Colorado Vacations 
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Your Guide to Visiting Colorado with the Kids
See Pikes Peak with the Kids
For families on vacation in Colorado, Pikes Peak is an icon of the state's scenery, history, and character.

The mountain offers kids and their parents plenty to see and do, from hiking, driving, or riding a train to the summit, to exploring waterfalls at its base. 

And always its majestic heights remind them why Pikes Peak is called "America's Mountain". 


Photo: Families visiting the Air Force Academy catch sight of the famous chapel on the trail from the Air Force Academy Visitor Center.









See Colorado's National Parks with the Kids!


Our nation's National Parks have been called the
crown jewels of America. 



Colorado is the proud home of four National Parks: 

  • Rocky Mountain 
  • Mesa Verde 
  • Great Sand Dunes 
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison 

Plan your great Colorado family vacation with our
series on Colorado's National Parks - 45 pages of information and inspiration


Start with the National Parks Directory at FamilyTravelColorado.com
              



















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Did You Know?

A passenger railway runs from just outside of Colorado Springs to the top of Pikes Peak.

Families have been enjoying the trip since 1891.



 



















 
Did You Know?


As the highest state in America, Colorado is home to many high-altitude campsites.

It is normal for families to pitch their tents in campgrounds above 8-, 9-, or even 10,000 feet above sea level.

When camping in Colorado, be prepared for the dry air, intense sunlight, and cold at this elevation.

Check out our Gear Lists for Family Camping to make sure your family is prepared.
 





Photo: Pikes Peak rises at the eastern edge of the Colorado Rockies. It has been a landmark for hundreds of years. This photo was take from a lookout in Palmer Park, which sits on top of Austin Bluffs, in Colorado Springs.

In the middle of Colorado, a rocky massif rises from the Great Plains and looms over the surrounding land. This giant mountain mass also looms large in the minds of many Americans – defining Colorado and giving its name to the surrounding countryside. 


“Pikes Peak” was the name for the entire region when pioneers painted “Pikes Peak or Bust” on their wagons and headed west. 


Rising just west of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak is a standout. One of the prettiest places in Colorado, it also recalls a colorful history and offers great sightseeing opportunities – especially for families traveling to Colorado with kids.


No wonder it ranks with some of the most popular places to visit when on a family vacation in Colorado.


Location

The Pikes Peak massif rises above its foothills, just to the west and a hair south of Colorado Springs. Interstate 25, a ribbon of highway running north and south through the Great American West, runs along the mountain’s feet.


The town of Woodland Park, Colorado lies directly north of the summit. Mueller State Park and Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument flank the mountain on its western side, while the historic mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor lie to the southwest.


Although surrounded by foothills, Pikes Peak is not really part of any of the major mountain ranges that make up the Colorado Rockies. Instead the treeless summit and its attendant sub-peaks rise in a solitary mound of granite tall enough to regularly shoulder high clouds like a cape. The top holds a commanding view of the Great Plains.


Vital Statistics

Pikes Peak rises 14,115 feet above sea level, and 8,000 feet above the city of Colorado Springs at its feet. Forests rise up the mountainsides to an elevation of about 11,500 or 12,000 feet above sea level. Higher than that, only tundra wildflowers and finally just lichen grow between and on the peach-colored granite.


A hiking trail, an automobile road, and a railway all climb to the summit of Pikes Peak. This allows visitors a wide choice of transportation options if they want to go to the top.


The road and railway are closed in the winter, leaving only foot travel to the heartiest of souls who attempt a winter climb of Pikes Peak. But folks do it every year, most often to light fireworks at midnight on New Year’s Eve for the citizens down in Colorado Springs to enjoy. 


Pikes Peak’s Natural History

Geology

The elevation posted on the city limit sign for Colorado Springs reads 6,035 feet above sea level. Pikes Peak jumps off right there and soars to 14,115 above sea level.  That means that the massif rises over 8,000 feet from its base, the largest gain, from bottom to top, of any mountain in Colorado.


The mountain itself is a batholith, or what used to be a colossal pocket of molten magma that melted through overlying rocks as it pushed its way up. But it never broke the surface. The magma cooled slowly into a gargantuan lump of pink, sparkly granite.


