Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak Colorado Springs Colorado

Exploring Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs (Hiking, Driving, Pictures)

The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado is a public park and National Landmark, known for its unique geologic formations. Millions of people visit each year to photograph the amazing scenery and enjoy hiking, biking, and driving among the towering red sandstone rocks. Best of all it, its free forever.

Guide to Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

I remember visiting when I was younger and recently took my kids to see the park. Many of the hiking trails are paved or graveled and access to the rock formations is easy. Kids can hike, scramble around on the rocks and see wildlife, making Red Rocks Park an ideal destination for families with kids.

You will learn about the geology and history of Garden of the Gods and some planning tips. We were so impressed with the visitor center that I wrote an entire article on our experience visiting the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center.

If you are only interested in things to do at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs – skip ahead to that section.

About Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods Park is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is most well known for the unique geological formations of red sandstone. The huge red spires represent 300 million years of geologic hisoty.

The Garden of the Gods became a National Natural Landmark in 1971. Since then, the park has grown much larger. The park features red-sandstone rock formations and beautiful views everywhere you look.

Note: If you are planning a trip to the area there are over 55 attractions in the Colorado Springs area, many of which are fun for the whole family! Some of the many attractions include Pike’s Peak, the Colorado Springs Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, and the Royal Gorge, as well as Garden of the Gods, of course.

Related Content: 23 Exciting things to do in Colorado Springs

When to Visit

Since Colorado Springs has 4 distinct seasons, each time of year brings a different experience when visiting the Garden of the Gods Park. The summer will be hot but brings recreational activities and beautiful sunsets.

Visit Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
Visiting Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Winter in Colorado Springs can be cold but has warm sunny days and snow to accent the rock formations. Plus, you might feel as though you have the park to yourself as the relatively few people visit in the winter.

The best time to enjoy the park is during the spring or fall anytime during the day. I have taken the kids in March and the weather was warm and sunny, not too hot, and we easily found parking at the pullout.

Of course, photographers might prefer sunrise or sunset to capture the beautiful skies. Colorado is lovely to visit in late spring and early fall when the weather is at its best.

Garden of the Gods Park is open year-round. The hours from May 1 – October 31 are 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. From November 1 – April 30, the park is open from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, however, the park will be closed.

Interesting Rock Formations in Garden of the Gods

Many of the things to do in Garden on the Gods are focused on the rock formations. So it made sense to me to introduce you to some of our favorite rock formations in the park.

Many of these formations can be seen by hiking some of the trails or from a pullout on the driving tour.

Garden of the Gods Kissing Camels with Cloudy skies

The rock formations are of interest to tourists and geologists alike and worth a short hike. Some of the rocks feature amazing designs and are named after the images people see within the rocks.

The Gateway Rocks

The Gateway Rocks are two massive rock formations. They create a natural “gateway” into the Garden of the Gods. Both of the rocks are several hundred feet tall.

Kissing Camels

This formation is named Kissing Camels because, well, the figure of the rocks looks like two camels kissing. Of course, a fun activity is to figure out what your family thinks the formations look like. This rock formation is one of the most popular and most photographed parts of the park

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock is another famous rock in the Garden of the Gods. The oddly shaped rock appears to be balanced only on the bottom tip of the rock, which gives the illusion that the stone could tip over at any minute.

You will find historical and modern photos of people posing with this rock. When you visit you can walk up to the rock and get your own superhero photo.

The Siamese Twins

The Siamese Twins is a double rock formation in which both of the structures look very similar. Thus, some might say that they look like twins. This formation is another favorite spot for many photographers.

Giant Footprints

The Giant Footprints formation is an interesting display of slanted pedestals. This are lies along the Palmer trail and has a small pullout right at the base. The kids loved scrambling on these rocks and deciding what they looked like.

The Best Hikes in Garden of the Gods Park

Within the park, there are many different hikes and rock formations to discover. The park features 15 miles of trails through the red sandstone formation. Many of the trails are easy for kids and even wheelchair and stroller friendly.

Toddler and brother climbing on the Giant Footprints Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs
Toddler and her brother climbing on the Giant Footprints

Most people who visit are interested in which hikes they should do. Of course hiking is only one of the many things to do at Red Rocks Park. YOu can read more things to do below.

My kids loved climbing on the rocks. Even toddlers can climb on the less steep areas to the top of where mom can reach and feel like they are soaring in the skies.

You are allowed to climb and scramble all over the rocks up to 10 feet. This was a welcome surprise, as opposed to our visit to Arches National Park, where climbing was not allowed at all.

Perkins Central Garden Trail

This short 1 mile trail starts at the visitor center and enters the park through the Gateway Formations. The trail only gains 30 feet elevation and easily accessible to young children, wheelchairs and is stroller friendly. We chose to drive into the park so we saw this trail from the car.

Along this trail you will also see Sentinel Spires and the Sleeping Giant.

Siamese Twins Trail

This is a favorite trail of many visitors and may be the most scenic. Another easy 1/2 mile trial provides access to the Siamese Twins Rock formation. You will enjoy a view pf Pikes Peak in the background.

