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Colorado Springs' must-see and do tourist attractions

Pikes Picks

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It’s unclear who developed the term “staycation,” but we wouldn’t be surprised if they lived in Colorado. Residing in our beautiful state, where summer attractions offer just as much appeal as winter ones, can make it hard to leave when we have time off. So locals often join the throngs of tourists to visit our local attractions. Of course, squeezing all that’s available into limited hours always poses a challenge. So, be you native or visitor, here are some ideas for how to tailor time around specific interests. For this tour, let’s pretend you have a friend in town.
The zoo’s giraffes are gentle giants, but watch out for that tongue. - COURTESY CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • The zoo’s giraffes are gentle giants, but watch out for that tongue.

For nature lovers

Our most iconic feature is Pikes Peak, and there are several ways to take visitors to the top. Unless they’re in great shape, we don’t suggest the hike up Barr Trail or the Crags route. Driving the Pikes Peak Highway or taking a bus tour are the easiest ways to get to the summit. The historic Cog Railway is, sadly, no longer operational, but Gray Line Colorado offers bus tours up Pikes Peak Highway beginning April 15 and running to Halloween (633-1181, ticket sales at Old Depot Square, 76 S. Sierra Madre St.) While you can also bike to the top, another fun approach is to be dropped off at the summit and bike down the 19-mile roadway. Two companies that run such tours are Pikes Peak Bike Tours (bikepikespeak.com) and Challenge Unlimited (pikespeakbybike.co).

Garden of the Gods (1805 N. 30th St., gardenofgods.com) stands just below Pikes Peak on the iconic scale, but it’s far easier to access for all who visit. The Visitor & Nature Center hosts excellent exhibits, and with paved sidewalks, it’s easy to walk among the park’s gorgeous rocks (for history and geology buffs: tinyurl.com/CS-PikesPeak-GOG). Jeep, Segway and trolley tours are also available. Note: Climbing is only allowed with a permit.

If you want to wander among impressive geologic formations without such big crowds, Red Rock Canyon Open Space (3550 W. High St., redrockcanyonopenspace.org) offers a good alternative. With dirt hiking and biking paths (accessible to all levels) throughout, your friends can feel a little less touristy as they explore the remains of the old red rock quarries.

Next, what started in the 1920s as a way for entrepreneur/philanthropist Spencer Penrose to house his collection of exotic animals, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road, cmzoo.org) is ranked sixth in the nation by TripAdvisor and USA Today and is America’s only mountainside zoo. And it’s one of the few zoos in the country to operate without taxpayer support. While that doesn’t matter to most visitors, the experiences available here do: Watch as the giant blue-gray tongue from one of the zoo’s giraffe herd reaches out to grab the snack in your hand — photo ops don’t get much better.

Lastly, hit Manitou Springs to sample water from all eight of the mineral springs that give the town its name (manitoumineralsprings.org). The walk will take you from one end of town to the other; the taste of that spring water might even inspire a few fun Instagram posts.

For arts lovers

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College (30 W. Dale St., csfineartscenter.org) was already known for its top-quality exhibits and performances, but its leadership formed an alliance with Colorado College in 2016 that resulted in expanded programming. Drop by for a gallery tour, at the least.

With the opening of the 92,000-square-foot Ent Center for the Arts (5225 N. Nevada Ave., uccs.edu/entcenter), TheatreWorks and the GOCA (Galleries of Contemporary Art) on-campus space have new homes. GOCA is now housed in the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, and still operates its downtown gallery at 121 S. Tejon St. The new center promises an expanded palette of visual and performing art, and art even spills out onto the grounds with AWOL: Art WithOut Limits exhibits.

While First Fridays are a great way to peruse a lot of downtown art galleries — including the multi-gallery, multi-studio Cottonwood Center for the Arts (427 E. Colorado Ave., cottonwoodcenterforthearts.com), plus always-busy S.P.Q.R. (17-B E. Bijou St., spqrartspace.com) and Modbo (17-C E. Bijou St., themodbo.com) — we also recommend seasonal Old Colorado City First Friday ArtWalks, and taking an afternoon to cruise OCC’s many galleries. You can also take the First Friday shuttle bus to Manitou Springs, where galleries along Manitou Avenue showcase a multitude of local and regional artists.

For the athlete or adventurer

Cheyenne Mountain State Park boasts some awe-inspiring views. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Cheyenne Mountain State Park boasts some awe-inspiring views.
Colorado Springs regularly appears on the lists of healthiest cities in the U.S., which seems fitting in that we are home to United States Olympic Committee headquarters and an Olympic Training Center (1 Olympic Plaza, teamusa.org/csotc), which hosts boxing, cycling, figure skating, gymnastics, pentathlon, shooting and wrestling, as well as Paralympic cycling, judo, shooting and swimming. Take a tour to see where the athletes practice.

If you’d rather celebrate those who were already victorious, a stop at the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame (20 First St., worldskatingmuseum.org) might be in order. Or, to train like an Olympian, head to Manitou Springs and give the Incline (tinyurl.com/insider-Incline) a shot. Join the 300,000 people who climb it every year. Its distance is deceiving, just a mile, but the 2,000-foot elevation gain is what gets you.

Or make a mountain bike trip through Cheyenne Mountain State Park (410 JL Ranch Heights, cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/Parks/cheyennemountain) where 21 miles of trail await you. See more biking trail picks on here, and go here for Indy contributor Hiking Bob’s suggestions for popular and lesser-frequented hiking trails in the area.

For history lovers

The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum (215 S. Tejon St., cspm.org) offers educational insight through fascinating exhibits and events. While the preserved courtroom is a highlight, the City of Sunshine exhibit introduces visitors to our city’s roots as a destination for those afflicted with tuberculosis. Among those was celebrated art nouveau pottery artist Artus Van Briggle, the subject of another exhibit — From Paris to the Plains.

The American Numismatic Association’s Money Museum (818 N. Cascade Ave., money.org) looks at money through history, science and art throughout its three main galleries. Visit the Western Museum of Mining & Industry (225 North Gate Blvd., wmmi.org) to explore the role mining has played in our region’s history. Click here for a more comprehensive list of the region’s museums.

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