Family Vacation in Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs
A trip to Colorado has been a bucket list trip to do with our children for a while. I vividly remember family trips to Denver, Colorado Springs, and beyond. Part of my husband’s family grew up in Boulder, Colorado so he had many memories that he wanted to share. We were waiting until the kids were the perfect age to go. Mainly old enough to hike and explore without getting too tired early and asking to be carried. Our whole family had an unforgettable experience. I am excited to share with you some of the fun things we did during our family vacation in Manitou Spring and Colorado Springs.
Why Colorado Springs?
You really cannot go wrong with any location in the state of Colorado. Depending on what you are wanting to see and do during your visit will really depend on where you choose to stay. I definitely recommend planning 7-10 days for your trip so you have time to experience all of the things. We traveled for 8 days and 2 of those days were traveling. We had 6 full days we were able to explore and we did not get to experience some of the items listed below.
The city of Colorado Springs is a little over an hour south of Denver and we found it to be the perfect place for us to visit all the things on our list. A lot of attractions and/or landmarks were approximately 90 minutes or less from where we were staying. We were okay with traveling this each day as long as we planned it out.
Garden of the Gods Resort
There are many great places to stay in the Colorado Springs area such as Great Wolf Lodge Water Park if you are looking for an indoor pool. Of course, we brought Poppy the camper so we stayed at a campground right outside of Garden of the Gods. Garden of the Gods Resort was a great campground in Colorado Springs just down the way from the little shopping town of Manitou Springs. They had two pools, a playground, and a great visitor center and store. The bathrooms were clean and even offered food trucks on the weekends. We were extremely happy that this was our home to crash at after a day of exploring.
Pro tip: If you are planning to camp in Colorado during the Summer months, book far in advance! Spots fill up quickly.
The distance between Colorado Springs and Boulder is approximately 85 miles.
Boulder Canyon was new to me, but my husband had many memories of climbing and splashing here. I am so glad we stopped on our way back from Rocky Mountain National Park. My kids love to climb and this area offered hours and hours of climbing. Along all the boulders there is a 2.6-mile biking trail that follows Boulder Creek into the city of Boulder, Colorado.
Pro tip: We made this stop on the day we went to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you plan to make a stop at Boulder Canyon, enter Rocky Mountain National Park at Grand Lake and follow Trail Ridge Road to Estes Park. This will cut back on your driving time.
The Airplane Restaurant
After our morning of climbing and walking through the Garden of the Gods, we ate lunch at The Airplane Restaurant in Colorado Springs. This is a great place to grab lunch and definitely a unique experience. You get to eat right on a fully intact Boeing KC-97 tanker. The entire restaurant and plane are full of pictures and memorabilia. You can even go up and play in the cockpit! The food and drinks were good too.
Broadmoor Seven Falls
Broadmoor Seven Falls is located in Colorado Springs and is home to seven cascading waterfalls. Not only can view the beauty of the waterfalls but there are hiking paths, zip lining, rock climbing, biking, tomahawk throwing, and more.
Cave of the Winds Mountain Park
This landmark, located in Manitou Springs, can take an entire day to explore and is filled with outdoor adventures. Cave of the Winds Mountain Park is known for its cave tours. They also offer a wind walker challenge course, climbing walls, axe throwing, adventure slides, and other family-friendly activities. Before your visit, I would recommend taking a look at the several tours and packages they have to offer.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
This was one attraction we just did not have time to visit, which I am kind of bummed about. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is the only mountain zoo and is also referred to as America’s mountain zoo. We typically try to visit most local zoos when traveling, but just ran out of time. You can see hippos, giraffes, penguins, otters, elephants, and more.
Garden of the Gods Park
Garden of the Gods Park is another stop I remember doing all sorts of rock climbing. I will say things are a bit different now compared to when we made a visit 20+ years ago. You cannot just climb anywhere.
When you first enter this national natural landmark I recommend making a stop at their visitor center which is really cool! After you take time to explore the visitors center, hop back in your car and drive through the park. We made the mistake of stopping at the visitor center and then hiking down to one of the trails. It did not get us to the super tall rocks and we were disappointed. After our hike on a trail, we headed back to our car and drove through. There are plenty of pull-off spots to get out of the car to take pictures.Make sure you make a stop at Balanced Rock! The kids had fun climbing up for a fun photo opp.
Pro tip: Watch for rattlesnakes. This area is covered so make sure you wear the appropriate shoes and attire if you will be out hiking along the trails.
Ghost Town Museum
The Ghost Town Museum, located in Colorado Springs, was created to preserve a piece of Colorado’s Wild West heritage. There are several hands-on activities for all ages to participate in including operating an old-time arcade, panning for real gold, and more. This is a great place to take in some of Colorado’s history.
The Penny Arcade is located in Manitou Springs and offers hundreds of old arcade games. The actual name is Arcade Amusements in Manitou, but many call it the Penny Arcade because you can play games for just a penny! They offer over 400 arcade games. This is truly a must-visit for any game lover. Your children will get a kick out of all the vintage games and you will jump back in time.
Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Pike’s Peak should be a bucket list item. There are two ways to get to the top of Pikes Peak. Driving yourself to the top or taking it via the Cog Railway. I have done both and there are pros and cons to both.
