The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is a geological wonder. This breathtaking natural park attracts nature lovers of all kinds. It boasts stunning rock formations, picturesque hiking trails, and lots of wildlife. Pikes Peak and the surrounding mountains make the perfect park backdrop.
So, is the Garden of the Gods worth the trip? 100% YES!! There’s an excellent reason why it attracts visitors from around the world. The Garden of the Gods has incredible views and fun activities for EVERYONE.
You can take a leisurely walk, drive, or bike ride through the park or go on an epic rock-climbing adventure. Kids will love the Junior Ranger Program (parents will love that it only costs a few bucks). Animal lover? Go horseback riding or see if you can spot the Bighorn Sheep. Photographer? Well… let me introduce you to your dreamland.
This blog post will cover the best things to do in the park. Think of it as your Garden of the Gods bucket list, if you will. You won’t want to miss any of these things on your next visit.
Before we dive in, here are some things to know before visiting the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.
The Garden of the Gods is free to enter and park at. The only things you would need to pay for are optional guided tours, events, and of course, food and souvenirs.
As of February 2023, the hours are as follows:
November to April: 5 a.m. – 9 p.m.
May to October: 5 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Please check the official Garden of the Gods site for possible changes.
It’s typically easy to find parking in the Garden of the Gods. Although most of the parking lots are small, there are many scattered throughout the park. If there isn’t a spot at your first choice, keep driving and you’re bound to find one nearby.
Here’s a list of the largest parking lots. Click the link to see it on Google Maps.
- Garden of the Gods Main Parking Lot
- Trading Post
- High Point Overlook
- Juniper Way Loop & The Ute Trail
- Siamese Twins Trailhead
- Balanced Rock
The weather at the Garden of the Gods varies by season. Each season has its perks, but spring and fall are the best times to visit for all-day mild weather.
Winter in the Garden of the Gods is COLD. The temperatures often go below freezing. Sometimes it even snows. Winter is still a great time to visit if you don’t mind the temperatures. The fluffy snow turns the park into a winter wonderland. You can get gorgeous and unique photos during this time.
In spring, the weather in Garden of the Gods is mild. It’ll likely be cool in the morning and evening but will warm up mid-day. Wear plenty of layers. I recommend wearing a t-shirt or tank top and comfortable pants. Bring a jacket and flannel for extra layers.
Snow and mud tend to stick around during spring. Bring waterproof hiking boots. If it’s snowy or icy, micro spikes and hiking poles may be necessary.
The Garden of the Gods is warm and mild during summer, with some hot days. The average high in summer is 84° F. However, it can get above 90° F and, on rare occasions, 100° F. The best time to visit during summer is in the early morning when temperatures and nice and cool.
The first half of fall is one of the best times to visit the Garden of the Gods. Mid-day temperatures are perfect, typically staying in the 60s and 70s. Mornings and evenings are crisp and cool but will still be nice with proper clothing.
During mid-October through November, temperatures begin to drop. Expect below-freezing weather at night and early morning. Snow is also possible during this time. Mid-day temps are typically comfortable IF you bring a jacket.
Where can I find a Garden of the Gods map?
Although you can find a Garden of the Gods map online, the best is a free physical copy from the nature center. This full-color map shows all the trails and rock formations in the park. Sure, you can use Google Maps or AllTrails. But there’s something to a physical map that adds to the outdoor experience.
Stop by the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center at the beginning of your trip to get a copy. The friendly park workers can also give you insider tips and details specific to the day.
What is the Garden of the Gods elevation?
The Garden of the Gods elevation is about 6,400 feet and varies throughout the park. It’s a great place to visit early on in your Colorado vacation if you’re coming from sea level. It will help you acclimate before traveling to higher mountain elevations.
Is the Garden of the Gods a national park?
Nope, but it is a registered National Natural Landmark! Honestly, it’s too small to be a National Park. That’s good news for visitors too. You’d need to buy tickets to visit if it was a national park. As of now, the Garden of the Gods is free. Yay!
How far is Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs from Denver?
The Garden of the Gods is about 1 to 1.5 hours from Denver, depending on traffic and which part of Denver you’re coming from. With all the fun things to do in Colorado Springs, it makes a perfect day trip from the mile-high city.
Is Garden of the Gods Dog Friendly?
The Garden of the Gods IS dog friendly! Unless otherwise noted, your pup will need to stay on a leash. There is a dog park on the east side of the Garden of the Gods close to the nature center. Dogs can be off-leash here, but visitors report that the area is not entirely fenced in.
