staycation-colorado-springs

Cheap Vacation/Staycation Ideas In Colorado Springs

Most of us who have lived in the same place for a long time tend to take it for granted.  I’m not a Colorado native, but even I get caught up in the humdrum of every day life and forget about all the awesome things we have to do here!

Many of us are forgoing traditional vacation plans this year because of the high cost of fuel and tight budgets.  But, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun right here in Colorado Springs!  Whether you live in the Springs or are traveling here from elsewhere, it’s totally possible to have a great vacation or staycation without spending much money – and today I’m going to show you how!

I’m partnering with dozens of other bloggers to bring you the Staycation on a Budget series.  Tomorrow I’ll be posting links to staycation and vacation ideas for cities all across the United States!  It’s been so exciting to read about all the fun things there are to do all across the country – I feel like I’ve been on a mini-vacation just reading about it!

So, here are some ways to experience Colorado Springs without spending too much money.  I’ve included many free or cheap attractions, and found some great discounts for things to do that are normally somewhat pricey.  And, there’s a few tips on places to stay, too!

:: Things To Do In Colorado Springs ::

Pikes Peak Highway & Cog Railroad

Have a national park pass?  Don’t try to use it on Pikes Peak – it’s owned by the city of Colorado Springs, and your NPS pass isn’t valid here.

It’s not cheap, but you can’t experience Colorado Springs without driving to the top of Pikes Peak!  Yes, you can drive your vehicle to the top of the 14,110 foot mountain – on pavement, even!  The views are incredible, and on a clear day, you can see for hundreds of miles.

Pikes Peak Highway is a toll road and costs $12 per adult and $5 for kids aged 6 to 15 – or, $40 per carload for up to five passengers.

If you don’t want to drive, you can take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, a train that takes you all the way up to the top!  Check this page for coupons.  You might also be interested in this post on Pioneer Woman with lots of pictures of the train ride up the mountain!

If you’re driving, allow about 3-4 hours for the trip up and down Pikes Peak.

While you’re enjoying the view at the summit, you can taste one of the world-famous Pikes Peak donuts or tank up on oxygen at the oxygen bar.  The Summit House has souveniers, food, and bathrooms.  There are also bathrooms above halfway up at the Glen Cove stop.

If you have anyone that gets altitude sickness, you may want to take along some Dramamine or something similar, as you’ll be experiencing an altitude change of about 8,000 feet from Colorado Springs to the top of the peak.  A paper bag or bucket is always handy just in case, too.

On occasion, the road up Pikes Peak will be closed due to wind or other inclement weather.  Often, you can still go part of the way up (I can’t recall if they reduce the fee or not).  We did this once and though we were told at the gate that the point that we’d have to turn around was above the treeline, it really wasn’t and there weren’t amazing views.  I would advise trying another time if you can’t go all the way up.  This doesn’t happen often in the summer, but it does in the winter.

Penny Arcade in Manitou Springs {CHEAP!}

The building on the east side has a room with games that are actually a penny, plus a few for a nickel or a dime. My personal favorite is the vintage driving game in the front left corner of that vintage game room.

It’s not really officially called the “Penny Arcade”, but that’s what everyone calls it!  Arcade Amusements is located in downtown Manitou Springs, behind Patsy’s Candies.  It’s a unique indoor/outdoor arcade, with games from the early 1900’s to the 2000’s, and it’s really quite inexpensive even if not all the games are a penny – $5 can go a long way.

Little kids love the ride-on animals and vehicles – there’s dozens to choose from, and if you have multiple little kids, you’ll get a double bang for your buck by convincing them that the two-seaters are the most exciting ones to ride (two for the price of one!).

They’ve got skeeball, shoot-em-up and racing games, air hocky, and lots more.  All the games cost what they originally cost, so the old ones are cheaper than the newer ones.

Here’s more about the Manitou Springs Penny Arcade.

United States Olympic Training Center {FREE!}

If you’re at all into sports, you have to check out the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  You can tour the hall of fame and see some of the training facilities, and if you’re lucky, you may be able to see some Olympic hopefuls in action!  Summer is typically a great time to visit the center as that’s seems to be when the most activities are happening.  We went recently on a holiday weekend and there weren’t any athletes practicing, so I would advise trying to visit on a weekday or at least a non-holiday weekend if you want to see some athletes in action.

The training center offers free admission, and tours are given every half-hour from 9 AM to 4:30 PM during the months of June and July.  Tours are offered every hour during the rest of the year.

