You’d be remiss if you thought the only big city in Colorado worth visiting was Denver. Colorado Springs, the second-largest city in the state, has been coming into its own in recent years.
Interestingly, for many years, people only came to Colorado Springs because they had to — the city was originally founded in 1871 as a tuberculosis town. The thought was that the dry mountain air would either serve as their recovery Hail Mary or would at the very least alleviate their sufferings in their final days. At its peak (the 1880s and 1890s), one in three people in the Springs (as it is known to locals) was a TB patient.
However, today the city is an exciting cocktail of outdoor adventures, wellness activities, dynamic breweries, and an up-and-coming restaurant scene. It’s so sought after that it’s become one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation. So expect to be surprised by the Springs. Read on for some of the best things to do in Colorado Springs.
Explore Old Colorado City
In the early 1900s, Colorado City was considered its own town. Today, it’s been rechristened Old Colorado City and is a suburb of Colorado Springs.
It’s worth ambling down Colorado Avenue, where there’s a high concentration of funky shops, galleries, restaurants, and drinking establishments. Paravicini’s Italian Bistro and Cerberus Brewery & Restaurant are local favorites. And if you find yourself there on a Saturday during the summer, be sure to stop by the Old Colorado City Farmers’ Market. There you’ll find vendors slinging artisan coffee, indulgent baked goods, and fruits and vegetables. (Be sure to get the Palisade peaches and the Pueblo green chiles, if they’re in season.)
2. Marvel at the Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, a National Natural Landmark, is best known for its sandstone cathedral spiers. While the same vein of 290 million-year-old red rocks is visible throughout the Front Range mountains (including the nearby Red Rocks Open Space), arguably nowhere is as striking as here.
Visitors can hike, bike, ride horseback, drive, and even Segway their way through the iconic park.
3. Visit the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum
Colorado Springs is sometimes called Olympic City USA because it is home to the Team USA training facilities, 24 National Governing Bodies of Sport, and the US Olympic Hall of Fame. But more recently, the city has unveiled the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum. The ode to all things sporting walks guests through the complete history of the Games and features well-curated exhibits, including an interactive one where guests can challenge gold medalists to their sport (virtually, at least).
One particularly fun piece of memorabilia is the scoreboard from the “Miracle on Ice” US vs. Soviet Union hockey game during the 1980 Olympics. The game, which the underdog US team narrowly won, is considered one of the greatest upsets in hockey history. The board is set with three seconds remaining — the moment when sportscaster Al Michaels famously asked, “Do you believe in miracles?”
4. Walk (or bike) around downtown
Colorado Springs’ downtown neighborhood is vibrant. Home to art, shopping, creative eateries, and swanky speakeasies, there’s a lot to do in a reasonably compact area.
While there is no shortage of places to nosh and relax in downtown, one of the most unique is arguably the Carter Payne. Built in 1897, it was originally the first Black church in town. When the congregation’s size outgrew the space, they built a larger church elsewhere, and the chapel was converted into a multi-concept bar and restaurant. Within, you’ll find a wine bar, a cocktail lounge, two eateries, and a brewery. The latter is particularly interesting because it never brews the same batch twice.
You can walk from one attraction to another or opt to use the PikeRide bike-share program.
5. See America’s mountain
Colorado Springs’ marquee attraction is arguably Pikes Peak. The views from the top of the 14,115-foot-tall mountain are so impressive that they inspired the song “America the Beautiful.” There are a couple of ways to see them for yourself. First, you can hike. Fair warning: It’s 13 miles. One way. Alternatively, you can drive your personal vehicle or catch a Gray Line bus — though if you do, it might be worth taking some Dramamine because there are 156 twists and turns in the 12.42-mile road. Finally, you can book a seat on the 130-year-old Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
6. Go back to school. . . kind of
When Ivywild, a nearly 100-year-old elementary school on the south side of town, closed in 2009, it did not take long for new development to start. Within a couple of years, the classrooms were transformed into a pizzeria, a bakery, a brewery, salad and empanada shops, a collection of boutiques, a whiskey tasting room (which doubles as an ax-throwing venue), and the cheekily named Principal’s Office cocktail bar (set in the area that really was the principal’s office).
While Ivywild was the first, it’s not the only reimagined school. More recently, Lincoln Center Elementary School (which taught kindergarten through fifth-grade students from 1948 to 2015) has been remade as a community center featuring a brewery, a coffee roaster, a café, a chiropractic office, a pilates studio, a bakery, a barber shop, and more.
7. Explore Manitou Springs
Whether your definition of restorative means communing with nature, participating in retail therapy, soaking in rich mineral waters, or enjoying a snack alfresco with a craft beer in hand, you’ll find what you’re looking for in this neighborhood.
If you’re keen on hiking, one of the most popular trails in the area is the Manitou Incline. Be warned: This hike is a humbler. Although it’s only a mile one-way, the former cable car track turned hiking route gains 2,000 feet of elevation. With 2,768 steps, it’s comparable to climbing the Eiffel Tower twice, the Washington Monument three times, or the Statue of Liberty six times. We recommend waiting until you’ve adjusted to the altitude (Colorado Springs is roughly 6,000 feet above sea level) before giving this a go.
Another popular spot to visit is the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Carved into an overhang in the nearby red-rocks mountains, these Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings are believed to be more than 700 years old. The archaeological wonders include adobe facades, beamed ceilings, and impressive grain-storage turrets.
It would not be surprising if you were feeling a bit sore after romping around outdoors. You may want to consider seeking out the regenerative properties of the local mineral waters for which the community was named. SunWater Spa features private cedar hot tubs filled with mineral water, where guests can purchase 90-minute time slots to soak.
8. Stay at the Broadmoor, one of the first destination resorts in the US
The Broadmoor, a luxury destination resort in Colorado Springs, has many claims to fame — its founder, Spencer Penrose, was fairly eccentric. In the early days of the hotel, he had an assortment of animals walking loose on the property, including elephants, monkeys, seals (which were known to swim in the pool), and more. Eventually, they were given a proper home, which is how the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo started.
Today there are still some animals on the property, though they’re more feathered than their predecessors. Each day, the Broadmoor invites guests to meet with its full-time falconer and get a lesson on its birds of prey (which include falcons, ospreys, and owls). During the demonstration, visitors can watch the feathered fleet train in the flying field and can even have one of the birds land on their arm.
The 784-room resort also has three golf courses (which frequently host PGA Cups and the US Women’s Open), a full-service spa, a collection of pools, a movie theater, and 17 restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. It’s also close to Seven Falls, one of the most popular hikes in the area.