This High-altitude Colorado Train Trip Inspired 'America the Beautiful' — and It's Back and Better Than Ever
If you've ever dreamed of standing atop one of Colorado's famed 14,000-foot peaks, the time has come. After being closed for three years for a top-to-bottom renovation and reconstruction, The Broadmoor Manitou Pikes Peak Cog Railway is open again for business.
Topping out at 14,115 feet above sea level, this cog-railway is the highest altitude railway in the U.S. After renovation it now runs on a single steel cog rail, which controls the speed and safety of the steep, one-hour, nine-mile journey to the top.
Originally named Sun Mountain by the Ute Native American tribe, as it was the first place to see the sun daily, and was considered the source of all life, Pikes Peak assumed its current name after Zebulon Pike, a man who never actually summitted the mountain, but wrote about it enthusiastically in the early 1800s.
For 130 years, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, one of only three cogs in service in the U.S., has been taking passengers along the scenic route on what has become known as "America's Mountain." In fact, it was here, amidst the spacious skies atop Pikes Peak in 1893 that English professor Katharine Lee Bates penned the poem that, when set to music by organist Samuel A. Ward, would become "America the Beautiful."
Taking the cog railway is as much of an awe-inspiring experience today as it was when the railway first opened in 1891. The depot for the cog is located in historic mining-era town of Manitou Springs, a short distance from Colorado Springs, a mix of local shops and artistic displays, along with eight public cold-water (and naturally bubbly) drinking springs that are fed via Manitou's mineral water springs. The Victorian train depot has been fully rehabilitated with a memorable coat of bright blue paint, and the four refurbished and three new railway cars gleam bright red in the Colorado sunshine, a splash of color against the mountain's neutral hues.
As we boarded one of two cars preparing for the top, we sat shoulder to shoulder with masked passengers, carrying water and an extra layer of clothing for the chilly and unpredictable weather at the summit. Others were smartly armed with small canisters of oxygen, readily available in the depot gift shop. Settled into our new, cushioned seats, soon we began the pull up the mountain through dense forests, past boulders the size of homes, wildlife, alpine lakes, and eventually past tree line.
The cog speed averages about 10 miles an hour and the average grade is 16 percent, topping out at 25 percent at Son of a Gun Hill. Once at the top, guests are given 45 minutes to explore the summit. There, visitors will find an elevated pathway and overlook designed to help protect the summit's fragile tundra, along with a new summit marker.
The new $30 million Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center has replaced the 1964 Summit House. The highest building to be constructed in the United States, the Pikes Peak Visitor Center was designed by GWWO Architects, along with the local architect of record, RTA Architects. It is already LEED Silver certified and is expected to achieve the Living Building Challenge, a two-year certification process to signify a highly sustainable, net-zero building. If achieved as expected, this will be the first federal building and the first in Colorado to do so.
Embedded into the mountainside, the low-rise structure is set against the southeast side of Pikes Peak. Inside this striking work of modern architecture, visitors can expect to find interpretive exhibits, dining (including the famous high-altitude donuts), retail, restrooms (with its own wastewater treatment plant) and two outdoor dining terraces that provide amazing views of surrounding peaks including Mount Rosa, and in the distance the Sangre de Cristo Range.
Accessibility is one of the biggest assets to the reconstruction of both the trains, railway, depot, and visitors' center. Pikes Peak is Colorado's only "Fourteener" where everyone can easily reach the summit, regardless of physical ability, and expects to welcome more than half a million people to its summit this year alone.
The cost for standard admission on the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway is $58 for adults and $48 for children 12 and under for advance e-ticket purchases, or $59.50 at the depot ticket window. Guests may select specific seats on the train (pick a window) by upgrading to reserved seating for $68 for adults and $58 for children. Lastly, if so inclined, guests can ride the cog to the top of Pikes Peak and opt to ride a bike down Pikes Peak Highway, a 19.5-mile adventure back into the heart of Colorado Springs.
For more information, visit cograilway.com.