Image Credit: Gretchen Koenig

Whit’s End + Focus On The Family Visitor’s Center {FREE!}

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Fans of the Adventures in Odyssey radio series will definitely want to stop by the Focus on the Family Visitor’s Center & Bookstore to see the real Whit’s End!  On the main level of the visitor’s center, you can visit a small “museum” with interesting history about Focus on the Family and also visit the bookstore (hey, please do – they’re our sponsor this month!), and then head downstairs for Whit’s End!

Whit’s End has a three-story slide for big kids, a play area for little kids, a puppet theatre, and more.  Plus, there’s a little soda shop, too!  For the littlest kids (four and under), go down the hall for Camp What-A-Nut, a play area designed just for toddlers.

Get more information on the visitor’s center here.

Garden of the Gods & Red Rocks Canyon

Another famous Colorado Springs landmark is Garden of the Gods, a beautiful place for hiking, climbing, biking, and more!  There are many hiking trails and walking paths, and with proper permits and gear, you can climb the red rocks, too.  The visitor center at the main entrance has some interesting displays, food, and restrooms.  It’s all completely free!

If you don’t want to get out, even the drive through the rocks is worth a few extra minutes on your way to other attractions.

One of my favorite memories of Garden of the Gods is visiting on the morning of the 4th of July a couple of years ago.  A harpist was playing patriotic music and it was just beautiful!

For fewer crowds, head across Highway 24 to Red Rock Canyon, where you’ll find more trails and picnic areas.  There is an outhouse at the main parking lot.

Image Credit: db king

Air Force Academy {FREE!}

See the famous spires of the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel for free, plus see some of the sports facilities and tour the visitor’s center.  Make sure you read through the security requirements to be able to get on the Air Force Academy – and not that you must have an up-to-date vehicle registration and insurance or they’ll turn you away at the gate.  Get more information here.

Image Credit: js clark

Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings

I’ve never been to the cliff dwellings in Manitou Springs, and probably won’t – they’re not real!  Well, they’re real, but they were transported in and set up as a tourist attraction – the Anasazi people never lived in this area.  If you want cliff dwellings, I’d definitely recommend checking out Mesa Verda National Park in southwest Colorado.

But, it does look like the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are pretty interactive, and you can climb around and in the dwellings much more than you can at Mesa Verde National Park, so it might be worth a stop.

Admission is $9.50 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 7 to 11.  You can save up to $1 off by printing this coupon here.

Teas and hiking at Glen Eyrie

The former “castle” of the founder of the city of Colorado Springs is now owned by the Navigators, and is open for tours and tea, and you can also hike for free!  You can also stay at the castle.

Tours of the castle are $6 per person and are offered daily at 1 PM.  You can have an afternoon tea or Victorian tea starting at $16 per person, and I believe there is a discount available if you do a tea and a tour together.

Note: hiking is currently closed due to damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire.

There are several hiking trails on the Glen Eyrie property that are open to the public (with reservations).  Our family has taken the hike up Queens Canyon to Dorothy Falls, and had a great time!  The hike is not terribly strenuous, as you are hiking in a canyon and not up a mountain, but does require many back-and-forth crossings of the creek, which can be difficult to navigate with small children.

Once you get to the falls, make sure to continue going up to see the pools (definitely not accessible with small children).  Visit the Glen Eyrie website for more information on hiking, and be sure to complete the required registration process ahead of time so you can get in to hike.

Devil’s Head Lookout Tower

If you go, make sure you strike up a conversation with the ranger – he and his wife live at the base of the tower all summer long and have done it for decades. It’s a fascinating story!

Here’s a hike that rewards you with amazing 360º views – a little ways north of Colorado Springs, up Rampart Range Road, is Devil’s Head Lookout Tower.  It was built by the National Forest Service to spot wildfires, and is one of the few lookout towers still in use today!

The trail to the top is around one and a half mile, one way, and then you’ll climb 143 steps to get to the tower. You know it’s a pretty good hike when they give you a little “certificate of achievement” card when you arrive at the top!

We made this hike with a 5 year old, 3 year old, and 1 year old – and I was 8 months pregnant. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that, but it was a great memory!

St. Peter’s Dome Hike

If you’re driving up Gold Camp Road (see below), St. Peter’s Dome is a great hike!    In the image above, it’s the highest peak there in the center.  Don’t worry, you can drive most of the way up! :)

The hike is not terribly strenuous, though it does have some pretty good elevation changes and some slippery rocks at the end.  And, if you want to go all the way to the top, you’ll have to use a rope!  Get the scoop on this hike here.

Pulpit Rock Hike

This is a great, short hike that offers incredible views and is right in the middle of town!  Find out more about hiking Pulpit Rock here.

