The Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, Colorado is consistently rated by TripAdvisor as one of the best parks in the country. Upon arriving at this natural wonder it is easy to see why. Massive red rock fins protrude hundreds of feet into the air. This would be a stunningly beautiful park anywhere in the world but given it has the front range of the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop only makes it all the more picturesque. Visiting Garden of the Gods is free of charge thanks to the Perkins family, the former owners who left it to the city. However, their sole stipulation was that it never have an entrance fee placed on it. This is a garden fit for the gods but left to the people. Here are the Top 8 activities to undertake while visiting the Garden of the Gods.
Top 8 Activities for Visiting Garden of the Gods
- Drive or Cycle the Juniper Way Loop
- Hike the Perkins Central Garden Trail
- Siamese Twins Loop Trail Hike
- Hike the Palmer Trail
- Rock Climb the Garden
- Visit Balanced Rock
- Watch the Sunrise
- Explore Rock Ledge Ranch
1) Drive or Cycle the Juniper Way Loop
Driving the 2.4 mile Juniper Way Loop is one of the highlights of the park. It encircles the central part of the Garden with several places to stop and gaze upon the beauty of the rock formations. The Garden Overlook on the northwest corner of the park is the iconic angle. It’s best viewed in the late afternoon when the light is low, illuminating the Central Garden. The early morning light is also very nice with the rock formations casting long shadows across the terrain. The only thing better than driving the loop is hopping on a bike and cruising around it. There is a dedicated bike lane all the way around. Just try to keep your eyes on the road as drivers often like to park in the bike lane even though it is against the law to do so.
2) Hike the Perkins Central Garden Trail
The 1.5-mile Perkins Central Garden Trail leads through the heart of the park and is the must-do hike when visiting Garden of the Gods. The trail is paved throughout and is ADA compatible. The typical start for this lollypop loop is the 2nd parking lot (P2). The path descends as it parallels the largest rock formation in the park known as the North Gateway. Look for hawks and other bird species who like to nest in the nooks. There is a plaque dedicated to the Perkins family located on the south end of the North Gateway. From here the paved path loops around the garden passing several smaller pinnacles before returning. There is a dirt path that climbs up a small ridge on the south end of the Central Garden loop. It’s not a paved path but the view over the garden is worth the effort.
3) Siamese Twins Loop Trail Hike
The Siamese Twins is one of the most striking rock formations in the Garden of the Gods. It is hidden in the hills away from the main area of the park so many first-time visitors to the park miss this amazing formation. The Siamese Twins formation is two towers adjoined on the lower half of each but with a window peaking through the center. This small window makes a perfect frame for Pikes Peak. It is best viewed in the morning when the light is on the formation as well as the mountain. From the P14 parking lot on the west side of the park, it is a one-mile round trip with 150′ of elevation gain to the formation and back to the parking lot.
4) Hike the Palmer Trail
The 1.6 mile (one-way) Palmer Trail is a rugged path leading from the Siamese Twins Formation to the main P2 lot. It allows hikers to pass along smaller rock formations as well as hiking through more lush natural environments covered in juniper trees, prickly pear cactus, and cliffroses. The highlight of the hike is a more elevated view of the Central Garden above Garden Overlook found on the Juniper Way drive. The Palmer Trail makes for a great addition to either the Siamese Twins or Perkins Central Garden Trails. You can even pack a lunch and combine all three in an elongated figure-eight configuration.
5) Rock Climb the Garden
Garden of the Gods is a rock climbing paradise. Inside of this relatively small park there are more than 100 named climbing routes. Some of which lead intrepid climbers to the very top of the 300′ rock formations. Climbing is free to the public, assuming you own your own gear. You need only sign a liability waiver at the park’s visitor center and you can start your accent. You must stick to the established routes and no new points can be added. If you are new to rock climbing, we suggest joining a guided climb inside the garden or in the nearby Red Rock Canyon. Even if you yourself do not like to climb, it is fun to watch as experienced climbers take on some of the more challenging routes inside the park.
6) Visit Balanced Rock
The Balanced Rock formation can be found in the southwest corner when visiting Garden of the Gods Park. It is precariously balanced adjacent to Garden Drive road and has its own dedicated parking lot (P15). It is a natural phenomenon where a massive 700-ton red stone has been balanced on a sloping cliff. While it is a natural formation it is now reinforced with cement around its base in an effort to keep it from rolling into the road below. Even with some of the natural wonder taken away from the massive rock, it is still a must-see. Get there early as this is one formation that is hard to find all to yourself. Equally amazing is the road, which splits around Steamboat Rock just below Balancing Rock. The eastern side of the road is extremely narrow and it is fun to watch the massive tour buses squeeze through.
