Everyone should visit the top of Pikes Peak at least once, though how you get there is up to you. Pikes Peak - or El Capitan, as it was formerly known - stands at a whopping 14,114 feet above sea level and can be accessed via car or the cog railway. If you drive, you can access the entrance to Highway 24 - Pikes Peak Highway - about 15 minutes west of the city. The best part about driving is that you can take your time stopping along the winding road to take in the stunning scenery and wildlife before reaching the summit. You'll start to see breathtaking things at about 7,400 feet.
The drive can be a bit scary and offer a crazy adrenaline rush, so if you'd rather relax a little on your way up, take the cute red cog railway all the to the top. It leaves every hour and 20 minutes from Manitou Springs; the trains start running at 8 a.m. and the last one leaves at 5:20 p.m. You can reserve online ahead of time. There's also an option to hike and then take the train in certain areas.
Pikes Peak is replete with great hiking trails, but those that aren't experienced should avoid the challenging 12.6 mile Barr Trail. However, older kids and less experienced hikers can enjoy nature hikes at Crystal Reservoir or take a relaxed stroll around the Catamount Reservoirs or the North Slope Recreation Center. Whatever you do, don't miss out on the once-in-a-lifetime chance to head to Pikes Peak summit! Just make sure to bring water - altitude sickness is common here; many travelers report feeling the "Rocky Mountain High."
Though located nearly three hours by car from Colorado Springs, the Great Sand Dunes are a real treasure. From a photo alone, you simply cannot appreciate the beauty and visual dissonance of the massive sand dunes, which are shadowed by majestic, snow-capped mountains.
There are so many activities here it will be hard to choose, but the entrance fee is very inexpensive, making it a great option for families. If you plan to hike the dunes, make sure to do it early in the morning or later in the evening when the sand isn't so hot. Hiking to just the top of the first ridge gives a great view of the surrounding dunes.
Small kids will love the free nature hikes and kids' programs, but check with the visitor center in advance of your trip to see what will occur while you're there. The 25-foot high Zapata Falls is another awesome site - the trailhead is about a 12-mile drive from the visitor center, and then you'll hike about half a mile to see the falls. Children and older adults will be able to hike the mostly gentle Zapata Falls trail - just be careful at the end as you have to cross a creek with sometimes slippery rocks. Other great sites to check into are Medano Creek and Star Dune - the tallest dune in North America.
Like the Great Sand Dunes and Pikes Peak, San Isabel is overflowing with breathtaking vistas and fun activities. Depending on where you're staying, it might take about three hours to drive to San Isabel National Forest from Colorado Springs - but most visitors seem to think the natural beauty and peacefulness of the place are well worth it. This 3 million-acre forest also has several stunning bodies of water. The banks near the shimmering turquoise waters of Bear Lake are great for fishing, hiking or just relaxing and taking in fresh mountain air and the beauty all around you.
If you have little ones with you, take the Devil's Head Nature Trail, a 1.4-mile path to Devil's Head Lookout Tower. It's a 45- to 90-minute hike that is suitable for kids and also features several rest stops and picnic tables.
If you're a serious hiker, the tallest peak in Colorado, Mount Elbert, is located here. This forest is so expansive that it actually encompasses nine wilderness areas and six ranger districts. You can do anything here, from biking, fishing, hiking and mountain climbing to just taking leisurely strolls through nature. There are also sites for guided tours, children’s activities, horseback riding, tubing and boating, depending on what part of the forest you're in.
Enjoy the sites, but don't miss out on these three spectacular day trips with activities for people of any age.