Green Mountain Falls Hikes & Park

Green Mountain Falls is a quaint little mountain town just a little ways up the pass from Colorado Springs to Woodland Park.  There are several hikes you can do, and for those that don’t want to hike, right in the center of town is a beautiful little lake with a gazebo and picnic area.  You can fish with the proper licensure and it’s really just a fun place to relax in the mountains.  I hear that The Pantry restaurant right next to the lake is fabulous.

Gold Camp Road and other historic drives

One of our favorite things to do in Colorado Springs is to drive the back roads.  There are some incredible places to explore near Colorado Springs, and it doesn’t require 4WD to get off the beaten path… Just nerves of steel!  Here’s some of our favorites:

  • Gold Camp Road: this is an old railroad grade that connected Colorado Springs with the mining towns in the mountains.  In some parts, you can see parts of the railroad ties in the road, which is kind of cool!  Steve has directions for accessing this road – it’s important to get the inside scoop on this particular road instead of looking at a map, as part of the road is closed due to a collapsed tunnel.
  • Mount Herman Road: this road connects Monument to Woodland Park (thought it would be faster to just take Highway 24 if you are really trying to get from one place to the other!).  It’s narrower than Gold Camp Road, so if you don’t like driving on the very edge of a cliff, take it from Monument to Woodland Park, as that’s the direction that hugs the side of the mountain.  You’ll see some great rock formations and view of the city.  Here’s directions for this road.

Splash Parks in Colorado Springs

There are several free and cheap splash parks in Colorado Springs!  There’s the Uncle Wilbur Fountain in Acacia Park, the fountains in front of the Cinemark Theatre at First and Main Town Center, the Julie Penrose Fountain at America the Beautiful Park, the Deerfield Hills Spray Ground, Aga Park in Fountain, and Widefield has a community splash park, too!

Museums, museums, and more museums

Colorado Springs has lots of museums, many of which are cheap or free!  Here’s a list of museums that are in Colorado Springs – there’s something for just about everyone!

:: Where To Stay In Colorado Springs ::

Though it’s somewhat difficult for a local to be an expert on hotels since a local rarely has a need for a hotel, I do have a few tips for places to stay on your Colorado Springs vacation if you’re traveling here.

Which part of town should I stay in?

Much of the touristy stuff is in the southwest part of town, so if you want to stay close to where you’ll be doing things, I’d recommend looking for lodging in the south-ish part of town.  Traffic is not really a major problem in Colorado Springs, so even if you don’t stay near the activities you’ll be doing, it doesn’t take too long to get around as long as you avoid Interstate 25 at rush hour (maybe 4:30 to 6 PM or so).

Suggestions For Camping

If you’re into camping and will be doing things in the mountains and near the mining communities, we loved the Cripple Creek KOA.  It’s a beautiful setting and they have very nice bathrooms – a must for fair weather campers like myself!  (The KOA in Colorado Springs is not really an idyllic mountain setting – it backs right up to the interstate.  Their facilities are probably great, but if you want a relaxing mountain experience, you might want to stay a little farther from the interstate!)

If you want to camp for free, you can pitch a tent at Wye Campground in Pike National Forest for absolutely nothing!  This campground is located just a little ways up historic Gold Camp Road, and while it has virtually no facilities, it does have outhouses.

Other Lodging Options

It’s not cheap, but if you can get a discount on a room at the Garden of the Gods Club, I would jump at the chance!  They’ve done Groupon deals and we were able to stay there for $75 a night.  The views are incredible and the staff was great.

:: More Great Discounts In Colorado Springs ::

  • Many restaurants and other businesses in Colorado Springs offer military discounts.  Be sure to ask at the register, or check out our list of military discounts in Colorado Springs!
  • Lots of restaurants offer kids eat free nights, a great way to save when dining out as a family.
  • Colorado Springs has several daily deal sites that offer discounts of 50% off or more on dining, attractions, and more.  Occasionally, there’s even some for lodging!  I’ve found the best deals come from Groupon, Living Social, and our local newspaper, The Gazette.  If you don’t live in Colorado Springs but are planning a vacation here, I would recommend subscribing to their deals so you can snatch up anything that you would use on your vacation; then just unsubscribe after your trip is over!
  • Sign up for the Springs Bargains email list while you’re preparing for your trip – we’ll keep you up-to-date on all the fun stuff that’s going on in Colorado Springs that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg!

This is just the tip of the iceberg on budget-friendly ways to enjoy Colorado Springs on a budget!  I’d love to hear your suggestions on your favorite things to do in Colorado Springs – join in the comments!

