Thursday, February 13, 2020

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is my favorite place to hike on planet Earth. The 1300-acre park features more than 20-miles of hiking trails that take visitors around its towering sandstone rock formations in the shadow of Pikes Peak. Those unique rock formations were formed during the same geological event that created Pikes Peak. This is my favorite outdoor attraction in Colorado Springs. In my humble opinion, Garden of the Gods is much more fun to explore from its hiking trails than by driving through it. 

Garden of the Gods Park and Visitors Center

Garden of the Gods Visitors Center

The Garden of the Gods Park and Visitors Center is free to the public because of a stipulation made when it was donated to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909. The stipulation states that the park must always remain free and that no buildings should be constructed except for the necessary upkeep of the park. (This is the best free attraction in Colorado Springs). The park is a registered National Natural Landmark that gets more than two million visitors per year. I am glad that the park has been kept free from commercial development and that all are welcome to explore.

The visitors center is a good place to start your hike. It has a really nice observation deck with several telescopes that let you get up-close views of the rock formations and Pikes Peak. The visitors center also shows an interesting video about the geology and history of Garden of the Gods. You can also pick up free trail maps and grab a bite to eat before exploring the hiking trails. In addition to exploring on your own, the park's staff offer several free guided hiking tours throughout the day. 

Garden of the Gods Rock Formations

Balanced Rock

Garden of the Gods is most famous for its 300' tall sandstone rock formations. Many of these interesting rocks have names - and some are quite famous. For example, "Balanced Rock" (shown above) is a geological marvel because it looks like it should tip over. Many visitors stop for a photo at "Balanced Rock" and take poses like they are holding up the rock.

Garden of the Gods Park

There is a tall sandstone formation called "Kissing Camels" because it looks like two camels kissing each other. The "Siamese Twins" are another popular rock formation. I really didn't take time to learn the names of most rocks because I was just in such awe by them. However, if you are interested in learning all the rock names on your visit, you can pick up a free guide at the visitors center. The park's hiking trails will take you by all of the major geological features. Since I am from the Ozarks, I have hiked below steep cliffs and bluffs. However, exploring the Garden of the Gods felt a lot different. You just have to experience it yourself to understand.

Garden of the Gods Hiking Trails

Garden of the Gods Hiking Trails

The cool sandstone rock formations are much more fun to explore by hiking through the park because it's easier to walk right up to them, feel them, and be awed by them. I guarantee that most have never experienced a hike like this one. Be sure to bring water, a snack, and some sunscreen. Depending on your health and acclimation to higher altitudes, you might want to start off with a slower walking pace. Here is an overview of the park's most popular hiking adventures:
  • Buckskin Charlie Trail - This rugged and hilly trail circles the park and offers distant views of rock formations. 
  • Palmer Trail - If you want to get away from the traffic and crowds, this hiking trek loops around most of the park. 
  • Perkins Central Garden Trail - For a short, easy hike, this trail takes you to the park's tallest rock formations.
  • Ridge Trail - This short hike makes you feel like you are really part of the rock formations.
  • Siamese Twins Trail - This trail gives hikers the best views of Pikes Peak. 
For a complete list of trails and their respective skill levels and lengths, pick up a free park map at the visitor's center. Some of the trails also have more than one name. However, a map will point you in the right direction.

Balanced Rock at Garden of the Gods

I loved hiking at Garden of the Gods because it felt like I was walking among giants. (I was in fact walking among giant rock formations). The majestic views of Pikes Peak in the background create the perfect backdrop for this beautiful park. I think the park holds a special place in my heart because it offered me my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. I remember thinking how they looked like these giant blue clouds before I realized they were mountains.

I recommend taking a picnic lunch because you can't beat the view from any of the picnic tables. I am grateful that this natural treasure is free for everyone to enjoy. The city of Colorado Spring does an outstanding job of maintaining the park. Depending on your length of stay in the Pikes Peak region, you could spend an entire day exploring the park, or explore it in parts on multiple days.  I look forward to visiting this incredible park again.

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