It begins at the Spring Canyon Trailhead has a 150 foot increase in elevation. We parked at a pullout and completed part of the trail with the toddlers.

Palmer Trail

This is one of the longer trails in the park and you will see the most if you complete the entire trail. The entire 2.5 mile trail follows along the western side of the park and where you get views of the rock formations, mountains, and plains.

Although the trail begins at the main entrance, we chose to park and hop on the trail for a shorter segment. We spent most of our time on the section at the Giants Footprints.

The Ridge Trail

To get the feeling of really being among the rocks, choose the Ridge Trail. This trail is quieter than other busy trails in the park and leads to a dramatic viewpoint,.

Although it’s rated moderate, it short. The trail is 1/2 mile loop, with less than 100-foot elevation gain. You will have some stairs to climb so it ins not stroller-friendly.

Balanced Rock Loop Hike

Balanced Rock if the most well-known formation in Garden of the Gods Park. The trail begins at the Spring Canyon South Picnic Area goes by the Trading Post and on to Balanced Rock. 

At the Balance Rock Area, the road passes between Balanced Rock and Steamboat Rock. Also fo longer hikes you can connect to Cabin Canon, Siamese Twins and Strausenback trails.

Alternatively, most people drive up to the Balanced Rock area, get their picture and move on. We hiked a portion of the trail from a pullout and actually spent a long time climbing around on the rocks near Balanced Rock. The formations were great for toddlers because they were flat and had many small alcoves forbidding out.

Other Things to Do at Garden of the Gods Park

Enjoy the Visitors Center

The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center was amazing! This world-class place is the most visited attraction in the region. There are so many things to do with kids and adults too. We spent over 2 hours at just checking out all the free exhibits and views.

Kids and Toddler Enjoying the free Wildlife Exhibit at Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs Colorado
Toddler and Preschooler Enjoying the free Wildlife Exhibit

We enjoyed the interactive exhibits include the geology of Colorado and the park, wildlife, and the history of the area. We brought our own picnic but there is a Cafe to eat and enjoy the view of Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak in the background.  

An HD movie, “How Did Those Red Rocks Get There?”, plays every 20 minutes in the Geo-Trekker Theater.

You can check out more about our experience at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center here.

Visit the Garden of the Gods Trading Post

The trading post is located at the SouthWest edge of the park. It is said to be Coloroado’s largest and oldest gift shop and art gallery.

The trading post has restrooms, Starbucks coffee, souvenirs, shopping, and, best of all, food! The trading post is a great place to do some shopping, talk to locals about their favorite activities within the park, and grab some lunch while you are at it.

Drive Through Garden of the Gods Park

With so many trails and outdoor activities you may wonder – Can you drive through Garden of the Gods Park?

Yes, you can drive through the Garden of the Gods. With many pullouts and parking areas, you can stop for some amazing views.

Although there are many activities there, driving through the park can be an adventure all on its own. Nonstop it takes about 20-30 minutes to drive the loop through the park. You should allow 1 to 2 hours to drive through the park if you would like expereince the views of the park! Best of all, it costs you nothing to drive through the park.

Ride the Garden of the Gods Shuttle

The Garden of the Gods has a shuttle that operates during its busiest season. Instead of driving through the park and finding a parking spot, the shuttle offers views of the park and stops to hop off and enjoy inside the park.

The shuttle runs from May 25 through August 21 and operates from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The shuttle runs a four-stop loop. It stops at the parking lot at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, the intersection of Gateway Road and Juniper Way Loop, and at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site during its operating hours. More information here.

Go Horseback Riding

If you are in the mood for a ride, you can take a scenic horseback ride in the Garden of the Gods. You should allow for a couple of hours if you are planning to go on a ride, but it will be well worth your time!

Academy Riding Stables offers one hour and two-hour scenic rides. Real cowboys and cowgirls guide tours for an authentic experience, and beginners are welcome.

Rock Climbing

We enjoyed scrambling on the rocks and climbing just a few feet off the ground. In fact, besides the visitors center, that is what the kids lived the most about this park.

To rock climb (for real) at Garden of the Gods, you must first fill out a registration form at the visitor center. You must also follow all park rules, which are there for your safety. When done correctly, rock climbing can be a fun, exciting way to explore nature within the park!

Bird Watching

There are more than 15 kinds of birds to see, all within the Garden of the Gods park. The park provides a beautiful location for Colorado bird watchers to enjoy their hobby.

Of course, our family’s level of bird watching is – oh look there’s a robin or Blue Jay. That’s exciting enough for small children and will lead to more interest in the future. More experienced people with the right gear would get more out of this opportunity than we did.

Enjoy Biking

Bicycling through the park is one of the locals favorite things to do at Garden of the Gods. Mountain biking is permitted on select trails, and all one-way roads have paved bike lanes.

You will see many people from Colorado Springs biking through the park. As a visitor you can enjoy the same activity by bringing your own bike or renting one locally.

