I have lived in Colorado my entire life, but I have only been to Colorado Springs a few times (and most of those times were for volleyball tournaments where I never truly got to enjoy my surroundings). That being said, I have never been to Garden of the Gods, which is one of the most popular things to do in Colorado, let alone Colorado Springs. Not only did I want to visit Garden of the Gods because of all of the amazing pictures I had seen of the place, but my mom told me that she went to the park with my late uncle multiple times while they were both in college on their days off. After that, I decided that I had to go and see what it was all about, and maybe get the chance to feel a little bit closer to my uncle.
I don’t want to make this a sad post though! In fact, I enjoyed an incredible time up in Colorado Springs, even if it was cut short because we were on a tight schedule and had to be home in time to get ready for an event later that night.
Garden of the Gods is about an hour and a half drive from where I live, so it did end up being a long day mostly because of the fact that we spent over five hours total in travel time (but I’ll get to the crazy traffic later).
We started the day off at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center in order to pick up a map and to look into the park’s Junior Ranger program! If any of you have little kids and don’t already know (from my previous San Juan posts or other sources), the National Parks have a Junior Ranger program where kids can fill out packets during their trip to the park about the scenery and the nature they experience during their time there and can then exchange their work for Junior Ranger badges! I am probably way above the age limit to be completing these activities, but I could care less. I’ve been collecting them ever since I went to Mt. Rushmore when I was younger! If you are interested in the program and plan on visiting Garden of the Gods any time soon, just know that the rangers at the front desk don’t have the packets available for you—you actually have to purchase them in the gift shop. Like I said, I am a fervent collector of the badges, so I was forced to buy the packet and so that I could have the chance to fill it out!
The Visitor and Nature Center was also awesome because right when you walk in, there are multiple displays of the type of rocks, foliage, and wildlife around the areas that you will be hiking in! This is not only fun to explore for younger children, but I also spent time reading all of the information available and looking at the animals. As you move further into the Visitor and Nature Center, there’s also a balcony that you can walk out onto where you get an amazing view of all of the major peaks in Colorado Springs, including Pike’s Peak. There’s also a history lesson on Pike’s Peak and how it got its name outside on the deck there too. As I mentioned before, there is a gift shop in the building, and I am a sucker for cheesy tourist shops (I always have to point this out) so of course I had to look around. I only ended up buying the Junior Ranger packet, if you were curious. Finally, we picked up a park map, and we were on our way!
The first trail within Garden of the Gods is directly across the street from the Visitor and Nature Center, but since it is a busy road that to cross, you’ll want to drive your car and park at the trailhead itself. However, finding the trailhead was a tad bit chaotic because there is only one parking lot for Perkins Central Garden Trail (which is the only trail loop that we actually hiked due to time constraints) and there is not another parking lot for miles. The entire road loop is confusing, as we drove a little ways in order to try and see Balanced Rock before we left the park. We never actually found it, even though I believe that we followed the map correctly.
As I said, we decided on the Perkins Central Garden Trail, which is just about 0.5 miles round trip with less than a 150 ft rise. It wasn’t exactly a challenging hike, but that makes it great for kids. It also allowed us to relax and just walk around and enjoy the views! My impression overall is that if you aren’t there just for the views and the wonderful Colorado weather, you’re not going to enjoy yourself as much. The best thing to do is to take your time and stop and look around!
Along this trail we saw five different rock formations: the Cathedral Spires, Kissing Camels, Signature Rock, Sentinel Rock, and Sleeping Giant. One of the best things about this loop specifically is that there are multiple rock formations to see and there is always a rock formation in sight (and since that’s the main attraction at Garden of the Gods, I would call that a win).
About halfway along the trail, there were some stairs that you could walk up that allowed us an even better vantage point of the entire park! As we continued upwards, there were also some rock faces that were easy to climb up, which led to some exploring and cool photo opportunities (because what else are you supposed to do when you come across a lounge chair built into the side of a rock formation but take a ton of pictures). And in case you’re worried, the pathway up to this rock formation had a marked trail and the rock was fairly short, so there were a lot of kids playing up there and people were setting up picnics and enjoying the view. We didn’t break any rules!
Even though the trail was fairly short, we spent over three hours at Garden of the Gods between starting off at the Visitor and Nature Center, walking around the trail and stopping to take pictures, and driving past some of the other famous rock formations. When we finished hiking the trail, we had to drive back to the visitor’s center in order to exchange my Junior Ranger booklet for a badge! The packet just consisted of listing some of the rock formations that we saw on our hike, discussing the flora and fauna that we experienced along the trail, and completing a few fun puzzles. Like I said, it’s meant for kids, so it didn’t take too long to complete, but the best thing about these packets when you get older is that they force you to stop and soak up your surroundings. I will always recommend the program no matter your age! Plus you’ll make all your friends jealous when you show off your badge.
The worst part of the entire day was the terrible traffic on the way back home! To get back home from Colorado Springs, we have to pass through downtown Denver, which is a really bad place to be at 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon, as it probably took us over an hour and a half just to get through Denver (and three hours total to make it home). It was stop and go traffic all of the way!
Even with the terrible traffic, we had an amazing day at Garden of the Gods. Once the weather gets warmer again here in Colorado, I want to venture back up and hike along more of the trails, as there are over 12 trails to choose from! There is also a multitude of rock climbing opportunities if any of you are interested in that. I’ll leave the link to the Garden of the Gods website down below if you’re interested in going on some beautiful hikes, mountain biking, climbing, or even just learning the history of the park itself! Tell me all about your experiences here…
And Don’t Forget to Make It Meghan!