An Afternoon at the Garden of the Gods
Pack a picnic lunch and hit the road! With stunning red rock formations and miles of hiking trails, this National Natural Landmark makes for an easy escape to nature. With over 15 miles of trails, you could definitely spend hours upon hours at this park. However, the majority of the iconic formations can be viewed from one central location or by simply driving through the park. Garden of the Gods is a great way to experience the diverse landscape of Colorado no matter how much time you have to spend there.
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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is a popular travel destination in Colorado. Garden of the Gods is at the top of the list of things to do in this area and is rated the #1 thing to do in Colorado Springs by TripAdvisor. The park is located at the base of Pikes Peak as well as several other natural wonders. While in the area you may want to consider visiting the following locations: Red Rock Canyon, Seven Falls, and the North Cheyenne Canyon Park.
Garden of the Gods is less than 1.5 hours from downtown Denver! Taking a day trip to the park from this city would be well worth the time and gas. We stopped at the Garden of the Gods on our way to the Denver Airport after a weekend in Crested Butte, Colorado. I'm telling you, this is a very digestible park if you are short on time.
Travel Tip: Garden of the Gods is located at 6,400 feet above sea level. If you have recently arrived from much lower elevations you will want to avoid getting altitude sickness. Take it easy, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol (bummer), increase carbs (alright!) and sleep at a lower elevation if possible.
The Garden of the Gods is a Gift
Literally. Did you know that the original 480 acres of this park used to be owned by one man? Charles Elliott Perkins bought the land with the intent to build a summer home on it. However, this never happened. Instead, Charles left the property untouched and preferred sharing its beauty with the public. After his death, his children donated the land to the City of Colorado Springs under the condition that the park remains forever free and open to the public. That being said, there is no admission fee to enter and enjoy this natural wonder!
Best Way to Explore the Garden of the Gods
Maybe you are short on time, or you are looking to see only the grandest rock formations. Either way, you are in luck! You are going to want to start your trip with a visit to the Perkins Central Garden Trail. This trail loops through the heart of the park. From here you can experience the highest rock formations the park has to offer. The 1.5-mile trail is made of concrete and is wheelchair accessible. This trail is also the most popular trail, and depending on what time of day/year you visit it could be reasonably crowded.
Other Trails at the Garden of the Gods
The park has several other short trails that provide an up close and personal introduction to the diverse and unique rock formations of this area. You may want to consider any of the following trails:
• Ridge Trail - Easy to Moderate | 0.5-mile loop | > 100 ft elevation | Great views of The Sleeping Giant rock formation.
• Siamese Twins Trail - Easy | 1-mile roundtrip | > 150 ft elevation | Enjoy the view of Pikes Peak through the window created by the Siamese Twin rock formation.
• Palmer Trail - Moderate | 3 miles | > 250 ft elevation | Best way to really get a feel for the entire park. Offers a break from the crowds and traffic!
Garden of the Gods Scenic Drive
One of the best ways to experience the park is by driving the 5.6 miles of scenic roadway. I would suggest starting at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center on the east end of the park. Here you can learn more about the park before heading off to explore. From the visitor center, you can make your way to Juniper Way Loop, which is a one-way road. This will take you through the central garden area. There are many parking lots and look out areas throughout the park. Pull over often and be sure to check out the many iconic rock formations, including Balanced Rock and Kissing Camels.
Activities at Garden of the Gods
There are several ways to experience the Garden of the Gods. One idea being my favorite mode of transportation - the bicycle! The park attracts many cyclists, and you must keep an eye out for them when crossing the street or while driving. If you didn't bring your own bike, you could rent one from the park. They offer both traditional mountain bikes as well as electric bikes if you need that extra help climbing these hills!
The park also offers a variety of tours. You can take an electric bike tour and even a Segway tour! For a more relaxed trip, you might consider either the 1909 Trolley Tour or a Jeep tour. The park offers FREE guided nature tours, and there is a Junior Ranger program if you are traveling with kids. You can contact the Visitor Center to arrange any of these tours.
We didn't have time for any of these tours, but we did start our visit off with a picnic. I love picnics! It was nice to enjoy the sights from the quiet picnic area before joining the crowds at the park's center.
Rock Climbing at Garden of the Gods
We are not rock climbers, but we did enjoy watching others as they scaled the sides of these massive rock formations. If you are interested in climbing, you can join in on a paid tour or climb on your own if you are capable. All climbers must register first, and proper gear is mandatory.
Inspiration - Garden of the Gods, Colorado
I am known to attempt to fit in the max amount of activities when traveling. However, I am trying to calm that down a little bit... There is a fine line between seeing everything and genuinely enjoying what you do see. While we didn't have enough time to see everything the Garden of the Gods had to offer, we left feeling as if we had seen so much! This week’s illustration reflects the rush I often feel to accomplish more than time allows. I finished this quick floral sketch with a wash of gouache using the colors of the incredible rocks found at the Garden of the Gods.
Cheers! To experiencing all that we can!
Freelance Graphic Designer
This trip took place during the fall of 2014. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.