Colorado Springs, at an elevation of 6,035 ft., is a city in Colorado at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains. It lies near glacier-carved Pikes Peak, a landmark in Pike National Forest with hiking trails and a cog railway leading to its 14,114-ft. summit.
Colorado Springs has been a destination for decades, a real paradise for nature enthusiasts, thanks to its magnificently pristine alpine environment. The city’s Garden of the Gods park features iconic red-sandstone formations and mountain views.
As a consequence, it has developed into the 2nd biggest town in the state with museums, universities and a restaurant that is quickly growing.
This, combined with the cache of natural attractions on offer in the surrounding region, make Colorado Springs an irresistible destination for the domestic and foreign traveller alike.
Venturing further afield from The Springs, you’ll find a huge expanse of mountainscapes, forests, gorges and canyons, peppered with intriguing towns – every destination offering something unique.
Ideally reached by car, these day trips from Colorado Springs are perfect escapes for those looking to get back to nature and out of the city.
Here are the best day trips from Colorado Springs:
1. Garden of the Gods
Aptly named because of the majestically towering sandstone formations, spires, and stacks dotted throughout this diverse pocket of landscapes.
The fascinating combination of grassland, woodland and alpine mountain forest makes for one of the most intriguing parks in the country, with an array of activities on offer.
From hiking and horseback riding to simply finding a picturesque spot to enjoy the incredible views, the Garden of the Gods has something for everybody and is actually registered as a National Natural Landmark.
2. Royal Gorge
Not for those with an aversion to heights, this day trip will see you suspended high above the breath taking sandstone chasm known as Royal Gorge.
Home to the highest bridge in the United States, as well as a swing, zip line and gondola, there are endless ways to experience the dizzying heights and incredible views of the gorge.
If you’d like to check it out from the base, you can ride a train along the railroad snaking its way alongside the Arkansas River Valley, or even raft along the river itself.
Be sure to book both excursions in advance to ensure a place, as seasonal periods can get busy.
3. Drive to Woodland Park
The journey up to Woodland Park takes you northwest, up and over the first range of the Rocky Mountains and through some of the most pristine alpine Colorado landscapes in the entire state.
The fairly sudden rise in elevation means you can expect pearl white, snow-covered scenery, which makes the drive between attractions even more enchanting.
The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center is a must see for anyone with an interest in palaeontology, and is filled to the brim with fascinating exhibits.
A little further on, you’ll find the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which houses preserved plant and insect fossils, giving a fascinating insight into the area’s ecological history.
4. Paint Mines Interpretive Park
The surrealist landscapes of the Paint Mines Interpretive Park make for an aesthetically fascinating day trip for those looking to escape to a novel and unique slice of nature not far from Colorado Springs.
The colorful clay has formed multi-coloured rocks that range from purple to beige and yellow, and was in fact used for early Native American ceramics as well as more contemporary locally-crafted pottery.
The archaeological attraction isn’t the only thing to be found in this Colorado Badlands-type region; there are also various hiking trails that are easily accessible for all skill levels, taking you up into the wooded areas flanking the famous rocks.
5. Pikes Peak Highway
Less than half an hour from the neighbourhoods of Colorado Springs is the entrance to the Pikes Peak Highway – a looping three-hour road that will take you all the way to the top of Pikes Peak: an impossibly scenic 14,000-foot mountain that epitomises the alpine beauty of Colorado mountain ranges.
With numerous stop off points perfect for picnics and hikes, the highway is just as popular with locals as it is with visitors.
Be sure to stop off at the Pikes Peak Summit House to try the world-famous donuts, known for being the only donuts to be made at this altitude and possessing a unique texture as a result.
6. Phantom Canyon
Nestled in the Pikes Peak Region, the Phantom Canyon Road connects the towns of Florence and Victor and is one of the most scenic and best hidden gems in the state.
The striking curves and vegetation-peppered canyon walls follow an old railroad route.
It takes you past ancient ghost towns such as Adelaide and Wilbur that disappeared during flash floods, giving the trail an eerie presence in parts.
The tree-covered ravines found along the route are excellent places to stop off and hike, while the near vertical walls make for intriguing photo opportunities.