Don’t miss our post on Denver Bargains about enjoying a Denver vacation on a budget – lots of great ideas there for daytrips from Colorado Springs!

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Comments

  1. This is great! What about some good day trips, besides Great Sand Dunes National Park or Bishop’s Castle? Any ideas?

    • Denver is always a good day trip! :)

      You could go to South Park City: http://thechoulife.com/2010/06/25/south-park-city/

      I’ve heard good things about the children’s museum in Pueblo, and the zoo, too. Salida is a fun little town – lots of quaint shops and outdoor sports there.

      Cripple Creek and the surrounding mining towns can be fun, especially if you like scenic back roads! If you found some books on the history of that area, it might be fun to explore those towns after knowing their history.

      I’ve always wanted to go to the prison museum in Canon City! We drive through there several times a year, but haven’t ever stopped. It looks like a fun little town for a day trip.

      Oh! If you like antique shopping, you have to go to Florence!

  2. Near the entrance to the Garden of the Gods is Rock Ledge Ranch. It’s fun to visit and learn about the history of the area. It’s fairly cheap, even for a year long family pass.

  3. Michele says:

    I’d like to take my family to cave of the winds this summer. The last time we went my 10 year old was 1!! Any ideas on where to find discounts? Thanks!

    • I don’t know of any discounts on tickets, unfortunately – there are some gimmicky tickets for a free gift, but none that actually reduce the ticket price. :(

  4. zalyndia says:

    What a great list! I thought we had done almost everything in cs but you gave me a few more to do!!! Tx!!! I have quite a few to add. 1. Broadmore – free- check out pond with swans – great place for pictures. 2. One of my favs is the hornbeck place near florissant. Free. There is often a ranger there that will let you look inside the old homestead. Awesome story of a true pioneer woman. 3. Fossil rim national park. Lots of activities and hike. Most hikes are easy even for small kids and some are handicap acc. 4. There is a place to dig for fossila near there (don’t remember cost but it waby the hour) 5. Dinosaur museum in woodland park

    I know i’m forgetting quite a bit.

  5. Rachel Hartleben says:

    This is great! I would love to see more info on combo dinner/entertainment options though! :)

  6. Ultra R says:

    A nice list- here are a few more to add for newcomers & travelers:

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (family of 4 can get a 1 year family pass for about the same price as 1-day entry.) Go early and head to the Cabin, by the pony rides… we go frequently and have often had the chance to feed critters and get 1 on 1 tours/ info w/ keepers, especially in fall/ winter. Also, when you get an annual pass, you don’t have to do everything every time- I have a map at home and before we leave- each kid picks 3 animals to visit- we go early, only stop for the ones we chose and are home for lunch/ naps.

    Bear Creek (Park & Nature Center)- lots of activities, hiking, Dog Park

    Fountain Creek (Park & Nature Center- including a waterfowl preserve)- activities, hikes, critters

    http://www.springsgov.com/sectionindex.aspx?sectionid=17 There are over 100 parks in COS – here’s a list of all of them and it states the amenities. We went to a new park every week last summer and had some great adventures!

    Fine Arts Center/ Bemis School- Free Tuesday 1x a month, Kids/ Family art events

    PPLD- Not just a Library… keep an eye on their events calendar- they have movie nights, theater/ puppet shows, cultural events, most activities are free. Story time for all ages (year round)

    Manitou Falls- take the road at the end of town or by the Storage unit (from 24) and when you get to the hairpin turn there is a small parking area- pull over. Follow the creek/ trail approx. 1/4 mile to the underpass. There is a nice waterfall, a pool for wading and always ‘interesting’ graffiti- can get a bit trashed but if you take a grocery bag- it’s a learning activity and you can clean up a bit while you’re there :-)

    Miramont Castle, Manitou- A nice tour, a little cafe with yummy treats and a garden space to sit in.

    In the Summer, farmer’s markets are nearly every day in various parts of town- nothing like picking out fruit & veggies to take on a hike and enjoy.

    Bishop’s Castle is a nice day trip

    Head West- Tarryall; 11-mile; Crags- lots of hiking, camping, fishing, etc.

    Fossil Beds in Florisant

    Dinosaur museum in Woodland Park

    There are a TON of events in town on the weekends- http://www.peakradar.org

    Enjoy yourself!

  7. That looks like so much fun! I can’t believe some schools actually go on field trips like that! I wish my school had done it. I guess I got a love for travel anyway, though.

  8. I was wondering if you knew of any horse back riding that would accommodate a 1 year old (in a baby carrier) & 4 year old? We would like to do more than just a pony ride if possible. Also, any mild biking trails, with bike/child trailer rentals around the area?

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