Garden of the Gods: I Can’t Quit Colorado’s Top-Rated Park

Travel Features Colorado
Garden of the Gods: I Can’t Quit Colorado’s Top-Rated Park

“Get Out There” is a column for itchy footed humans written by long-time Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although different now, travel is better than ever. Today we nature bathe in Colorado’s most beloved park, Garden of the Gods.

Colorado’s Garden of the Gods is not a National Park. But it could be—a small one. At four square miles, this compact but otherworldly free playground rivals the state’s four official parks and ranks among the best in the nation, in terms of potency. 

With over 6 million annual visitors (two million more than Grand Canyon!) Garden of the Gods is dominated by its 300 red rock fins, spires, and hogbacks jutting from a garden green landscape—plus the towering and snow-capped Pikes Peak (aka “America’s Mountain”) looming in the background. Popular activities include 15 miles of paved and gravel hiking trails, rock climbing, mountain biking, and taking in the stunning views. 

I’ve wanted to visit this beloved “National Landmark” for sometime. This spring I did just that over a three day getaway, in three of the most popular ways to experience it: hiking its mesmerizing pathways, unwinding at its onsite resort, and enjoying afternoon tea high on a castle top. Before considering a similar visit, here’s what you need to know. 

Getting There

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is located 70 miles south of Denver in Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city. Home to the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs was founded in 1871 as a resort town and is known for its great outdoors, ample blue skies, and historic sites. While there is a local airport, flying into Denver International before driving 75 minutes south is the easiest route for most people. 

Open everyday from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm, Garden of the Gods is located on the westside of town adjacent to the Rocky Mountains. The average visitor spends around two hours in the park, but that can be as short as 30 minutes on the easiest trail or up to six hours if hiking, mountain biking, or climbing long distances. My wife and I covered over half the park in less than two days, which was enough to see what we wanted. 

Highlight hikes include Central Garden Loop (1-2 miles, paved), Siamese Twin Trail (.5 mile, gravel), and Palmer Trail Loop (4 miles, gravel). We would have walked every trail if we had the time. Unlike national parks, dogs are allowed on leash. Visit early or late in the day to avoid heavy crowds. 

Staying In

Garden of the Gods

During our visit, my wife and I quickly fell into a relaxing routine of exploring the “garden” on foot, then viewing it from above at Garden of the Gods Resort, the only onsite property. To say this hotel has spectacular views is an understatement. It’s basically a panoramic in-park mesa resort with five-star amenities, spacious suites, full view balconies, impeccable wait staff, and a dozen more reasons to “stay in” after “going out.”

Opened in 1951 and true to the city’s resort heritage, Garden of the Gods Resort is a remarkably  peaceful escape. It features a 27-hole golf course, several tennis courts, fitness center, and full service spa. It’s also home to the best pool in the region, where guests can swim in 84 degree waters year round to the infinity-edge, while overlooking the red rock fins and spires clawing towards the sky under Pikes Peak. 

All of that is worth writing home about. But the hotel’s Grand View restaurant was the star of the show. Floor to ceiling windows offer a full view of the surrounding mountains and sunsets. All stone dining room. House-made everything—from the table bread and starters to succulent entrees and seriously inspired desserts. Although Colorado Springs is home to several great eateries, it’s obvious why so many locals “dine in” at Grand View. What a remarkable restaurant. 

High TeaGarden of the Gods

Speaking of food, my wife and I didn’t want to leave without visiting Glen Eyrie Castle for afternoon tea on the private, north side of “the garden.” As the saying goes, “No visit to Colorado Springs is complete without a stop at Glen Eyrie Castle, and no visit to Glen Eyrie Castle is complete without their afternoon tea.” 

I have no idea if that’s an actual saying or simply part of the castle’s clever marketing. But after banqueting on their sweet, savory, and texturally superior bites before exploring their phenomenal grounds, I believe it. The high tea was fantastic. The castle was stunning. The surrounding red rocks were, too. It was a wonderful way to conclude our trip. 

Although there’s plenty to do in Colorado Springs, it’s hard to get away from these three soothing places. Honestly, I could have stayed longer. After all, 50,000 Google reviews can’t be wrong. However you approach it, Garden of the Gods deserves your time and attention. 

See also: 

What to know before roadtripping to Colorado’s National Parks

Electric car camping in the Rocky Mountains 

Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his adolescent family and two dogs.

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