Garden of the Gods has guided electric bike tours, and they rent out e-bikes as well as mountain bikes if you feel like exploring on your own.

Take Amazing Photographs

With so many picturesque views all in one place, who wouldn’t want to try their hand at photography? From amateur photographers to professionals, many visitors like photographing their experience in the park. After all, the scenery is so incredible, it almost does the work for you.

Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak Colorado Springs Colorado
Photograph of Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak Colorado Springs

Each time of year and day provide a unique perspective of the park. Sunrise and sunset have beautiful colors, while midday you can capture the red sandstone on a blue Colorado sky.

Go on a Jeep, Trolly or Segway Tour

To see the park and get some inside informaiton you may wnat to take a pre-aaranged tour.

Jeep tours are a great way to see more of the park with a tour guide who can show you the ins and outs of the park. You can take long or short Jeep tours, depending on your schedule and preferred time frame.

Adventures Out West leads Jeep excursions, Segway adventures, and Trolley Tours from the visitor center. More information here.

History of Garden of the Gods

How were the rocks formed?

The story of Garden Of the Gods Park begins 300 million years ago with the formation of sand dunes in the ancient seaway. The sedimentary rocks were formed from the red, brown and white sands that were deposited in layers and formed to sandstones, conglomerates, and limestone. Faults running through the park have lifted and vertically tilted the layers.

The rocks were then eroded during the ice age to create the amazing formations you see today. This weathering of the rocks continues to occur today.

The history of the area continues with the people of the region.

The Earliest People of Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods area has been a sacred land to people.

Archaeological evidence shows that as early as 1300 BC, prehistoric people visited the Garden of the Gods (source). Many tribes, such as the Apache, Comanche, Lakota, Shoshone, Ute, and others, are known to have traveled the area.

The Garden of the Gods is considered holy ground to many tribes. The Utes of the area include the Garden of the Gods in their oral history of their origin story.

The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center has a couple of interesting exhibits about the people of the Garden of the Gods and the importance of the Buffalo to there west.

American Buffalo Exhibit at Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs for the People and History portion.
American Buffalo Exhibit

How Did Garden of the Gods Get Its Name?

At first, the Garden of the Gods was called Red Rock Corral (source). Then, in 1859, Melancthon Beach and Rufus Cable came from Denver. They were exploring the area, looking for a new townsite to develop, when they found the red sandstone formations.

The called the area Colorado City for the Spanish term colored red.

As the story goes, Beach said it would be an excellent place for a beer garden. Cable said that it was too good to be a beer garden, it was more of a place fit for the gods. Something reminiscent of the earlier Native American’s spiritual feelings for the area.

Thus, the Garden of the Gods received its name.

Why is the Garden of the Gods Park Free?

In 1879, Charles Elliot Perkins purchased 240 acres of land known as the Garden of the Gods. Later in 1899, he bought an additional 240 more acres of adjoining land.

One time while writing to his friend General William Jackson Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs, he mentioned that he would like to donate his 480 acres of land. He wanted Colorado Springs to manage the land as a park, making it available to the public.

Previously, General Palmer himself had granted over 1,000 acres, which became public parkland.

Unfortunately, Charles Perkins died in 1907 before he officially donated the park. Luckily, his children knew his wishes for the park and donated all 480 acres of land to Colorado Springs in 1909.

Their only stipulation was that the park remains “free to the entire world.” Now, the park has grown to 1,367 acres and remains open to everyone who wants to visit (source – National Register of Historic places).

Garden of the Gods is a National Natural Landmark

In 1971, the park was recognized for its geologic and natural resources by the US government.

Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs Colorado
View from the fist pullout Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

The Garden of the Gods Park became a National Natural Landmark because it “is an outstanding illustration of the lithologic character of sedimentary rocks, and of the vertical forces that produced the front range of the Rocky Mountains. (NPS)”

So you may wonder “is Garden of the Gods a National Park?” The answer is no. Although the National Park Service designates National Natural Landmarks, the Garden of the Gods remains a Colorado PRings City Park.

Location and Directions

You can use the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center to locate and enter the park. Its address is 1805 N. 30th Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Entrance sign for the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center Colorado
Entrance sign for the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center

To access the park from I-25, you first need to take exit #146 (Garden of the Gods Road). You then need to travel west for 2.5 miles, turn left onto 30th street, keep driving for about a mile, and the Visitor & Nature Center will be on your left.

Final thoughts on Visiting Garden of the Gods.

As you can see, the Garden of the Gods is a beautiful place to visit, filled with fun activities that the whole family can enjoy together. Whether you want to take a quick drive through the park or if you are looking for adventure, Garden of the Gods has something for you!

If you are looking for more exciting things to do in the area we have a long list in our post 23 Exciting Things to Do in Colorado Springs

Shauna Kocman founder Family Travel Fever
Shauna Kocman founder of Family Travel Fever

Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever.  We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug!  I take the kids by myself because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.

Sign up for our email list for my best travel tips plus get the family travel planner free. 

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