A quick drive from Denver, Colorado Springs is deceptively large. In fact, it’s Colorado’s second biggest city. Because it’s so spread out, most locals recommend picking up a rental car at the Colorado Springs regional airport to properly explore the area. The city is framed by imposing views of the eastern Rockies (also known as the Front Range), and has plenty of fun things to do for outdoors enthusiasts. With a 14,000-foot peak as your backdrop, Colorado Springs has all the makings for a thrilling, and thoroughly enjoyable vacation suitable for the whole family.
Where Is Colorado Springs?
Colorado Springs is located in the middle of the state, an hour and a half south of the capital, Denver. Though it has its own regional airport (and nonstop connections to cities around the country) it’s also possible to fly into Denver International Airport, and drive 70 miles south to visit Colorado Springs. A true mountain city, Colorado Springs sits 6,035 feet above sea level, and connects to Pike National Forest.
Top Attractions in Colorado Springs
With a strong focus on outdoors activities, visitors are never at a loss for ways to have fun in Colorado Springs. Home to one of the country’s three Olympic training centers, plus the awe-inspiring Pikes Peak (one of the most visited mountains in the world) and dozens of fun museums and points of interest scattered around the 19-square-mile city, the only challenge for travelers is deciding what to do in Colorado Springs.
Located within the city limits, the Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado Springs’ most spectacular landmarks, and admission is 100 percent free. The unusual park boasts natural red rock formations that reach up to 300 feet in height. Among the best ways to explore it are through a Jeep or Segway tour, hiking trails, or by visiting the nature center’s dinosaur exhibit.
At the U.S. Air Force Academy, established in 1955, visitors can visit a campus where air force cadets train. The attraction is free and open to the public (a rarity among military bases) and contains a visitors center with information on the various tours and activities available. Show up during the school year to catch the noon mealtime formation of the cadets, an unmissable sight.
The Olympic Training Center is a must for sports fans. The facility, which is capable of housing up to 500 athletes and coaches at any one time, is the headquarters of the USA swimming and shooting teams. The 45-minute walking tours offer a fun, behind-the-scenes glimpse at Team USA hopefuls, who will likely compete in the upcoming games.
Another staple in Colorado Springs is the unbeatable Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Listed as America’s only zoo set on a mountain, it’s as remarkable for its views as it is for the animals who reside here. Exhibits are staggered thoughtfully along the property, so as you climb up the mountain you’ll encounter different animal habitats. There are monkeys, alligators, and even African giraffes, of which this zoo boasts more than any other in the world.
Major Events and Festivals in Colorado Springs
Head to Colorado Springs in early September for Labor Day Lift Off. This truly unique event draws thousands to the city at the end of each summer, with its eye-popping spectacle of 60 to 70 hot air balloons ascending over the town all at once. In addition to the colorful display, the festivities include live music, skydiving demonstrations, and a donut-eating contest.
Another way to get a feel for Colorado Springs’ creative pulse is Art on the Streets, during which original sculptures are installed on street corners, sidewalkes, and public spaces throughout the city. The sculptures remain for the entire year, but it’s traditionally in June when the new batch of artwork is revealed for the first time, prompting locals to scour the streets in search of the quirky, highly inventive sculptures.
Fireworks in Colorado Springs
July 4 is always a high-spirited time in Colorado Springs. Different events take place all over the city, though the most impressive is the fireworks display in Memorial Park. In addition to awesome fireworks, there’s also a live performance by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra.
Meanwhile, each New Year’s Eve, a rather unusual ritual takes place. Two days before the festivities, a troupe of intrepid hikers who call themselves Add A Man begin ascending one of the highest mountains in North America to launch a truly impressive fireworks display off the summit of Pikes Peak. The fireworks are visible for hundreds of miles along the Front Range of the Rockies.
Shopping in Colorado Springs
Downtown Colorado Springs offers a variety of independent boutiques, shops, and restaurants that are all within walking distance. Places like Terra Verde and Halo Boutique offer tasteful womens apparel, and there are also jewelry shops, bookstores, and even a coin gallery to be found.
Meanwhile, in Old Colorado City — a historic area located 10 minutes west of downtown — the quaint, 19th-century brick storefronts house a range of different businesses, from art galleries to French bakeries and plenty of interesting shops in between. Head to Antique Legacy for charming old-world finds, and Febra’s for funky, Southwest-inspired clothing.
Best Restaurants in Colorado Springs
Colorado might not be known for its food, but that hasn’t stopped the local dining scene from blossoming, in a way that satisfies all tastes and traveler types. When you’re looking for a decent place to eat in Colorado Springs, you won’t have to veer far from your hotel, as the downtown area contains dozens of options, from fine dining to pizza parlors and more.
Most Romantic Restaurant: The Pepper Tree
Cheap Eats: Fargo’s Pizza
Best Steak Restaurant: The Famous Steak House
Best Burger Restaurant: Thunder & Buttons
Best Italian Restaurant: Luigi’s
Best French: La Baguette (renowned for their French Onion soup)
Best Bars in Colorado Springs
After dinner, be sure to spend a little time exploring the various bars and nightlife spots around Colorado Springs. For a romantic couple’s night, drive out to The Cliff House at Pikes Peak, where you can sit on the hotel’s charming patio and choose from a list of over 800 wines. A more laid-back time will be had at Jack Quinn’s, a traditional Irish alehouse (food is also served). Meanwhile, Tony’s is the go-to sports bar downtown, with pool tables and enticing drink specials.
Easy Day Trips from Colorado Springs
Pikes Peak, which famously inspired the lyrics to ‘America the Beautiful,’ is a practical getaway for families or solo hikers, regardless of your fitness level. The possibilities for adventure here are seemingly endless, from daredevil itineraries that include zip-lining and river rafting to a mellow day spent fishing on the lake. However you make it to the top, plan on bringing your appetite: there’s a gift shop named Summit House that is famous for its donuts: quite possibly the only fried dough cooked at an altitude of 14,000 feet.
Where to Stay in Colorado Springs
Two factors play an important role in Colorado Springs’ most beloved places to stay: history and rugged mountain views. While the city has hotels and resorts scattered throughout its various neighborhoods, one thing they all have in common is a sense of escape from the urban grind, and plenty of peace and quiet.
At The Broadmoor, a 100-year-old resort on its own private lake, is a luxury property with 5-star amenities, private cottages, and a trio of golf courses. Another of Colorado Springs’ luxury hotels is Cheyenne Mountain Resort, a lodge that’s perfect for travelers who want to explore the surrounding mountains.
For a more boutiquey hotel experience, there’s The Outlook Lodge, a woodland retreat near waterfalls.
Vacation Rentals in Colorado Springs
Travelers looking for an alternative to hotels in Colorado Springs — particularly those traveling in large groups and seeking a budget-friendly stay — will find a number of homes and apartments available on vacation rental websites. Visitors will discover great, cost-friendly options on sites like VRBO, FlipKey, Home Away, and Airbnb, where you can find everything from a colorful Victorian-style house to a cozy, one-bedroom cottage.