On the outskirts of Colorado Springs, away from the bustling city filled with traffic jams and honking horns, lies an outdoor paradise filled with red rock structures jutting from the green grassy ground to the clear blue skies.
Hiking trails lead you through the free 1,367-acre U.S. National Natural Landmark area, where you get close-up views of the monstrously large rock formations and panorama views of the vicarious structures. The trails take you along ridges, up particular pieces of the jutting rocks and around the feeding grounds of bighorn sheep, which call Garden of the Gods home.
Garden of the Gods is located at the base of Pikes Peak, a 14,115-foot mountain that’s the tallest in the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The mountainous peaks surrounding the red rock formations in Garden of the Gods create an even more spectacular juxtaposition to the unique terrain changes of the area.
While the park sees millions of visitors per year and can be quite crowded during peak times, it’s a must-visit if you’re in the area. Plus, you can make a road trip out of the visit and take short drives to nearby National Park Service sites like Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Chimney Rock National Monument.
Garden of the Gods Hiking Trails
The best way to see Garden of the Gods is by foot, hiking the park’s 15 miles of well-marked trails to get every angled view of the jagged rock formations jutting from the ground. One of the best things about hiking through the Garden of the Gods is that every trail is connected with one another, so you can see the entire park without moving your car or hiking aimlessly from trailhead to trailhead.
The park’s 15 miles of hiking trails are mostly easy, with only a few having a moderate designation. But if you spend a half-day or a full-day at Garden of the Gods, you can hike every single square inch of trail. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks working out of a hotel room 15 minutes from the entrance in Colorado Springs, so I made four separate weekday visits after work.
I was able to hike nearly all 15 miles of trail (some hikes require you to the same path on a different trail, which I wasn’t really keen on doing) by combining multiple trails into one. It’s also worth noting that Garden of the Gods is a great area for mountain bikers and some trails along the east entrance side are shared between hikers and bikers. My favorite hiking trails are as follows:
1. Palmer, Buckskin-Charlie, Niobrara, and Bretag Trail Loop
This 4-mile loop trail has some of the best viewpoints inside the park, as you hike an elevated trail around the red rock formations.
Many parts of the hike put you eye-level with the middle of the rock formations and at a perfect distance so you get the full scope of the park and surrounding area. It also combines a few different trails.
2. Perkins Central Garden Trail
This 1.1-mile loop trail takes you into the heart of Garden of the Gods, where you hike alongside the enormous red rock formations. It’s also one of the coolest trails inside the park because it allows you to hike midway up two rock formations.
Nearly all of the interior trails are paved, so the park is very wheelchair friendly for those hikers who may not be able to get onto the first paths.
3. Ute and Niobrara Loop Trail
Although this 1.8-mile loop trail offers some of the best sweeping views of the red rock formations, including the notorious Kissing Camels, I didn’t do the entire loop. Instead, I combined it with the Ridge Loop Trail and Buckskin Charlie Loop Trail to create a custom hike that was about 7 miles. However, the upper ridge along the Ute Trail is my favorite view in the park.
Other Activities in Garden of the Gods
Although hiking is by far the most popular activity inside the park, and the best way to see the incredible rock formations up close and from afar, Garden of the Gods is a haven for all kinds of outdoor adventurers. It offers scenic driving, mountain biking, horseback riding and even rock climbing.
Scenic Driving: Garden of the Gods features winding paved roads that take you throughout the park. Since some of the park’s roads are one-way and there’s plenty to see, a scenic drive through every square inch of paved road inside the park is about 12 miles in distance and will take you around 45 minutes to an hour.
Biking: From road biking to mountain biking and even hybrid electric biking, Garden of the Gods is a great haven for bikers of all kinds. Some of the hiking trails near the east entrance are designated for hikers and bikers, so you can get off-road easily.
Rock Climbing: Those adventurers who want to do more than just look at the rock formations are in luck. You can rock climb and boulder some designated structures inside the park. But you must get a climbing permit, which is free, good for a year and can be attained through the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services website.
Only 7,500 permits are awarded each year and climbing without one — even if you’ve received it but don’t have it on you — carries a fine of up to $500 and a loss of climbing privileges for a year.
Horseback Riding: Similar to mountain biking, some of the trails on the south end of Garden of the Gods are reserved for hikers and horseback riders. You can book a one-hour or two-hour horseback ride from Academy Riding Stables for $65 or $95. They’re located on the south end of the park.
Best Time to Visit Garden of the Gods
Although Garden of the Gods is open 365 days a year, the best time to visit is from spring to fall. Visiting during peak summertimes can be pretty hot and extremely crowded. However, I visited during August and it was the perfect weather for hiking and the park wasn’t too overcrowded. I even had parts of the Ute Trail to myself at times.
Garden of the Gods Elevation
Garden of the Gods has a base elevation of about 6,400 feet, which is on par with the rest of Colorado Springs. But some trails can take you up near 7,000 feet above sea level.
Garden of the Gods Hours
Garden of the Gods is open 365 days a year from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. during summer months and from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. during winter months. The visitor and nature centers are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. outside of those dates.