How long does Garden of the Gods take?
How long you spend at the Garden of the Gods is entirely up to YOU! You can make a quick visit to the park. You can spend as little as 20 minutes driving through the park or spend an entire day adventuring. According to the Visit Colorado Springs website, most people spend 1.5 to 2 hours in the park.
Can you visit Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods in one day?
YES! A round-trip drive to the top of Pikes Peak takes about two hours. I’d plan for three to four when considering stops, filling up on gas, and getting to the scenic drive entry. It’s best to be off the summit by noon because of afternoon thunderstorms at high elevation. I recommend:
- Driving to Pikes Peak in the morning
- Grabbing lunch in Old Colorado City or Manitou Springs, then
- Spend the afternoon exploring the Garden of the Gods.
Interested in riding the Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak? Check out the RMD ultimate guide!
Here We Go! The 10 Things You Can’t Miss at The Garden of The Gods in Colorado Springs
The Garden of the Gods Trading Post is a gift shop, art gallery, and cafe. Their website says they’re “the oldest and largest gift shop in Colorado .” They have everything from t-shirts and coffee mugs to handcrafted Native American jewelry and fine art.
Feeling snackish? You can stay in the park to get a bite to eat. The Garden of the Gods Trading Post cafe serves burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and hot dogs. Vegetarians and vegans – don’t worry. They serve plant-based Beyond Meat burgers here too!
Another thing you can’t miss is their homemade fudge! It’s sooo delicious. At the very least, you must try a free sample. The maple pecan and sea salt caramel are my favorite flavors!
*Keep in mind the Garden of the Gods Trading Post has different hours from the rest of the park. They’re open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center is the perfect place to kick off your visit. You can get a free, full-color trail map at the information desk. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly. They’re happy to provide up-to-date information and insider tips to guests.
Additionally, the Nature Center is perfect for those wanting to learn more about the park. It offers educational exhibits that span centuries. Learn how the rocks in Garden of the Gods were formed over millions of years. Or how one of the rarest dinosaurs was found in the park. The Flora and Fauna exhibit educates visitors about the plants and animals found in the park. Additionally, learn about the Native Americans who originally inhabited the region.
Traveling with kids? Check out the Junior Ranger Program. It’s a cute and fun activity that leads participants to become “official Junio Rangers .” You can buy the activity booklet at the gift shop for only a few bucks. Plan to spend about 1 – 2 hours completing it. Afterward, bring it back to the Visitors Center. You’ll get a free patch and a signed certificate.
The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center is also a great place to stop for a break throughout the day. It has food, clean bathrooms, and a place to refill your water bottle. As you probably know, staying fed and hydrated is essential while exploring the outdoors!
Heads up: The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center has different hours from the rest of the park. It’s open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Plan accordingly!
8. Going on a Guided Tour
What better way to explore the park than having an expert guide you? You don’t have to think about or plan it – just show up, relax, and enjoy. Plus, the guided tour options at Garden of the Gods are suuuuuper cool!!
Disclaimer: I have yet to experience either tour, but I hope to someday! The reviews do check out. As of writing this in March 2023, Adventures Out West has a 4.8 rating out of 458 reviews on Google. Guests have rated Academy Stables as 4.7 out of 1,141 reviews on Google. If you’re interested and have the budget, definitely check them out!
Want to take the scenic route, but add a little spice? Consider going on a guided jeep tour. Sit back and relax while a knowledgeable guide drives you through the park. Rather than keeping your eyes on the road, you’ll be able to feast your eyes on the incredible sights. Your guide will do the work for you while providing information about the area.
Adventures Out West is the most popular tour provider in Colorado Springs. Plus, their ratings are spectacular. Their Garden of the Gods Jeep Tour package includes several must-see destinations, including:
- Garden of the Gods
- Cheyenne Canyon
- Helen Hunt Falls, and
- Manitou Springs
It’s a fantastic deal, and prices are very reasonable for everything provided. Learn more about it on their website.
One of the most remarkable ways to explore Garden of the Gods is via horseback! You can book a tour through Academy Riding Stables or (if you’re lucky enough!) bring your own. Academy Riding Stables offers 1 to 2-hour scenic horseback riding tours. All experience levels are welcome – whether you ride regularly or if it’s your first time on a horse. On the tour, a trained wrangler will guide you through the park while providing “commentary on sights, history, flora, and fauna.”
Alternative: Bring your own horse if you have one!