The Cog Railway allows you to sit back and relax while someone takes you to the top. If you are one who typically experiences the effects of being at high altitudes I would recommend doing this. Or if you hate driving through the mountains, this is the way to go! You also receive some history while riding up and a great way to take in all the beauty and wildlife. The trip is 3.5 hours round trip which includes a stop at the visitors center at the top. You will get on the Cog Railway at the base of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs.
Driving up Pikes Peak is also an option. The biggest pro to this is you can take your time driving up and making stops along the way for pictures. You are not on anyone else time schedule. You must also reserve your spot to drive up.
Pro tip: If you plan to ride the Cog Railway, purchase your tickets in advance. Seats fill quickly.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
The distance between Colorado Springs and Red Rocks Park is approximately 77 miles.
Red Rocks Park is home to climbing, hiking, music history, and more. When you arrive at Red Rocks Park I recommend heading to the visitor center which is home to the Red Rocks Hall of Fame. There are several hiking trails available of different lengths to take in all the beauty. Rock climbing is prohibited, but we found a couple of large rocks for the kids to jump on for fun pictures while we were exploring.
You will also want to make a stop at the amphitheater for a picture and if you are lucky enough catch a concert which I have heard is a great experience.
Located inside Red Rocks entrance #1 is the Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center which was fun to walk through. You will find model dinosaurs, fossils, a gift shop, and a dinosaur trackway. This is a free attraction.
Depending on which way you enter the park, the town of Morrison is a unique town full of great restaurants and shops to check out.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The distance between Colorado Springs and Rocky Mountain National Park is approximately 134 miles. This was our longest driving day. We woke up early to get the day started!
Rocky Mountain National Park is probably one of my favorite places in the World. Nothing beats the natural beauty and the best views you experience on your way to the top of the Rocky Mountains. At this time, they required a timed entry. This is one you will want to plan ahead for. You can enter at the Fall River Entrance (near Estes Park) or Grand Lake.
The most popular road to take is Trail Ridge Road which allows you to drive the span of the park from east to west and links the towns of Grand Lake and Estes Park. Remember, if you are planning a stop in Boulder, enter Grand Lake and end at Estes Park. Trail Ridge Road takes you across the Continental Divide and the Alpine Visitor Center which is the halfway mark. Be warned, it’s super windy and there is snow! The kids loved seeing and touching the snow in the middle of summer.
Make sure you drive slowly and make stops along the way. Maybe you will see Mountain Lions! We saw elk and the kids had a chance to become Junior Rangers along the way! I would plan for 2-4 hours. This will depend on how crowded it is and how many stops you make.
Pro tip: Bring a sweatshirt and blanket. It gets cold even in the middle of summer!
Royal Gorge Bridge
The distance between Colorado Springs and Royal Gorge is approximately 60 miles.
The Royal Gorge Bridge is home to America’s highest suspension bridge and is one of the top things to visit when you travel to Colorado. The entire family enjoyed walking across the 1,257 wooden planks suspended over 956 feet over the Arkansas River. If you are scared of heights, don’t look down! While you are visiting make sure you experience the sky coaster, zip lining, or the Aerial Gondola Ride.
When you get off the gondola ride, there is a fun children’s playground with a carousel. The kids enjoyed playing for a while!
When you purchase your tickets make sure you grab the Junior Program activity sheet. It is a scavenger hunt for the kids to find certain things around the park. When it is completed they can turn it in for a Junior Ranger badge. A great souvenir!
Pro tip: Get on the Aerial Gondola Ride at the visitor center. There is a very large hill on the other side you will need to climb if you do not plan ahead. This way you can walk down the hill and over the bridge.
Royal Gorge Rafting and Zip Lining
The distance between Colorado Springs and Royal Gorge is approximately 60 miles.
You cannot make a visit to Colorado without participating in some white water rafting! Colorado is a popular destination for white water rafting. I will admit I was a little nervous having the kids do this and they were too, but the Royal Gorge Rafting company was amazing. Our guide was so much fun and everyone’s safety was a priority the entire time. The kids enjoyed experiencing something new!
This company offers two different experiences one that includes going under the Royal Gorge Bridge. You must be 13+ or older to participate in this. The other experience was through Bighorn Sheep Canyon. They provide body suits and helmets for you. In addition, you can purchase packages that include lunch and zip lining.
Their restaurant on-site is delish and a great place to hang out and relax in between excursions. There is a fun playground for the kids, yard games, and hammocks if you need a nap. The entire setup is wonderful and we had a great time hanging with the Royal Gorge Rafting company.
Pro tip: Bring towels, a change of clothes, and water bottles. You will be wet afterward!
The United States Air Force Academy
About 15 minutes south of Colorado Springs is the United States Air Force Academy. We spent the afternoon here exploring after our lunch at The Airplane Restaurant. It made for the perfect day full of planes, which my son has really been into lately. The Air Force Academy welcomes visitors as long as they have a valid driver’s license or passport. The base is full of hiking and bike trails and is really beautiful at the base of the mountains.
Check the Planetarium schedule before you go and catch a free public show. Make a stop at Cadet Chapel too. When we made our visit this time around it was closed under renovations and I was bummed the kids would not get a chance to see it. It is the most visited man-made tourist attraction in Colorado and after a visit, you will understand why. The visitor center offers a gift shop and engaging exhibits including what it is like to live like a cadet.
Pro tip: When you make your visit bookmark this page for a self-guided tour. It includes all the big spots to visit including Thunderbird Overlook, B-52 display, and more. Keep your eyes open for wildlife! We saw wild turkeys while driving.