The Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado’s most amazing natural attractions. Massive red rock formations pierce upward from the earth, balancing in a way that seems impossible, creating a unique, beautiful landscape.
It’s also one of the most popular. It’s located less than two hours south of Denver in Colorado Springs, and it's the most visited attraction in the Pikes Peak area, even amid Colorado Springs' major attractions, like the Cave of the Winds and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (where you can see giraffes in the mountains).
Best of all: These views in this 1,367-acre area and hikes are free and open to the public year-round. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit to the Garden of the Gods.
The Garden of the Gods was established in 1909, but its history goes back millions of years. The crazy rock formations you see were created along a fault line, and they were uprooted and tilted vertically during the formation of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains. These formations are as old as the mountains.
Humans have been drawn to these rocks since ancient times. Native American artifacts dating back to 250 B.C. have been discovered in this area.
But it was in the 1870s, during the gold rush and railroad time, when the rocks hit the Western radar. The area was bought by the head of the Burlington Railroad for his summer home, but he left it relatively untouched and welcomed the public to enjoy it. After he died, his children gave the land to the city.
The Garden of the Gods was named in 1859. As the legend goes, one surveyor wanted to build a beer garden there, but another man said it was better suited “for the Gods to assemble.” He coined the name, and it stuck.
One of the most popular ways to experience the Garden of the Gods is on your own two feet. The Garden of the Gods offers 15 miles of trails winding throughout the formations. There are various hiking options, including super easy options on paved walkways suitable for families. The best way to approach this is via the Self-Guided Hiking Program. Pick up a free map at the visitor center info desk. Take your time, and take in the scenery. You want to set aside at least a half-day for exploring, though a full day will allow you to veer off on some of the smaller trails that are less crowded.
For more structure, you can sign up to find free guided nature walks.
Great hiking trails include:
- The Perkins Central Garden Trail: This is an easy, 1.5-mile round-trip, a concrete pathway with barely any elevation gain. It’s handicap accessible and family-friendly.
- The Siamese Twins Trail: Here’s another easy one that’s a bit shorter: only one-mile round-trip. There’s slightly more elevation gain (150 feet) but the views of Pikes Peak are worth it.
- The Ridge Trail: This one’s a bit tougher (rated moderate), but it’s shorter (only a half of a mile round-trip). Expect about 100-foot elevation gain.
- The Chambers/Bretag/Palmer Trail: This trail is harder yet, but still only moderately rated. It spans three miles with about a 250-foot gain. This is a great trail if you want to see a lot of the park. You get to see just about everything.
Before you head out for more than casual hiking at this altitude (it's around 6,400 feet above sea level, so more than a mile high), make sure you have acclimated and are well-hydrated. Altitude sickness can derail your whole trip and be dangerous when climbing rocks.
The Garden of the Gods is much more than just rock formations. The whole area is packed with adventure, including rock climbing, biking, photography (this is one of Colorado’s most-photographed views), and hiking. Here are a few of the activities you can experience at the Garden of the Gods:
- Rock climbing: Front Range Climbing trips depart every 30 minutes. You can even go bouldering inside the park, but you need a climbing permit to do so (and there’s a steep fine if you don’t have one).
- Biking: You can rent bikes on site, from standard to mountain to even electric bikes. Stay on the designated bike paths. You can also register for The Starlight Spectacular annual nighttime bike ride.
- Horseback riding: Go through Academy Riding Stables, on specific horse-friendly trails only.
- Classes and educational activities: Hiking or camping are popular ones.
- Jeep tours: A fun way to see the park. Ask about Segway tours, too.
- The Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site: This ranch, across the street from the visitor center, is a living history experience with tickets starting at $8 for adults.
- Running races: The Grand Prix of Running holds an annual 5K/5M run, and there’s the Garden of the Gods 10-Mile Run.
Facilities and Logistics
The first stop before visiting the park is to visit the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center. It’s free and has interactive exhibits, shopping, and a movie theater. The gift shop was voted the “best in Colorado Springs” and features souvenirs and local products, such as jewelry, American Indian art, clothes, books, food, toys, and more. The fudge made on site is widely popular.
Entry to the park is free. The visitor center is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer and until 5 p.m. in the winter. The cafe closes at 6 p.m. The park itself is open much longer: 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Parking is one of the trickiest parts of visiting the Garden of the Gods, especially if you visit in peak season (during the summer). The parking lots fill up quickly, so the best bet is to arrive as early as possible or park nearby and take the free shuttle, which runs early June through late August, plus Labor Day weekend. It departs every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shuttles will make three stops on their loop. Park near the intersection of 30th Street and Gateway Drive at Red Ledge Ranch.
Where to Stay
You cannot camp in the park itself but there are many camping spots nearby. Get a full list from the visitor center. One highlight is the Cheyenne Mountain State Park, which offers full-service camping (including showers and laundry) from mid-April through mid-October. This popular campground fills up quickly so reserve your spot well in advance.
While Colorado Springs is known for its great lodging (the Broadmoor Hotel, Great Wolf Lodge, the Country Club of Colorado), when visiting the Garden of the Gods, the best place to stay is right across the street, at the Garden of the Gods Club. This is a private club and luxury resort, with views of the rock formations from your bed.
Beyond its convenient proximity to the park, this hotel also is packed with activities: golfing, tennis, multiple swimming pools, and more. Relax in the adult-only infinity pool with views of the red rocks and mountains and experience the Garden of the Gods from a different, serene perspective.
This club is also home to the International Health and Wellness Center and spa, where you can meet with fitness and health professionals with both Eastern and Western medicine training. At the spa, unwind in the halotherapy room, the herbal sauna, and the unique Austrian weightless environment bed, where you can get a spa treatment while you float, waterbed-style.
Where to Eat
If you stay at the Garden of the Gods Club, there are several restaurants on site, including the Grand View Dining Room with mountain views.
You can also eat at the Garden of the Gods park. Bean Sprouts is a healthy option with an award-winning kids’ menu.
In town, a hidden gem restaurant and local fave is Shugas, a casual restaurant in a historic building. Grab a seat on the patio and try the popular spicy Brazilian shrimp soup.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when visiting the Garden of the Gods:
- Stay on the trails, both for your safety and for the preservation of the natural habitat.
- Keep dogs on leash at all times.
- Don’t vandalize the rocks. That includes carving on them or taking pieces with you.