For those lucky enough to have their own horse, you can bring them too! The Garden of the Gods has designated horse trails. If you bring a trailer for your horse, you must park in Parking Lot 16. It’s next to The Garden of the Gods Trading Post and is the only lot allowing trailers and large vehicles.
These are the designated horseback riding trails in the Garden of the Gods park:
- Susan G. Bretag Trail Trail and Palmer Trail Loop
- Buckskin Charlie Trail Loop
- Gateway and Susan G. Bretag Trail Loop
7. Go Wildlife Spotting
The Garden of the Gods is home to a diverse range of wildlife. Although there isn’t a guarantee that you’ll see them, it’s nice to be aware of what’s out there! Always keep in mind – these are WILD animals. Keep a safe distance. It will keep you AND the animal safe.
One of the most exciting animals to see is the Bighorn Sheep. A large herd lives on the north side of the park. You can see them year-round. The Bighorn Sheep are beloved in the Garden of the Gods. There’s even a yearly festival dedicated to them! I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your distance. Males are called “rams” for a reason!!
Other animals in the park include:
- Mule deer
- Cottontail rabbits
- Black bears & Mountain lions (very rare!)
- And more!!
Warning: Watch your step!! Snakes live in the Garden of the Gods. This includes venomous ones like Rattlesnakes. They’re probably not on your list of animals you want to see, but stay safe and aware if you do. It’s best not to wear earphones in the park, so if you come across a rattlesnake, you’ll hear it first.
6. Taking a Scenic Drive
The Garden of the Gods offers a beautiful 5-mile scenic drive from the comfort of your own car. It winds through the park providing stunning views of the iconic rock formations. Pikes Peak and the surrounding mountains to the west make a perfect backdrop. There are several pullout points where visitors can park and take photos.
Everyone should take the scenic drive through the Garden of the Gods at least once. Other reasons to make it the primary focus of your trip are because it’s:
- A quick trip through the park (it only takes 20 minutes if you don’t stop).
- A free alternative to hiking
- Provides quick and easy access to the main sights
- An excellent way to see the park during not-so-great weather (bless heated seats!)
- Any other reason you can think of!
5. Exploring the Park by Foot
Hiking is my FAVORITE way to explore the park (that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with this blog LOL). It’s a great way to see the rock formations up close and afar.
Hiking in the Garden of the Gods is simple. Find a place to park. Get out. Explore. It helps to have an idea of what you want to see and base your walk around that. Unlike most parks, there aren’t just a handful of one-off trails to choose from. Instead, there are many intersecting trails throughout the park. Most people hike a combination of the different trails while visiting. Think of it as a build-your-own-adventure kind of experience.
It’s also nice to know that all the trails are easy to moderate (but mostly easy). No matter which trail you end up on, expect a relaxing stroll. Still, expect some hills with a moderate incline.
Popular hiking trail combinations in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs include:
Length: 4 miles
Estimated time to complete: 1 hour & 45 minutes
This loop trail takes you along the outskirts of the park’s east side. While it doesn’t go through the Central Gardens, you’ll get a view of all its rock formations at once from a distance. Pay attention to the map on this trail if you want to see the High Point Overlook and Central Gardens. Neither are on the trail exactly, but visiting them only requires a short detour – but you’ll need to know where to go.
Length: 2.5 miles
Estimated time to complete: 1 hour
This trail is similar to the previous one. But instead of going all the way down to the High Point Overlook, it loops through the Central Gardens. You’ll see the Central Gardens formations up close as well as all together from a distance. Additionally, you can easily add the Siamese Twins to this route.
Length: 1.1 miles
Estimated time to complete: 30 minutes
If you’re looking for a short and sweet trail that takes you up close to several of the park highlights, this is it. You’ll see the Three Graces, Cathedral Spires, and Gateway Rocks up close. Additionally, it’s the closest you can get to the Kissing Camels without climbing.
Want to see the other iconic formations without having to walk further? You can easily drive to Balanced Rock, Lookout Point, and the short trail to the Siamese Twins.
Length: 6.3 miles
Estimated time to complete: 2 hours and 45 minutes
The Garden of the Gods Outer Loop is perfect for those looking for a longer (but still easy) day hike. It takes you around the entire park. The Siamese Twins, Giant Footprint, and the Scotsman are all along this trail. Additionally, it takes you across the road from the Central Garden. From there, you’ll be able to see all the rock formations at once. Since you’ll be going all around the park anyway, adding detours to see ALL the iconic rock formations is easy.
Alternative: Bring or rent a bike!
