’t manage to work it in, you might be able to (we had been there before).
9. Further revel in nature’s wonder at Garden of the Gods. Entrance to this park, which is a registered National Natural Landmark, is free. Families can enjoy the park on foot, by Jeep or Segway, and even via rock climbing.
10. Bask in the majesty of Seven Falls, a magnificent series of waterfalls located in a 1,250-foot-wall box canyon, and then explore everything else the new Seven Falls has to offer. The falls have been closed since the Colorado Springs floods and will reopen August 16, 2015. An optional Broadmoor Soaring Adventure will be available at a later time.
So ends yet another fantastic family day in Colorado Springs.
More Colorado Springs!
A few things we missed…this time!
- The Manitou Incline: the remains of a former narrow gauge funicular railway, now a popular hiking trail with a 2,000 feet elevation gain in just 1 mile.
- Ghost Town Museum: a fun and historic look back at an old west-type town that dotted this region during the late1800’s and early 1900’s
- Echo Canyon River Expeditions : build your own unforgettable rafting adventure through the Royal Gorge; for all comfort levels
- The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey: wine tours and tastings on the grounds of the historic Holy Cross Abbey (Benedictine)
I’ve offered only the tip of the Colorado Springs iceberg. Other activities my family is begging for will definitely necessitate more 1, 2, or 3-day trips.
Tip to self: Don’t forget your VisitCOS.com magazine — coupons abound!
For more family itineraries, visit Colorado Springs Family Vacation Trip Ideas.
Has your family been to Colorado Springs? What did you find fantastic?
Lori Holden blogs from metro-Denver at LavenderLuz.com. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole (written with her daughter’s birth mom), is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful gift for the adoptive families in your life.
Lori is also available to deliver her open adoption workshop to adoption agencies and support groups.
Disclosure: some experiences were provided by Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Cave of the Winds, Colorado Springs CVB, Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, Royal Gorge Route, and Pikes Peak Highway for purposes of writing this article.