In the Springs for only a little while? Let's make a plan

Suitcase strategy

| April 02, 2014
Ute Valley Park
Ute Valley Park
- File photo

You may have seen the weirdly prolific bumper sticker that says, "Not a native ... but I got here as fast as I could!" Well, that's true of a lot of us Colorado Springs residents. (You could probably say "Colorado Springsians," or "Springers," maybe even "Springites," but, well, locals wouldn't.)

Yes, many of us lived in California, Texas or back East before migrating here sometime in the past couple decades. In 1990, about 283,000 people occupied this city. By 2012, it was more like 432,000.

So make no mistake: You don't have to be a true native to get pretty comfortable here. In fact, you can get a decent taste of what this place has to offer in a very short time. How short? Well ...

1 day

If you're only going to be spending a brief 24 hours in town, bring some sunblock. Or a parka. Just as likely, both.

Start your morning at Colorado Springs' most picturesque geological oddity: Garden of the Gods (1805 N. 30th St., gardenofgods.com), where time and geological activity have pushed enormous spires of pink and red sandstone hundreds of feet above the surrounding trees. There are many stroller-friendly paved pathways among the rocks, but if you're even a bit more mobile, head for Ridge Trail. It's unpaved, but not at all treacherous, and it affords more epic views of the rocks and of your next stop.

Topping out at 14,115 feet, Pikes Peak (pikes-peak.com) is Colorado's easternmost 14er — giving you expansive views of the plains to the east, and other peaks to the west. Take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway (515 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, cograilway.com) to the top for a painless trip, panoramic views and a narrated journey to the summit. You can also take your car — or better yet, a rental, since descending can be murder on the brakes — along Pikes Peak Highway, switching back dramatically across the peak's steep face. The best views can be found from the train, and weather near the summit can make the highway impassible on occasion, but if you can do it, the drive is unforgettable — and you'll be able to take your time at the summit. Have an extra high-altitude donut at the Summit House.

After you return from the top of the world, the serene mountain community of Manitou Springs (manitousprings.org) awaits. Stroll the pedestrian-friendly streets, play in the arcade, and pop in to some shops. This is also where you can drink from several actual springs of mineral-enriched water. The springs were beloved by the only true natives to the area; native Americans from several different tribes once came to them for healing and spiritual purposes.

And you can't leave Colorado without a locally made craft brew. Cap off the evening at Ivywild School (1604 S. Cascade Ave., ivywildschool.com), a renovated, 100-year-old neoclassical elementary-school-turned-community-hub. There's a swanky bar, bakery, charcuterie, concert venue and, most important of all, the brewery and taphouse of Bristol Brewing Company, the city's largest craft brewery. Community art provides a pleasant distraction while you enjoy a Great American Beer Festival-award-winning Laughing Lab.

3 days

The Springs — that bit of shorthand will work for you — is rife with historic and cultural spots.

Working generally north-to-south, first up is the Air Force Academy (2346 Academy Drive, tiny.cc/qypzcx). Stop by the visitors center to learn about the school, its history and its arsenal of planes. You'll know it by the massive B-52 mounted by the north gate, heavily decorated from more than 200 combat missions in several different conflicts.

Nearby, the Western Museum of Mining and Industry (225 North Gate Blvd., wmmi.org), is worth a visit. Learn to pan for gold, and see how mining was done back in the day. Take a free guided tour for the most enriching experience.

Closer to the city's heart, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 W. Dale St., csfineartscenter.org) is the premier visual art destination in town, offering traveling exhibits as well as a growing permanent collection. Of note in the latter are extensive Native American artifacts, staggering Dale Chihuly glasswork and two pieces from the legendary Roy Lichtenstein that were added quite recently.

For more local history, the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum (215 S. Tejon St., cspm.org) provides exhibitions on the Springs' story, from its 1871 founding by Gen. William Jackson Palmer all the way up to the Waldo Canyon Fire, 2012's landmark disaster.