7) Watch the Sunrise on the Garden
Watching the sunrise illuminate the Garden of the Gods is a truly memorable experience. There are several vantage points to take in the majesty of the park in the early morning. The Garden of the Gods Overlook on Mesa Road just to the east of the park is the best spot for an aerial panoramic view with Pikes Peak hovering over the park. The High Point Overlook makes a great spot for sunrise or sunsets, especially in the winter months when the sun is more to the south. However, my all-time favorite sunrise spot is seasonal. There is a small pond that forms just to the southeast of the heart of the park after heavy rains. If you time the weather right you will arrive to beautiful reflective views of the massive rock formations. I’ve had the most luck getting this fleeting view in the month of May.
8) Explore Rock Ledge Ranch
Rock Ledge Ranch is located adjacent to the Garden of the Gods on the eastern edge of the park, not far from the visitor center. While not technically part of Garden of the Gods, this is a great place to explore when visiting the park. Rock Ledge Ranch is a living history museum for the Colorado Springs area. Cultural living conditions, reenactments, and activities from each of the different historical eras are played out here. It all starts with the Ute Indians and passes through the early settlers all the way to the establishment of the city by William Jackson Palmer. There is a fee to visit Rock Ledge Ranch and participate in the activities. They are also seasonal and the ranch is only open on certain days. Make sure you check their website to plan your visit.
(Bonus) Drive Rampart Range Road
Rampart Range Road, also known as Forestry Service Road 300, is an unpaved dirt road that traverses the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. It starts on the southwestern corner of the Garden of the Gods and climbs up into the mountains near Winter Park, Colorado. Then, it turns north as it meanders its way north to Highway 67 west of Castle Rock, Colorado. This road makes for an amazing summer drive. It is not open during the winter but is relatively well-maintained during the summer. Lower clearance vehicles can typically make the journey when the road is open but high clearance is recommended. If you make the entire journey, stop at the Devil’s Head Lookout and hike to the top of the fire lookout. It is a steep climb but worth the effort.
Logistics for Visiting Garden of the Gods
December – March: Winters in Colorado Springs can be very nice. While it does snow here the precipitation is usually brief. Still, a fresh dusting of white atop the red rocks makes for even more dramatic scenery.
April & May: Spring in Colorado Springs can be cold one day and hot the next. Rain and snow are equally as likely.
June – August: Summer days are typically warm and occasionally hot. This is the busiest time of year for Garden of the Gods.
September – November: Autumn is brief in Colorado. In Colorado Springs it typically arrives in late September and is gone in a few weeks time. With cooler weather and even more color found in the few trees changing, this is a great time for visiting Garden of the Gods.
Glen Eyrie is the closest hotel to the Garden of the Gods. It is literally next door and is surrounded by the same rock formations that have made the park world-renowned. Glen Eyrie was the residence of the city’s founder, General Palmer, and is an amazing property. The castle (yes, it has a castle) and the surrounding buildings have been turned into a conference center and hotel making it the perfect place to stay when visiting the Garden of the Gods.
The Broadmoor has been rated by Forbes as a 5-star hotel for 61-years straight making it the oldest 5-star hotel in the world. While it is further removed from Garden of the Gods you really can’t go wrong with spending a night or two in this fabulous venue.
While Rudy’s is a Texas chain, it makes some mean BBQ and is one of the best eateries near the Garden of the Gods. If you like potatoes, get a baker with turkey. Turkey at a BBQ restaurant? Yes! Trust us. You can ask for a sample if you don’t trust us.
Piglatin Cocina is the best restaurant in Colorado Springs. It is amazing! While it is located about a 20 minutes drive from Garden of the Gods, it is worth it. The entire menu is excellent.
If you are more interested in brews than grub, check out Ivywild. The food is actually pretty good and the old school that houses the restaurant doubles as the Bristol Brewery. They are an excellent Colorado micro-brew.
Top 8 Activities When Visiting the Garden of the Gods
There is an old story about the naming of the Garden of the Gods. Two men walked through the newly discovered landscape and one commented that, “This would make a great beer garden.” The other upon hearing his companion replied, “No, this is a place fit for the gods.” Thanks to the Perkins family, while this place is indeed fit for the gods it is open to everyone. Visiting the Garden of the Gods is not only one of the best things to do in Colorado Spring but the entire state and, according to TripAdvisor, the United States.