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Photo courtesy Chris Gaumer

A Trip Fit for the Gods

Take a day trip to Colorado Springs and explore the stunning sandstone formations at Garden of the Gods.

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Garden of the Gods is one of those iconic Colorado spots my clan visits each year…and we aren’t the only ones. The Colorado Springs destination attracts an estimated 5.8 million tourists yearly to explore the park’s more than 1,300 acres of sandstone formations. It’s especially popular in the summer, when vacationers from across the globe come to gawk at the towering red rocks that inspired a surveyor in the 1800s to observe that the area was fit for the gods. (Hence the name.)

Savvy families can avoid the crowds by visiting Garden of the Gods on weekday mornings, when the temperature is still pleasant. But make sure to bring sunscreen and hats for mid-morning and beyond: Garden of the Gods has lots to offer, shade excluded.

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Start your excursion at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, where naturalist-led walks depart at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. This two-story structure also houses an impressive museum with three interactive exhibition halls highlighting local geology and ecology, as well as the area’s earliest settlers. Glean further information on the park’s formation during a 12-minute film playing at the Center’s theater. There’s also a gift shop, observation deck, and a café serving up organic and gluten-free fare.

Walk into Garden of the Gods Park by hopping on Gateway Trail, the half-mile path linking to Perkins Central Garden Trail, an easy, stroller-friendly 1.5-mile paved sidewalk. This paved trail loops visitors through the heart of the park, a scenic segment packed with a stunning series of steep and narrow red ridges. On Perkins Central Garden Trail, include the (very short) Upper Loop Trail to reach a scenic point.

If you’re traveling with younger kids, access Perkins Central Garden Trail by driving into the park, following Gateway Road until you hit Juniper Loop. Park at P2—the first lot you’ll encounter. If you missed the restrooms at the Visitor & Nature Center, you’ll find bathrooms at the trailhead.

The first few times I visited Garden of the Gods, I had no idea there were more than 20 miles of trails to explore. “All are considered easy to moderate,” explains Bret Tennis, parks operations administrator.

Tennis recommends the short-but-steep Siamese Twins Trail, a half-mile loop named for two conjoined formations. The trailhead can be reached via foot (take Palmer Trail west from Perkins Central Garden Trail) or car (continue on Juniper Way Loop, veering right onto Garden Drive until reaching P14). If you drive, pull off at P3 for an incredible place for a family photo.

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You’ll probably pass rock climbers as you walk through Garden of the Gods. A special permit is required to climb the park’s sensitive sandstone formations, but this is a great opportunity to teach your children about environmental stewardship by refraining from climbing and hiking on the rocks, no matter how tempting it might be.

Colorado Springs is a trek for some Front Range families, so consider turning your hike into a full-on adventure. Visit Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, May Natural History Museum (aka the Bug Museum), and/or Ghost Town Museum while you are there. Stop for lunch at Natural Epicurean, The Broadmoor’s farm-to-table eatery, Café Red Point, or one of the other restaurants inside the converted schoolhouse dubbed The Lincoln Center.

If you’re trying to win parent-of-the-year, bunk at Great Wolf Lodge for a night. The resort’s 50,000-square-foot indoor water park is the perfect place to beat the summer heat after an adventurous family hike.

Check it Out:
1805 N. 30th St., Colorado Springs
Need to Know:
Garden of the Gods Park is open daily, 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the nearby Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center is also open daily, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Cost:
Free for both the park and the Visitor & Nature Center.
Insider Secret:
Some days, it’s simply too hot to hoof it. May through early September, catch the free public shuttle service through the park. Shuttles depart every 15 minutes, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., from the parking lot at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, a living history museum open June through Labor Day.

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