In different mountain building episodes, it was pushed up, only to be covered by sediment and dirt of mountains eroding around it. Most recently, about 60 million years ago, it was pushed up again, and exposed to the sky as the overlying layers washed and were blown away.


Now erosion can get to work on the exposed batholith, itself. All that heaving up and down created lots of cracks in the rock, and water likes to seep in there and freeze when it gets cold. The sharp corners are worn off, leaving the characteristically rounded rocks you see around the lower parts of the mountain.


Higher up, the greater snowfall melts and freezes between cracks, breaking off big chunks of rock and tipping them pell-mell across the barren landscape of the summit.


Weather

A mountain that sticks up so far into the atmosphere tends to create a bit of its own weather. The coldest temperatures in winter dip forty or so degrees below zero. On the other hand, summer temperatures may soar as high as 60°Fahrenheit on a balmy summer day. Once, in a heat wave, it even reached 64°F on a July day.


It snows every month of the year on top of Pikes Peak, and thunder and lightning are most often seen with snow showers.


But that’s at the summit. As you descend the peak, the weather gradually mellows, until you reach Colorado Springs, where average winter lows dip into the teens and average summer highs are in the mid-eighties. The wettest month for Colorado Springs is August, when afternoon thundershowers soak the land.


Wildlife

Given the differences in climate between the bottom and the top of the mountain, Pikes Peak is home to a huge variety of plants and animals.


Colorado Springs sits at the base of the mountain in a grasslands and scrub ecosystem. As you hike higher you will pass through open, dry montane forests, climb into denser and moister subalpine forests, and finally emerge above timberline onto the alpine tundra.   


Each life zone hosts its own characteristic plants, which in turn support different kinds of animals all the way up the mountainside.  The open grasslands at Pikes Peak’s base are home to yucca and prickly pear cactus, as well as a variety of grasses. Snakes, small rodents, coyotes, and soaring hawks are the kinds of animals that make a living here.

A hardy little penstemon grows in the gravel soil on the flanks of Pikes Peak.

The grasslands mingle with forests in a scrubby montane ecosystem on the foothills. Gamble’s oak (locally called scrub oak) provides acorns for animals while ponderosa pines grow to stately heights and smell of vanilla or butterscotch if you sniff their bark. Wildflowers like penstemon and cinquefoil grow in the gravel soil and dry conditions. Look for a wide variety of songbirds as well as grey Canada jays (camp robbers) hoping for an opportunity to steal a bit of your lunch. Tracks of deer, raccoons, coyotes, mice, and other mammals decorate the soft mud of stream banks in the foothills.


Farther up the mountain, the increased annual moisture allows heavier spruce and fir forests to grow, intermingled with aspen groves. At higher elevations in this Sub-alpine zone, the spruce and fir trees give way to more uniform ponderosa pine stands. Sub-alpine wetland soils support beautiful wildflowers which begin filling the meadows in July. Visitors commonly see elk in this area, as well as smaller animals like squirrels, snowshoe hares, and beautiful blue and black stellars jays. Onthe more remote flanks of the peak, bears are also known to wander about, foraging for groceries. 


When the winter temperatures are too cold, and the snow is too deep to allow for tree growth, the alpine life zone begins. Here the trees find it easier to grow sideways along the ground to avoid the whipping high altitude winds. Their masses of needly branches look like bushes and are called krumholtz. Cushion plants tend to hug the ground as well, in mats that bloom like rainbow sprinkles on cupcakes. Occasionally you can see elk this high, but mostly animal life consists of insects, the birds that feed on them, and small furry creatures like pika. Pika are members of the rabbit family, although their ears are cute and round like a mouse's. In the summer they run around snipping off bunches of tundra grass, and store it beneath rocks like hay for food in the coming winter. 


Human History 

Pikes Peak's prominent profile has been a landmark for humans for thousands of years. A Quick History of Colorado Springs describes not only the history of the city at the eastern base of Pikes Peak, but also gives an introduction to the human history that took place to the north and west of the mountain as well. 


