Manitou Springs and beyond

Manitou Springs is a charming Victorian town above Colorado Springs, Colorado. In its heyday, people came to the town for its healing waters. You can still get water from the springs dotted throughout town. There are shops, restaurants and more to entice visitors. There are also some interesting stops on the road between Colorado Springs and Manitou. .

On the way up the mountain, stop in Old Colorado City on the west end of Colorado Springs. It’s definitely worth a visit. Founded in 1859, it was the state’s first territorial capital. The area has many historic buildings, interesting shops and restaurants.

On the road to Manitou Springs, Colorado Manitou Clliff Dwellings

Visit the Manitou Clliff Dwellings on the way to Manitou Springs, Colorado, photo/Steve Collins

The Manitou Cliff Dwellings were brought to their current site from McElmo Canyon near Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado. The dwellings were reconstructed here in the early 20th Century. The people referred to as the Anasazi lived in the Four Corners area (the meeting place for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah) from 1200 BC to 1300 AD. If you can’t to the ancestral sites of present day Pueblo peoples in that area, including Mesa Verde, Hovenweep and Chaco Canyon, a visit here will give you a taste of the early history of the southwest. Admission price and hours vary seasonally.

Vitis the Cave of the Winds on the way to Manitou Springs, Coloado

Cave of the Winds, Manitou Springs, Colorado, Photo/Steve Collins

The Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs is a natural cave formation that dates to as far back as ten million years ago. Two miles of passageways take visitors through these ancient caverns. See stalactites and stalagmites formed by thousands of years of slowly-dripping water. The caves are not recommended for people with respiratory and heart conditions. There is an admission price; days and hours vary seasonally.

Manitou Springs Colorado has many mineral springs.Shoshone Spring is on the town's main street.

Mineral spirngs are scattered around Manitou Springs, Colorado Shoshone Spring, photo/Steve Collins

Manitou Springs harks back to a bygone day. In Victorian America, people flocked to mineral springs to “take the waters”. The mineral-rich waters were believed to maintain and restore health. Although some of the waters taste pretty ghastly, even today, you see people filling gallon jugs from the springs scattered throughout the town. It’s a wonderful town to explore on foot. There are wonderful restored Victorian houses and parks scattered throughout the town. Shop the many shops in this unabashedly tourist-oriented Manitou. If you want to spend the night, check out the beautiful Cliff House Hotel (Travel and Leisure Magazine named it one of the top 100 hotels in the world) or the town’s historic bed and breakfast inns.

Clliff House Hotel, Manitou Springs, Colorado

The Cliff House Hotel, Manitou Springs, Colorado photo/Steve Collins

From a distance, Pikes Peak dominates the Colorado Spring’s landscape. Take a scenic drive to the top of the 14,115 foot mountain. The road starts in Cascade, about five-miles west of Manitou Springs. The 38-mile round-trip to the summit is two-hours straight driving. If you want to stop along the way and explore the summit, allow more time. You’ll probably get hungry on your trip. The Summit House Restaurant offers snacks, burgers, pizza and more. They’re famous for their freshly made donuts. You can also bring your own food and picnic at one of the pullouts on the road or at the top. The air is thin at the summit and temperatures can be 30 degrees cooler at the summit than in town. It’s recommended that your time at the top not exceed 30 to 40 minutes to avoid altitude sickness. If you experience symptoms, head down immediately. If the driver has severe symptoms and there is no one else to drive, seek help at the top. The City of Colorado Springs, the administrators of the road, advise people with severe respiratory or cardiac conditions not take the trip to the summit. There’s a fee to drive the road. Hours vary seasonally.

If you’re not used to mountain driving or want to enjoy the incredible views without being at the wheel, take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the summit. The almost 18 mile round trip is a little more than three hours. They allow 40 minutes on top; be punctual, they will leave without you. Passengers cannot bring their own food and drink on the train. Food can be purchased at the depot and eaten on the train. You can also eat at the Summit House Restaurant during the layover. The comfortable, modern Swiss-made cars have large widows allowing panoramic views. It’s a far cry from the original cars that first rode these rails starting in 1891. The train runs year-round. There’s an admission charge; days and hours vary seasonally.

Further afield:

Petrified redwood at Florissant Bed National Monument

Petrified redwood at Florissant Bed National Monument, Floeissant, CO, photo/SteveCollins

The Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument about 20 miles west of Manitou Springs has what the US Park Department’s website calls “one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world.” Visitors can see petrified giant redwoods and insect and plant fossils. The area also has numerous hiking trails and the remains of the Hornbeck Homestead. If you want to find your own fossils, stop at the Florissant Quarry. They let you split rocks that may yield fossils for a fee.

Hornbeck Homestead

Hornbeck Homestead, at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monumnet, photo/Steve Collins

Head west out of Colorado Springs to US 50 via CO 115 and you’ll get to Royal Gorge, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River Valley. It’s a ten-mile long gorge, 1,250 feet at its deepest point and about 50 feet wide at the bottom. The world’s highest suspension bridge when it was built in 1929, is 1,053-feet above the Arkansas River. It was built so visitors could cross this natural wonder on a road to nowhere. Royal Gorge Park, owned and run by the municipality of Canyon City, Colorado, also is home to the longest single-span aerial tram in the United States and the country’s steepest incline railway.

Want to go through the gorge? You can take a train trip or ride a raft through the bottom in season. Commercial railroad service began in the gorge in 1882 and ran until 1967. In 1998, The Royal Gorge Route Railroad began running excursion trains. They offer lunch, dinner, wine and mystery trains. The 24 mile round trip lasts one-and-a-half to three hours depending on the option chosen. The railroad also teams up with three area rafting companies to offer raft and rail options. Rates and times vary seasonally.

And you can go rafting on the Arkansas River out of Buena Vista, Salida and Canyon City. Arkansas Valley Adventures and Kokopelli Rafting can get you onto the water for a day of thrills and if you tip over, chills.

Whether you take the road to Manitou or head to Royal Gorge (or do both) there’s a lot to keep you busy and to create lasting memories and great photo opportunities. After all, it’s the beautiful Colorado mountains and there’s nothing else on earth quite like it.

 Authors’ note: We were gusts of Kokopelli rafting on a float trip on the Rio Grande in 2008. This generosity did not influence this post in any way.



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8 Responses to “Manitou Springs and beyond”

  1. Jeff
    August 13, 2019 at 8:52 am #

    Have family in the area and love exploring the mountains. Still haven’t done the railway. But, hoping to later this year.

    • Billie Frank
      August 14, 2019 at 10:24 pm #

      I’d love to ride the railway, but I can’t do that altitude, I know people who’ve done it and loved it. Have fun! I want to go on the gorge train as it looks great. It’s on my list.

  2. Charles Higgins
    August 14, 2019 at 8:55 am #

    Enticing photos…looks like an interesting, fun place to visit..thanks..


    • Billie Frank
      August 14, 2019 at 10:26 pm #

      It’s a beautiful part of the country!

  3. TravelDesigned
    August 14, 2019 at 11:01 am #

    LOVE it when you take us on the road with you!

    • Billie Frank
      August 14, 2019 at 10:26 pm #

      Thanks! Can’t wait until we can get on the road together! Look out world!

  4. Karen
    August 14, 2019 at 4:59 pm #

    Wow, although I’ve certainly been through the area I certainly didn’t appreciate all there is to see and do! Thanks for the info!

    • Billie Frank
      August 14, 2019 at 10:35 pm #

      You’ll just have to go again! Great hiking in the area,too, with all those 14ers- didn’t even get to that.

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