Looking for a fun, family-friendly summer vacation spot in the Rocky Mountains? This July, my entire family, including my two adorable new Miniature Aussies, hit the road and headed for Colorado Springs, Colorado, the perfect mixture of city life and outdoor adventure.
Clearly, I am pretty biased about the great state of Colorado after my life-changing trip to Vail last summer (read more about my adventures here). But this year, in a totally new location, our trip was much different from the last. Rather than being surrounded by the towering Rockies, we chose a more budget-friendly option just driving distance from several parks and hikes.
If you’re more of an outdoor novice or you’re looking for a challenge fit for adventurers of all ages, this is the perfect place for you. Read on for my five day itinerary for summer activities in Colorado Springs.
Where to Stay in Colorado Springs
The great thing about Colorado Springs is that you don’t have to stay in an expensive ski resort like you would in Aspen or Vail. There are lodging options of all sorts available to you in this more populated area.
If you are bringing along a larger group, consider locations that offer extended stays. My family chose the Sonesta ES Suites, a hotel located in a more suburban area of Colorado Springs. Not only did they have large spaces, full kitchens, and complimentary breakfast, but they were also pet-friendly.
The options are limitless for places to stay in the area. From luxury hotels to Airbnb rentals, you can find the price and amenities that work best for you.
Where to Eat in Colorado Springs
Because Colorado Springs is such a large city, there are countless restaurants to choose from. From gourmet dinners to a quick breakfast before an early morning hike, this place has anything you could want or need.
If you’re looking for recommendations, my favorite restaurant is ViewHouse, a sports bar and grill with an unbeatable view of the nearby mountains. Not only does this place offer great sights and drinks, but the food is terrific. From burgers to power bowls, ViewHouse has everything you could want. And if you visit on the weekend, there’s a chance you may even catch the live band on the patio.
Another must is Denver Biscuit Company. For a breakfast splurge, treat yourself to an oversized biscuit with spicy sausage gravy or a delectable strawberry shortcake biscuit. This is the perfect reward after a long morning hike.
For the rest of our nights out, we chose locations that allowed dogs so we could bring the pups along with us. A fan favorite was Lazy Dog, with great American food, including low calorie options for those dieting. Another fun choice is Pub Dog. With a wide selection of drinks and bar food (served in an actual dog bowl), they also offer pup bowls and treats along with a special play area for all your furry guests.
Five Day Colorado Springs Summer Itinerary
Day 1: Hike the Palmer Trail
Take the short drive to Bear Creek Cañon Park, the home of one of Colorado Springs’ most popular trails (and for good reason). The Palmer Trail (also known as Section 16) is one of the harder hikes on this itinerary, but the views are worth the effort.
The trail starts with a more strenuous uphill for about two miles, easily the most challenging part of the hike. But after this segment, you will reach the long-awaited peak, giving you an unrestricted view of the whole valley.
The way down is much simpler, but quite a bit longer. However, there is a plethora of impressive viewpoints for most of the descent, along with wildlife scattered around the park.
Although this hike is a bit long (clocking in at about 5.7 miles), the trek is worth the journey if you’re looking for good scenery and unmatched views of the mountains. I recommend taking on this trail early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the crowds and higher temperatures.
Also, be sure before you begin that all members of your party are fit for the hike. Our dogs found the distance and midday heat more than they could handle and spent most of the trip snuggled up in our backpacks.
Day 2: Explore Garden of the Gods
Back in the late 1800s, when many were moving west, this large plot of land was the personal property of Charles Elliot Perkins. After remarking on the unique rock formations scattered around his land, he turned the area into a park “where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park.”
Now, people come from all over the world to see these colossal red rocks. As a national natural landmark, there are many things to do and see here, enough for an entire day of exploring.
Start your day at the park Visitors Center. Learn more about the history of the park in the interactive museum and pick up a trail map to find your way around. Then, you can pick out which trails to take on or scenic paths to walk along.
My family started on the Perkins Central Garden Trail, where you can see the historic Kissing Camels formation. Another popular scenic point is the Balancing Rock.
One of the unique parts about this park is that most of the rock formations are visible from your own car on the scenic drive. Views like Balancing Rock are just a few yards from the street. If you’re traveling with some less active family members or need a day off after hiking the Palmer Trail, this could be a great option for you.
