Colorado’s Front Range has long been a destination for tourists looking for mountain landscapes and accessibility. While Denver is the most populated and well-known city in the state, its lesser-known neighbor to the south has been quietly gaining ground on Denver as the hot spot of Front Range tourism. As a resident of the state and avid adventurer, I feel like the upswell in interest is well-deserved.
Colorado Springs — or “The Springs” as it’s commonly referred to — is the second-largest city in CO and it’s growing quickly. With its ample outdoor recreation opportunities, a lower cost of living, and a rich history, Colorado Springs just claimed the #6 spot on US News list of Best Places to Live in 2021-2022. I lived in the city growing up and since moving north I’ve gone back several times a year for day trips and weekends away. I’m always telling friends and strangers that they have to visit and that they’d be shocked at just how much there is to do there and how accessible it all is.
Here’s my quick guide for anyone planning a trip.
Where to Eat:
When I’m traveling I’m always drawn to food halls, especially as a solo traveler. They’re a great place to find not only innovative food and drinks, but to people watch and feel the vibe of a city or neighborhood. The Springs has a few that are my go-tos — I love to visit C.O.A.T.I, downtown, for good music and the industrial vibe (Luchals is my favorite). The Carter Payne is a repurposed church building that is now home to food, wine, beer, and atmosphere. Another repurposed building is Ivywild School, an old school building turned “community marketplace” with food, drinks, and a side of nostalgia.
Flying W. Ranch
If you’re interested in a more kitschy western experience, then make reservations for the Flying W.Ranch. A cattle ranch turned food and entertainment venue, the Flying W. Ranch started serving BBQ Chuckwagon dinners in 1953. After being forced to close eight years ago due to a devastating forest fire, the ranch has just reopened this year for dinner and cowboy singalongs.
Where to Drink:
The Golden Bee
My favorite place to stop for a drink is The Golden Bee in the Broadmoor area of the Springs. The Golden Bee is an authentic 19th century British Pub that was transferred panel by panel from the UK to the United States. There are nightly piano sing-alongs and a charming tradition of throwing bees that you’ll have to experience for yourself.
Where to Sleep:
When I’m staying overnight in Colorado Springs my first choice is always one of the properties that make up the sprawling and historic Broadmoor Resort. A destination in its own right, the main property has over 100 years of history and every amenity you can imagine — with an unbeatable backdrop. If a luxury resort isn’t your style, The Broadmoor also has three all-inclusive wilderness properties that are slightly more rustic without sacrificing style or service.
I’ve visited all three over the years, as they really are quintessential Colorado Springs.
Emerald Valley Ranch is a 16-acre ranch with a lodge and 10 cabins at over 8,000 feet above sea level. You’re shuttled through the Pike National Forest and met with cocktails and warm cookies upon arrival. There are two lakes, hiking trails, hot tubs, yard games, and stables to keep you as busy or not as you’d like.
The perfect place to unplug in nature… Luxuriously.
Cloud Camp is another Broadmoor wilderness experience — and what an experience it is. This is a truly bucket-list stay. Cloud Camp sits at over 9,000 feet above sea level (and 3,000 above Colorado Springs) on the site of the former Cheyenne Lodge. The adventure starts on the drive to the property itself — when you’re shuttled up Cheyenne mountain and 16 switchbacks. You can also hike or ride a mule to the top of the mountain and your dreamy accommodations.
Everything is included at Cloud Camp, so whether you want to be active or relax in a hot tub on what seems like the top of the world, you can do it here. The property boasts rooms in the lodge, cabins, and for the bucket-list luxury traveler, you can even book a converted two-story fire tower suite with 360-degree observation decks and a private hot tub.
Another option that isn’t quite within Colorado Springs, but deserves a place on this list is The Broadmoor Fishing Camp. Located just 75 miles west of Colorado Springs on 5 miles of the Tarryall River is an all-inclusive fly fishing camp. Sleep in historic miner’s cabins along the river, and spend the day with your private fly fishing guide before relaxing with cocktails in the stylish lounge and enjoying a meal with the other guests.
Where to Explore:
Garden of the Gods
The outdoor recreation opportunities in and around Colorado Springs are vast, but a trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Garden of the Gods. You can hike, drive, bike, horseback ride or climb (with a permit) the towering sandstone formations in this free public park.
With 21 miles of trails and over 2 million visitors per year, it is an unmissable Colorado Springs experience.
Colorado is home to 58 “fourteeners” — mountains over 14,000 ft above sea level — and the most famous of those is probably Pikes Peak. The song “America the Beautiful” was written by Katherine Lee Bates after witnessing the beauty at the summit, and you’ll understand why when you see it for yourself.
What really makes Pikes Peak special as a 14er is the access. You can hike, of course, but there is also a paved highway to the summit along with a cog railway. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway just reopened this summer after years and millions of dollars in renovations. It is the highest railway in North America and the highest cog railway in the world. I was lucky enough to ride the week it reopened and it is truly a bucket list experience as you ascend over the tree line and look out over the city and up onto the summit. There you can visit the newly opened summit visitor center and try some legendary high altitude donuts.
Other can’t miss experiences are the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum and a stop in Manitou Springs. Hike up the Manitou Incline (a trail up a former railway with an average incline of 45%) if you dare, and follow with a dip in the hot springs at Sunwater Spa.