7. Rampart Range Road
For a true escape from urban life, and indeed any kind of commodity, venture out onto the Rampart Range Road.
You’ll need to have supplies and gas for a four-hour round trip with not a convenience store or gas station in sight.
This is the attraction of the scenic drive, where you can pull off at any of the gorgeous hiking locations or viewpoints without another person or car to be seen for miles – a great way to detach from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The journey is sometimes preferable in summer, due to the generally lower temperatures of the elevation, though if you’re after a snowy adventure, you might prefer to brave it during the winter.
8. Eldorado Canyon State Park
This quintessentially southwestern state park is unimaginably beautiful thanks to the mixture of pine forests, golden-beige canyon walls and smaller river that drains into the Colorado River.
The most popular activity here is without a doubt rock climbing, with over 500 routes up the sheer canyon faces, though there are plenty of other things to do that make it a worthy day trip.
The hiking trails are truly world class, and at sunset or sunrise hikers are rewarded with breath taking, sun-drenched, panoramic views from the summits of the various trails.
9. Idaho Springs
A smaller town than its Colorado Springs counterpart, but no less attractive, a day trip here is usually undertaken by locals to enjoy the small-town traditional mining heritage atmosphere.
The buildings on Main Street are incredibly well preserved, and after working up an appetite admiring the traditional central neighbourhood, stop off at Beau Jo’s Pizza for some of the best Colorado style pizza in the state.
10. Lariat Loop
The Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway can be found to the west of Denver and is a veritable paradise of extensive alpine landscapes that make up a section of the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Here you’ll find scarlet-coloured sandstone rock formations at the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, among various unbeatable hiking trails.
If you want to cool off, pay a visit to Evergreen Lake, the most popular of the gorgeous lakes that can be found while traversing the Lariat Loop.
For some of the best picnic and general relaxation spots in the state, turn off the byway at Golden Gate State Park to enjoy the sweeping expanses of fields and pine glens.
11. Indian Peaks Wilderness Area
Home to an actual glacier and within easy driving distance from Colorado Springs, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area is an incredibly popular wilderness destination, because of not only its rugged beauty, but its easily accessible proximity to urban hubs like Denver.
Here you’ll find windswept peaks, snowy, forested tundra, and glacial views.
It goes without saying that the hiking here is of phenomenal quality.
One of the most highly recommended routes is the Lake Isabelle and Pawnee Pass trail that provides access to three beautiful lakes.
The typical early America mining town, Georgetown has a tiny population of 1000 people, and an irresistible small town charm that sees crowds of people arriving each weekend to sightsee, visit the excellent museums, and enjoy Mexican-American cuisine.
If you’re in town, be sure not to miss the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, a breath taking aspen and pine covered ascent into the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
The friendly atmosphere found everywhere in Boulder is one of its main attractions, not to mention the world-class shopping, cuisine, and even hiking opportunities on its doorstep.
For some excellent retail therapy, head to downtown, where you’ll find the famous Pearl Street Mall back dropped by countless cafes; pedestrianized streets complete with performers; and unique boutiques.
For those who want to escape into nature, the Flatiron Mountains are minutes away from town and offer numerous stunning trails.
14. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
The drive from Estes Park through to Creek Canyon is a wonderland of aspen-covered foothills, old mining towns, national parks, and lakes – all of which are both visible and accessible from the scenic byway known as Peak to Peak.
Highlights on this route include the Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, if you’re looking for a true wilderness adventure.
Those who want to experience the charms of small southwestern townships should make stops at Central City and Black Hawk to enjoy their excellent casinos, friendly atmospheres, and hearty bar and saloon offerings.
15. Estes Park
This is a basecamp style town that acts as the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Completely surrounded by almost every kind of outdoor activity imaginable, Estes Park is a prime destination for those seeking adventure.
From waterfall hikes and stand-up paddle boarding to snow shoe trails, Estes Park has long been synonymous with the great outdoors.
However, there’s also a thriving commercial side to the town, with over 300 shops packed into the fairly small urban area, all touting wares from around the world.
For a day of relaxation, you can also head into one of the many excellent spas that can be found in downtown Estes Park.
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