Sight Seeing on and Around Pikes Peak 

Drive around Pikes Peak, and you'll discover all kinds of great activities for the kids. Here are our favorites: 


Tour the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center.



Then take a hike on one or several of the easy trails through the rock formations. The nature center has excellent educational opportunities to learn about the surrounding area, while the trails let kids get out into nature while their parents have the opportunity to take amazing photographs. Feed the troops with a decent lunch at the snack bar, too. (http://www.gardenofgods.com ) 

 

Ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top of the mountain.

A three hour and ten minute round trip carries you up through the variety of life zones and lovely scenery to the summit of Pikes Peak. There, a gift shop and snack bar share space with the high-elevation depot. It's fun to get out and walk around with the kids to explore the broad, rounded mountain top and the cairns (piles of rocks) that mark the actual highest point. (There are two of them - go figure.) Trains reach the summit only in summertime. (http://www.cograilway.com )

 

Tour the Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs.  

Spend 45 minutes on a Discovery Tour of the Cave of the Winds and see how pools of carbonated water dissolved solid rock, making whole rooms underground. Watch as dripping water creates jagged, icicle-shaped teeth that hang from the ceilings, or form curtains of flow-stone, like waterfalls of solid rock. It is an otherworldly adventure right into our Earth's crust, and a great experience for kids as well as their adults. (http://www.caveofthewinds.com)

 

Drive over Ute Pass to Divide or Florissant.  

It's a trick getting through the foothills
as they rise to meet the Rocky Mountains. One break that offered a route between the high peaks and the plains became a well-used trail for the Ute people who lived in this area. The route developed into a wagon road between Colorado Springs and the mining camps at higher altitudes. Eventually a railroad was built along the path. Finally, US Highway 24 was paved through what is still called Ute Pass. 


Be sure to visit the Pikes Peak Museum, run by the Ute Pass Historical Society, or take a hike or bike ride on the Centennial Trail to Manitou Lake. Excellent interpretive signs at the trailhead tell a bit about the folks who used the area through the years. 

 

Visit the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  

An ancient natural disaster -- pyroclastic flows from an erupting volcano -- mowed down giant sequoia trees that grew on the western side of what is now Pikes Peak. Only their stumps remain: huge, silent petrified wood fossils whispering of the violence that once took place here.  The volcanic flows dammed up a creek, and created a lake. Hapless insects, caught by the falling ash, sank to the bottom and were preserved as incredibly detailed fossils. Now lovely meadows and forests of dappled shade, Florissant Fossil Beds offers vacationing families easy hiking, great wildflower and wildlife watching, and fantastic ranger-led tours. 


Tour Cripple Creek and Victor, two historic gold mining towns.  



The gold camps of Cripple Creek and nearby Victor, on the southwestern flanks of Pikes Peak, were built at the beginning of the 1890s, during the last great gold rush in Colorado. Miners and the services to support them flooded in, creating cities rich with the gold that issued forth from the ground. Within 20 years, nearly all the valuable mineral had been dug up, and Cripple Creek and Victor declined into ghost towns. Now, limited stakes gambling has increased Cripple Creek’s income and much of the town has been redeveloped.


The Cripple Creek District Museum has curated and displayed an extensive collection of turn of the century artifacts. It is worth a stop. 

 

Take a guided tour of the Molly Kathleen Mine.



Descend ten stories underground into a rich and storied gold mine. Mary Catherine Gortner (a.k.a. Molly Kathleen) was hiking up a hillside near Cripple Creek and stopped to rest. She noticed quarts rocks laced with gold wire, and claimed the spot for her gold mine. Even when it was in full production of gold ore, folks wanted to take tours – a business that continues today, long after gold production has stopped. 

 

Drive the Gold Camp and Old Stage Roads from Cripple Creek to Colorado Springs.

The Short Line Railroad (reportedly the inspiration for the Monopoly railroad) crossed portions of this route. It carried gold ore east to smelters in Colorado City, with a spur to Colorado Springs. President Theodore Roosevelt was a passenger on this line, and is rumored to have said that the scenery “bankrupts the English language”. Indeed the drive is lovely, if winding and narrow in lots of places. Get a map and follow it closely.

