When I first visited Colorado, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Landing in Denver, I didn’t expect this area of CO to be so abundant in wildlife and adventure. To anyone who plans to visit, even for a small time such as an overnight layover, there is much to see in this area of the state. None of which have any park fees (that as a Washingtonian, I was very used to.)
Here are the ones that I experienced and that I highly recommend. Though I shall caution you to not overdo yourself, as you can get easily winded due to the high elevation gain in the mile high city.
1. Red Rock Park + Amphitheater
This park is a short 30 minutes from Denver and an easy, yet beautiful exploration for a long layover that will not disappoint. There are a few different ways to explore this park, you can head up to the amphitheater and get a view of the whole park or you can use the loop trail that is about 1.5 miles roundtrip and mostly flat.
I recommend you try both to get the best experience, as it is not very difficult. Through the loop, you are walking through all the rock formations and also get some history along the way.
I was fortunate enough to see mule deer, plenty of birds in the brush and also a bobcat!
2. Garden of the Gods
This beautiful park is highly popular, so expect large crowds… but it’s for good reason that you must see for yourself. This park is located in west Colorado Springs, about an hour and 20 minutes from Denver. Simply driving into this park is nothing short of magnificent.
There are several parking areas here, so don’t feel pressured to wait around for parking at the first entrance, as this is the busiest. All parking areas allow access to all the trails. Take your time to soak in all the enormous rock formations and I recommend strolling down every trail, as they all have different things to see and other angles. Once you part from the beginning of the trail, you’ll find much less people on the back trails.
If you here during any season besides winter, beware of rattle snakes (at any park in Colorado). You can also spot prairie hawks at the tops of the rocks here. The hike itself is very easy, almost the entire loop is a wide paved walkway, although I recommend climbing up towards the tops as well.
Don’t forget to drive around the entire park! On the opposite side of the main lot is a beautiful view of all the rock formations and allows you to see them all at a new angle.
3. Rock Rock Canyon Open Space
I didn’t expect much from this place, but it over delivered by far! This area is way less touristy and truly is open wilderness. You can choose to stay on the path or crawl up into the rocks in a way that allows you to experience the rocks of Colorado in the best way you can.
This is located in west Colorado Springs as well and can be easily missed if you don’t pay attention.
There is a loop trail that allows you to see a lake in the middle that unfortunately I didn’t get to do but I highly recommend. I was able to see mule deer here as well as owls and a tremendous view of the Garden of the Gods from afar.
4. Palmer Park
My friend showed me this place to watch the sunrise and I highly recommend you do the same, as this area can have crowds during the day and it supplies the best views without the direct sunlight. Palmer Park is in Colorado Springs as well.
There are many ways to explore this area, you can go straight to the top and wander around or find a trail somewhere and experience as much of the area as you’d like.
This area has a variety of rock formations that are mostly grey with some red as well and has a great view of the city of Colorado Springs. Great place for bird watching, morning meditations and of course… watching the sun rise.
5. Pikes Peak
Now, I did not get to experience this hike, as it is for the advanced locals that are already acclimated to the high altitude. But you can see the peak of this mountain everywhere in Colorado Springs, there is apparently many ways to experience it, but the elevation gain is about 7400 feet! Depending on how you decide to hike this trail, it’s about 5 miles each way. You can also drive it or take a railway!
6. Devil’s Head Lookout
Unfortunately it was far too snowy for us to hike this area, but Devil’s Head is a Colorado staple. About an hour from Denver, this hike goes through tree lines on a simple 3 mile round trip hike. At the end, you climb up some stairs to the lookout house, where you can see amazing views of Denver and rock formations.
This hike does close on account of snow sometimes in the winter, so be sure to check if it’s open.
I now can see why so many love Colorado. There is such beauty to experience all around you while also being within a big city that has it all. All these trails were remarkably clean and the city reminded me of the PNW in it’s design and it’s people. I hope you visit soon and give these trails a try. 🙂