The Garden of the Gods is a popular spot for easy-to-moderate mountain biking. While there are some areas with hills, most of the bike trails are wide and flat. It’s an excellent option for families or those seeking a more relaxing ride.
Please keep in mind that bikes are only allowed on designated trails. Check out the official bike trail map here.
Need a bike? Visit E-Bike Tours and Rentals in Manitou Springs.
Balanced rock is a must-see. It’s a large sandstone rock that appears to be delicately balanced on a smaller base. It’s on the west side of the park on the side of the road. Plenty of parking spaces are available, making it easy to access.
Additionally, Steamboat Rock is right next to Balanced Rock. Visiting will give you a two-for-one when visiting iconic formations. Steamboat rock gets its name from, well, resembling a large old-fashioned steamboat.
This is an excellent spot for taking photos. The road curves around the rock formations in an interesting way. When you visit, you’ll get what I mean! Plus, the views of Pikes Peak and the surrounding mountains look incredible here.
The Siamese Twins are another formation you can’t miss. They’re connected by a narrow strip of rock, giving them the appearance of being twins joined at the hip.
The keyhole window is an opening below the rock that connects the Siamese Twins. The most remarkable thing about it is that it frames Pikes Peak perfectly when viewed from the east side. In fact, the entire formation comes together to provide the perfect photo opportunity. The connected twin rock formation forms a window that frames Pikes Peak perfectly. What more could you ask for?
The Siamese Twins are at the center of the park. You’ll need to do some light hiking to reach them. A short trail leads to it, starting from a nearby parking lot. You can also reach it from any trail in the park (walk time depends on where you’re starting from).
High Point Overlook is one of my favorite places to photograph in Garden of the Gods. It provides incredible views of the entire park and beyond from a high vantage point.
While facing west, you’ll see the entirety of the park aside from the Central Gardens area. What makes this view extra incredible is the view of Pikes Peak and the surrounding mountains in the background. Seriously, (and I can’t stress this enough!!) you HAVE to visit during sunset. The views are PRICELESS!!
While facing north, you’ll see the Central Gardens. The high vantage point provides a unique perspective only found here. You’ll see almost all the major rock formations from here.
High Point Overlook is right off the road. It even has its own large parking lot. Easy access means no excuses. You absolutely have to see it!!
If there’s only one place you visit in the Garden of the Gods, it has to be the Central Gardens. It has the majority of the most iconic rock formations, including all the largest. When you picture the Garden of the Gods, you’re most likely picturing the Central Gardens.
It’s on the park’s northeast side, close to the Visitors Center. There’s a large parking lot that makes it easy to stop, get out, and look around. The flat paved trails make it an accessible area. After leaving the parking lot, you’ll walk between the giant North and South Gateway Rocks. From there, you’ll be in the Central Gardens.
Keep in mind that the Central Gardens is one of the busiest areas in the park. Visiting early in the morning or during the week is the best time to visit. Expect large crowds during the day on weekends.
Famous Rock Formations in the Central Gardens
The Kissing Camels are a highly adored rock formation. I mean, after all, it’s named after its resemblance to two camels kissing (so cute!!). It’s located towards the top and center parts of North Gateway Rock. It’s high up, making it impossible to miss while in the area!
The Three Graces are named after the daughters of Zeus. I love that a rock formation in Garden of the Gods is named after Greek mythology – so fitting! It’s made up of three towering and tightly-clustered red rock formations. You can find them in the Three Sisters Plaza. Additionally, you can get a great and interesting view of the Kissing Camels from here!
The Cathedral Spires are a cluster of towering red rock formations. They resemble a group of church spires, fit for the gods! They’re in the Three Sisters Plaza, right next to the Three Graces. It’s a can’t-miss area for photos!
North and South Gateway Rocks
The Gateway Rocks are large, flat-topped rocks towards the park’s east entrance. They line the east side of the Central Gardens. When you enter the Central Garden from the north lot, they’re the two giant rocks you walk between.
Bonus: Rock Climbing and Bouldering in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
Rock climbing and bouldering aren’t for everyone, so I didn’t want to include them on the list of things you can’t miss. However, if you are into either, then it should absolutely be on your Garden of the Gods bucket list.
The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is among the best places for Rock Climbing and Bouldering. It’s an excellent option for beginners and those practicing for higher-altitude pursuits. You can climb with your own small group or on a guided tour. Either way, make sure you get a permit and follow all rules and regulations set by the park. Learn more about it on the official page!