A walk in the clouds
Lofty Pike’s Peak is the focal point for an activity filled trip amid Colorado's springtime splendors

By Jack Olson

The Forest Canyon overlook offers stunning views of Rocky Mountain National Park /©Jack Olson photos
Whether you have one or two weeks of vacation this summer, there’s one place for adventure your gang will love. Paint “Pikes Peak or Bust” on the family vehicle and head west for Colorado Springs, Colo. There are dozens of exciting activities to fill that week or two.

Colorado Springs is perhaps most-noted as the focal point of the Pikes Peak area. Don’t miss a chance to drive all the way to the top of arguably America’s most famous mountain. Take U.S. Highway 24 west of the city and watch for the Pikes Peak exit. The highway to the top of the 14,110-foot mountain is a private toll road; you will pay the fee at the bottom. There’s a $10 charge per adult, or $35 per carload; children are free. The road is paved for the first six miles; well-maintained gravel rounds out the remaining 13 miles. There are no guardrails along the route. Visit the Web site, www.pikespeakcolorado.com, or call 1-800-318-9505 for more information.

If you want to leave the driving to someone else, take the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway (719-685-5401) out of Manitou Springs. For more information on the railroad, check out their Web site at www.cograilway.com.

It’s spring, so let’s stay outdoors. On the west side of Colorado Springs lies one of America’s most famous city parks–Garden of the Gods. Stunning red rocks tower above the park’s roads and foot trails. To view some of the most spectacular formations, park at the north end of the loop road and walk south. Walking or biking trails take you throughout the park. The visitor center (719-634-6666) offers guests maps, a museum, walking tours and summer bus tours.

Many visitors will want to tour the U.S. Air Force Academy, just north of Colorado Springs off Interstate 25. Stop at the visitor center (719-333-8723) and then walk or drive to the main campus. Don’t miss the dramatic chapel, which draws its architectural inspiration from the mountains.

The Royal Gorge

Many Americans have heard about or seen pictures of the skyscraping Royal Gorge Bridge, said to be the world’s highest suspension bridge. You can gingerly tread the clattering boards of the bridge surface and spy the ribbon of the Arkansas River more than 1,000 feet below this magnificent suspension bridge. Look down, alongside the river, and see a train the size of a toy.

The Royal Gorge Route operates year-round. The fall/winter schedule is in effect until May 20, 2000. Trains depart every Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. from the Santa Fe Depot, 401 Water St. in Cañon City (pronounced Canyon City). The 2000 summer schedule begins May 20 and runs until Oct. 17. Trains depart at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. every day. Adult prices are $24.50 and children (3-12) ride for $16.50. For information and reservations, call 1-888-724-5748, or find them on the Web at www.royalgorgeroute.com.

West of Colorado Springs, just off U.S. Highway 24, lies Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (719-748-3253). The most dramatic features of the monument are fossilized remains of huge redwood stumps, remnants of a tropical forest that were buried during volcanic activity some 35 million years ago. Also, hikers can enjoy numerous trails through the park. There are meadows, woods, a home site dating from the 1870s, and views of Pikes Peak to reward travelers who leave the beaten path.

Rocky Mountain National Park

You can’t visit Colorado without spending at least a day in Rocky Mountain National Park. More than a day would be better. Leave Colorado Springs early in the day and head north on I-25. If you’d like to include Boulder in your itinerary, exit at the Boulder Freeway (U.S. Highway 36) in north Denver. Otherwise, continue north to Exit 243, where you’ll take state Route 66 west to Lyons. Here, you’ll turn right on U.S. Highway 36 for a 19-mile drive to Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

In Estes Park, there’s plenty of shopping in town and an exhilarating aerial tram that whisks you to the top of Prospect Mountain. From here you can view the Continental Divide, Longs Peak and many of the dominant features of the national park.

A driving tour of Rocky Mountain National Park should include a trip up Trail Ridge Road, which swoops to more than 12,000 feet in elevation–far above the timberline. The road is usually open by Memorial Day and is kept open as long as autumn snowfall permits, often until sometime in October. The views up here are expansive and carry to distant mountain ranges and deep forested valleys.