The Broadmoor (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com) is, yes, one of the oldest luxury hotels in the West. It's also downright beautiful. Its history is a unique tale of railroads, fights against Prohibition, and the hubris of turn-of-the-20th-century businessman Spencer Penrose (also the namesake of a local hospital and an events center — he's kind of a big deal). Ask a bartender about it: Hotel employees take a class in its history, so they know what's up. Visit for the scenic lake, remarkable architecture and the gallery of bottles Penrose stored up during Prohibition; if you can afford it, stay for the fine food, drink and accommodations.

Cave of the Winds (100 Cave of the Winds Road, caveofthewinds.com) is an intricate network of caves with fascinating rock formations, from huge cathedral rooms to stalagmites and -tites of all sizes. The lantern tour is especially cool. Just note: It's not for the claustrophobic.

Last but not least is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road, cmzoo.org), a testament to the stubbornness of mountain folks. You wouldn't expect a zoo on the side of a mountain where winters bring 40 inches of snow annually, but here it is. Don't miss the walk-through wallaby exhibit, or the brand new Africa complex. You can even feed the giraffes — a cracker if they've been hitting the gym on the reg, lettuce if they're getting a bit fat.

7 days

Have a whole week to spend? You'll do well to explore some of the more regional and seasonal activities.

If your stay brings you in town during the winter months, you've got to try skiing or boarding. The Springs hasn't had its own hill since the early '90s, but within two hours' drive you'll find Monarch Mountain (23715 W. Hwy. 50, west of Salida, skimonarch.com) or Loveland Ski Area (Exit 216 off Interstate 70, in Georgetown, skiloveland.com). For a more resort-like experience, Breckenridge, Keystone or Winter Park are close enough for a day trip.

Spending a bit of summer with us? Visit Security Service Field (4385 Tutt Blvd., skysox.com) and catch a baseball game with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the Rockies' AAA affiliate. See up-and-coming young stars before Topps prints their rookie card. Or, just as likely, watch Rockies veterans Troy Tulowitzki or Jorge De La Rosa on a rehab stint. Either way, home runs fly farther at altitude.

Sound waves, meanwhile, move more slowly up here — which gives you a bit more time to catch the Colorado Springs Philharmonic (csphilharmonic.org). The 2013-14 season ends in mid-May, but not before a Pirates of the Caribbean event on the 9th and 10th of that month; the next season, which will include an appearance by superstar violinist Joshua Bell, starts in September.

If all the rocks around have you hankering for a climb, some are scaleable with the right permits. Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon Open Space (3550 W. High St., redrockcanyonopenspace.org), Cheyenne Cañon (Cheyenne Cañon Road, cheyennecanon.org) and Ute Valley Park (1705 Vindicator Drive, friendsofutevalleypark.com) are great for climbing and bouldering. Find details at springsgov.com. Or, keep things indoors and air-conditioned at CityRock (21 N. Nevada Ave., climbcityrock.com) — no permits required, and experts help you get started. Plus, there's a nice kids' area.

A meandering 90-minute drive leads you to historic Cripple Creek (cripple-creek.co.us), where a Gold Rush-era town now dispenses gold of a different type: Several casinos in converted, antique structures boast table games and, like, way too many slots. The folks are friendly and the scenery is unmatched. Make the visit in the fall to see some serious autumn color.

Looking south, you'll find the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (101 S. Union Ave.) that at about 40 minutes away is totally worth your drive. It's a lovely park, perfect for an afternoon stroll, littered with art and local flavor.

And if you're going to be in town this long, you just might need another beer. We're blessed with a strong craft brewing scene in Colorado Springs and across the Front Range. Beyond Bristol, more standouts are Trinity Brewing Company (1466 Garden of the Gods Road, #184, trinitybrew.com) and Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., phantomcanyon.com), but you'll find an enormous assortment on p. 31.

As for where to eat, shop or get your groove on? Keep reading! But start with this. Pretty soon, you'll see why we all got here so fast — and stayed.

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