But be aware: summer months bring large crowds into the parks, creating heavy traffic on the roads. If you’re looking for some solitude, choose the unpaved hikes. But start early since parking availability diminishes quickly.
Hungry for a greater adventure? Check out the park website to learn about the wide variety of activities offered, including rock climbing for all ages!
Day 3: Go White Water Rafting down the Royal Gorge
Load up the car and drive the short trip to Cañon City. There you will find the Royal Gorge, an exciting section of rapids on the Arkansas River.
We made the good choice of rafting with Royal Gorge Rafting Co. Although my family is experienced with extreme rapids and chose the more advanced route, there are options for beginners as well. Life jackets and helmets are provided along with optional splash jackets (which I recommend wearing even in the warmer summer months due to the chill temperature of the river).
Enjoy about two hours of exciting rapids and exhilarating fun for the whole family. Meanwhile, take in impressive views of the canyon, traveling through the base of towering cliffs on either side. Additionally, you will float below the remarkable Royal Gorge bridge, another great place to visit if you have the time.
If you’re worried about capturing memories on your ride, don’t sweat it. Your tour includes a professional photographer who takes expert pictures via kayak, capturing each memorable moment.
Nothing compares to the thrill of a trip down the river, so be sure not to skip this one!
Day 4: Travel to the Top of Pikes Peak
While some choose to hike up this breathtaking 14er, a more family-friendly option is to drive the Pikes Peak Highway Scenic Drive. Gradually travel up the mountain to capture views from all angles while remaining inside the comfort of your own car.
Save at least four hours for this round trip journey, since you will inevitably spend some time admiring the skyline from the peak, and be sure you have a full tank of gas before arriving. At the base, you will purchase a vehicle pass (the price is dependent on the size of your party), and pick up a map of the highway.
On your way up, there are plenty of places to pull off the main road. Take some extra time at scenic points, campsites, shops and restaurants scattered around the 19 mile route.
WARNING: this drive is not for the faint of heart! Even though the road is well-paved, there are alarmingly steep drop-offs just a few feet from the edge. If you have a fear of heights (like my poor dad), think twice about taking this trip up the mountain.
A few miles from the summit, you have the choice to drive on or park and take a free shuttle to the top. I strongly recommend taking the shuttle, since you will not be able to park and exit your vehicle if you drive yourself.
Once you arrive at the peak, take in the 360⁰ view from a myriad of outlooks encircling the summit.
Take some time to check out the new Summit House (which was nearly finished at the time of our visit) for some souvenirs and lunch.
Even summer weather can’t neutralize the chill of elevation, so make sure you have a sweater or jacket to stay warm. Also, be on the lookout for altitude sickness. If you are feeling dizzy or ill, drink plenty of water or begin making your way down the mountain.
Even the fearless may feel uncomfortable with the steep decline on your drive down. Rangers will stop you during your descent to check the temperature of your brakes to be sure you are safe to drive. My best advice is to be patient and take your time driving to the base.
Day 5: Check Out North Cheyenne Cañon Park
This impressive park is the definition of mountain majesty. The drive itself through the park is simply gorgeous, taking you through steep slopes and a wave of Evergreens.
For a beautiful and peaceful hike, try the Seven Bridges Trail. From the parking lot, you will walk along a rocky path for about a mile before a sharp left turn in the road. The trailhead is not well-marked, but if you turn right at this point, through the break in the trees, you should find the trailhead a few yards in.
Travel along a gentle creek under a canopy of trees. Enjoy the natural waterfalls throughout the stream. The trail takes you across (you guessed it) seven bridges before a more strenuous upward trek. I recommend turning around after the seventh bridge (the bridges are numbered, so don’t worry about counting).
Although this trail is dog-friendly, some may say it is a little too dog-friendly. Because our dogs are quite anxious, they were more than normally nervous and aggressive by the time we made it back to the car, after having to pass new dogs every few minutes. Know ahead of time how your pup will react to other dogs, and consider leaving your more skittish ones at home.
There are also many other trails to visit around the park. Make sure you visit Helen Hunt Falls before you go for the perfect photo op. A very short trail scales up the mountain behind the waterfall for another mountain view.
Colorado Springs and its surrounding parks and trails are the perfect place for your next family trip. Whether your family is new to the outdoors or full of experienced adventurers, there is something for everyone in this diverse area.
Have you visited Colorado Springs? Let me know about your experience in the comments below!