Some of the more popular hiking trails begin at Bear Lake, nestled in a craggy setting. One trail leads to Nymph, Dream and Emerald lakes, a necklace of lovely jewels strung along a narrow valley. Another leads to rock-strewn Lake Haiyaha. A third climbs Flattop Mountain and continues over the Continental Divide.

For the more adventurous and physically fit, drive south from Estes Park on state Route 7 to the Longs Peak Campground. From here, there’s a trail climbing more than 2,000 feet in four miles to Chasm Lake. It’s a spectacular hike to a chilled lake tucked right beneath the sheer east face of 14,255-foot Longs Peak. This is an outstanding trail that winds through a forested slope and then enters the realm of timberline and tundra. In spring and early summer, there may be snow banks covering the upper portion of the trail and caution should be used in traversing this steep area. For a park map, call (970) 586-1206.

Ghost towns

One of Colorado’s best-known and best-preserved ghost towns is St. Elmo, about a two-hour drive from Colorado Springs. Take U.S. Highway 24 west to U.S. Highway 285 and drive over Trout Creek Pass to the Arkansas Valley. Views of Colorado’s highest mountains are breathtaking. At Johnson Village, turn left on U.S. Highway 285 and drive about six miles south to 162 Road, marked for Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Turn right and drive about 15 miles west to St. Elmo. A few people live and run businesses in the town. But the main street is a well-preserved reminder of the glory days of mining. Take time, and take pictures.

Once a gold mining town, Cripple Creek now offers gambling. /©Jack Olson photos
High rollers can also take to the high country. Just west of Colorado Springs, behind Pikes Peak, is Cripple Creek, once known first for its gold, now known for limited-stakes casinos. Take U.S. Highway 24 about 25 miles west to Divide, and drive 18 miles south on state Route 67. If history and wandering are more to your liking, just poke around town, photographing Victorian remnants of the past.

Continue on state Route 67 about six miles to Victor. This little village, devoid of casinos, is more reminiscent of mining days of yore. If you’re making an all-day trip, and you can handle a narrow, steep dirt road, take the Phantom Canyon Road, also called the Gold Camp Scenic Byway, about 20 miles south to U.S. Highway 50.

Fishing holes

Colorado is known for its outstanding fishing adventures. Don’t miss a chance to test the many streams and reservoirs near Colorado Springs. An especially attractive area is the Arkansas River valley near the community of Salida. Take U.S. Highway 24 west into South Park and then down to Buena Vista. Salida lies to the south and Leadville to the north. In between is a wide variety of sport fishing. There’s the Arkansas River itself, tributary streams, many reservoirs and high country lakes.

There are many accessible fishing locations along the Arkansas, some of them Bureau of Land Management properties and some well-marked Colorado Division of Wildlife leases. The Arkansas is home to fine brown trout. The Division of Wildlife also stocks fingerling rainbow trout in the river. Fishing spots vary from pristine nature to downtown Salida.

Designers of the dramatic Air Force Academy Chapel drew inspiration from the nearby mountains. /©Jack Olson photo
If you enjoy fishing in lakes and reservoirs, there are abundant opportunities in the Arkansas Valley. North of Buena Vista, Clear Creek Reservoir is an exceptional fishery. This mountain reservoir offers Kokanee salmon, cutthroats, rainbow and brown trout. Farther north, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake and the Mount Elbert Forebay feature mackinaw, or lake trout. Cottonwood and Wrights Lakes are favorites of anglers in the Buena Vista area. Near Salida, check out O’Haver Lake, North Fork Reservoir, or Riverside Ponds.

Come on out

A Colorado vacation can’t be beat any time of year, but when the snows melt, the trees leaf out and the wildflowers bloom, it is spectacular. Make Colorado Springs your home base and sample a fishing hole, a train, a mountaintop or a ghost town. They are all within easy reach and will make you wish the calendar would never turn over.

Jack Olson is a contributor from Denver, Colo.

Mar/Apr 2000 Issue

Before You Go
For information about the Colorado Springs/Pikes Peak area, call 1-877-745-3773 or visit the Web site, www.coloradospringstravel.com
Estes Park information is available by calling their chamber resort association, 1-800-443-7837, or visit www.estesparkresort.com
Chaffee County has a visitors bureau to assist anglers and other visitors, 1-800-831-8594, or www.nowthisiscolorado.com


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