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Garden of the Gods

A Garden ‘Fit for the Gods’

Pikes Peak serves as a dramatic backdrop to the stunning red rock formations of Garden of the Gods.

Pikes Peak serves as a dramatic backdrop to the stunning red rock formations of Garden of the Gods.

The story goes like this: In August of 1859, two surveyors started out from Denver to establish a town site, soon to be called Colorado City. While exploring nearby locations, they came upon a beautiful area of stunning sandstone formations. M. S. Beach, who later related this incident, suggested that it would be a “capital place for a beer garden.” His companion, Rufus Cable, of a more poetic nature, exclaimed, “Beer garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” 

The dramatic National Natural Landmark, a 1,400-acre city park northwest of downtown, gets lots of attention. It just won another accolade when it was voted the No. 1 park in the United States and No. 2 in the world by TripAdvisor, the travel expediter.

It’s always free, and there’s a reason for that. In 1879, city founder Gen. William Palmer reportedly urged his friend, Charles Perkins, the head of the Burlington Railroad, to establish a home in the garden and to build his railroad from Chicago to Colorado Springs. Although the Burlington never reached here, Perkins did purchase 240 acres of what is now the Garden of the Gods for a summer home. He later added to the property but never built on it, preferring to leave this wonderland in its natural state for the enjoyment of the public. Perkins died in 1907 before he made arrangements for the land to become a city park, although it had been open to the public for years. In 1909, Perkins’ children, knowing their father’s wishes for the site, gave his now 480 acres to the City of Colorado Springs “where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park.”

Today, the soaring (up to 300 feet high), interestingly shaped red sandstone rock formations with whimsical names (like Kissing Camels, Balanced Rock or Three Graces) thrust up through the earth and make stunning photos against the bluest sky you’ll ever see. Pikes Peak performs majestic backdrop duties. There are few structures in the park. Roads that once penetrated its interior have been replaced by paved walking paths and hiking trails. Rock climbing is allowed with proper equipment. (But if you get stuck, there’s a hefty fee for rescue.) There also are designated horse trails.

Stop at the visitors’ center first, both for helpful information and to learn about free daily ranger-guided tours and programs, from bird-watching to wildflower walks. Workshops and demonstrations, from blacksmithing to photography, are also on the agenda. And be sure to catch the new Geo-Trekker movie, which will explain how this geological wonder was formed. 

Outdoor programs are offered year round, especially for school groups, but activities really ramp up in the summer months. 

“We have something for every age and every interest,” says program manager Elizabeth Barber. 

There’s a 5K running club, Gallop in the Garden, which meets every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., and a 9 a.m. Wednesday wellness walk, both weather permitting. Bat walks, “one of our all-time most popular programs,” she says, are offered at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays all summer.

“There’s always something going on here – more than I can even tell you,” she says. City-hosted events are all free. 

  A local company Adventures Out West, offers Segway tours, Jeep tours and 1909-style trolley tours for a fee.