 

Visit the beautiful and historic Broadmoor Hotel.

Elegant and timeless, the Broadmoor Hotel rises above the golden prairies, its back overlooking an idyllic lake and Cheyenne Mountain. Built in 1918 by Spencer Penrose, who had made a fortune in gold mining in Cripple Creek, the Broadmoor is the longest running winner of both the AAA Five-Diamond and the Forbs (Mobile) Five-Star awards.


Families who opt to spend the night can enjoy all the luxuries of a truly gracious resort. And if you decide not to stay, it is still worth a stroll through the lobbies to enjoy the opulent fixtures, extensive murals (especially on the ceilings), and the outstanding view.



Cautionary Notes 

While circumnavigating Pikes Peak is a wonderful vacation for families, a few precautions are still in order.

Altitude

The high altitude can create a variety of symptoms, including headaches and shortness of breath.  Take it easy, and plan a day or two to acclimate before trying strenuous hikes.  Drink plenty of water (as much as two liters a day) to help minimize discomfort and prevent dehydration.  And apply sunscreen frequently to protect against intense, high altitude sun exposure.

 

Driving 

The roads around Pikes Peak are generally modern and well maintained. Still, they can be curvy and occasionally exposed. If you are the driver, keep your eyes and mind on the road and let the passengers do the sight seeing for you. Stop at the pull offs frequently to enjoy the views. Keep your car gassed up, with tires and spare in good shape, and tools for changing on hand. Cell phone coverage may be spotty.

Along the Gold Camp Road from Cripple Creek to Colorado Springs, Colorado 

If you drive the road to the top of Pikes Peak or the Gold Camp/Old Stage route, plan plenty of time and take it easy. The gravel can be unstable under your wheels, and the hairpin turns are awfully tight in places. When going through the old railroad tunnels, turn on your lights and proceed with caution. 

On steep downhill sections, switch into lower gears and let the engine slow the car down instead of your breaks, which can overheat. 

If you are on a narrow section and meet a car coming the opposite direction, remember that it is safer to back a car uphill, so the car traveling uphill has the right of way.

 

Wildlife

Wildlife adds much to the enjoyment of a family vacation around Pikes Peak. But to keep it wild and healthy, give it space. Watch your step when hiking, and avoid stepping on the plants. Play hop-scotch rock to rock if you must.

 

Enjoy the animals from a distance, from a cute little chipmunk to a bugling bull elk. If an animal stops what it is doing to look at you, you are too close and harassing it.

 

Also, don’t feed the wildlife. Lots of times people food isn’t that good for people. It can be deadly for wildlife, or at the least problematic. Nature’s creatures shouldn’t get used to being close to people, and if they are fed, they loose their natural foraging skills or forget to store food for the winter as they should. Then, when the crowds leave, the animals starve.

 

In addition, fleas and ticks often hang out on animals – and they can jump onto humans and pass along nasty diseases like the plague or Lyme disease. It’s best just to let the wildlife find its own lunch, while you eat yours.

 

Plan Ahead

Enjoy your visit to Pikes Peak even more by planning ahead and not leaving too many things up to chance. Make reservations at the attractions you most want to visit, and book hotel rooms in advance. Especially during the busy traveling season, spaces are in high demand by vacationing families.

 

Bring water bottles and sunscreen and extra warm clothes, because even in the summer, things can get chilly around Pikes Peak, and downright blizzardy on top.

  

And plan your photo opportunities. If you visit the Garden of the Gods in the early morning, the sun will be at your back as you take pictures of Pikes Peak, and the mountain will shine. On the western side, the sun shines on the mountain in the afternoon, although capturing the rays as they first peek over the mountain in the morning is also a memorable shot. This is a great place to play with your camera and get some fantastic candid images of the kids.

 

America's Mountain



Pikes Peak, said to be inspiration for the song, "America the Beautiful", has been called America's Mountain. And it really is an impressive and beautiful backdrop to Colorado Springs. But even more than that, a tour around Pikes Peak is an entertaining and educational experience for kids as well as their grown-ups. It is one that will create memories to last a lifetime.

 

 

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