Last Updated on May 15, 2023

On a warm late May morning with a refreshing breeze blowing and bluebird skies overhead, I entered the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO with a group of friends. We were there to celebrate the life of one of our dearest friends and decided one of the best ways to that was by spending time in a place he loved most.

We are all nature lovers and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO is filled with awe-inspiring natural beauty.

The Garden of the Gods is a public park famous for its stunning, near-vertical red rock formations created millions of years ago through geological processes such as erosion and sedimentation. Massive red rocks pierce upward from the earth, balancing in a seemingly impossible way, creating a unique and hauntingly beautiful landscape.

The park is not only a National Natural Landmark, but has been recognized as a Global Geopark by UNESCO. One visit here, and you will know why.

History of this Magnificent Park

The history of the Garden of the Gods began more than 300 million years ago when the area was covered by a shallow inland sea. Over millennia, the water receded and sedimentary rocks deposited on the sea floor became uplifted and then exposed to erosion from wind and water.

Garden of the Gods’ red rocks consist of sandstone, conglomerates, and limestone deposits of these sedimentary rocks. The rocks were again raised during the emergence of the Rocky Mountains which occurred about 70 million years ago.

The area was first inhabited by Native Americans who considered it a sacred place. The Ute, Comanche, and Apache tribes all frequented the Garden region, and evidence of their presence can still be seen today in the form of petroglyphs and other artifacts, some dating back to 250 B.C.

In the 1850s, the area was visited by explorers and surveyors, including John C. Fremont and Zebulon Pike. It was during this time the name “Garden of the Gods” was minted by Rufus Cable, part of a surveying party. As the legend goes, one surveyor wanted to build a beer garden there, but another said it was better suited “for the Gods to assemble.”

In 1879, Charles Elliott Perkins, a railroad magnate and conservationist, purchased the 480-acre sector and made it his private estate. He later donated the land to the City on the condition that it be maintained as a public park.

Today, the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO is a popular site for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts with over two million visitors per year.   

Not To Be Missed Rock Formations

Garden of the Gods Kissing Camels.
Garden of the Gods Kissing Camels. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

There are many geological wonders inside the park, but some are more amazing than others; visitors won’t want to miss these ultimate photo opportunities.

Kissing Camels is one of the most famous in the park, aptly named for its resemblance to two lovebird camels.

The iconic Balanced Rock consists of a large boulder perched precariously on top of a smaller one, creating the illusion that it might fall over at any moment.

Three Graces are a set of three towering spires offering stunning views of the park and a popular spot for photographs.

Dramatic Cathedral Spires rise up from the valley floor and are a favorite of rock climbers.

The unique Siamese Twins rock formation consists of two parallel spires connected at the top by a narrow bridge, and Steamboat Rock’s towering stone configuration resembles a steamboat paddling through the valley.

Guests entering the park can’t miss Sentinel Rock, a massive formation with stunning vistas.

Garden of the Gods Hiking Trails

The park covers an area of 1,367 acres. One of the best ways to explore it is on foot. Fifteen miles of trails weave through these jaw-dropping geological wonders.

Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center has a wonderful self-guided hiking map to help plan your walks. Rangers can recommend the best option to suit your time and fitness level. The center also houses a theater, interactive exhibits, shopping, movie theater and one heck of an impressive gift shop featuring souvenirs including local and Indigenous products.

The Perkins Garden Trail is an easy hike on a paved pathway with barely any elevation gain. It’s family-friendly and handicap accessible, yet offers spectacular views.

The Siamese Twins Trail is another easy one-mile round-trip. There’s a slight 150-foot elevation change, but the views of Pikes Peak are worth it.

If you’re looking for more of a challenge, hit the Ridge Trail. It’s rated as moderate, but only covers a half-mile round trip. 

The Chambers/Bretag/Palmer Trail is also a more challenging, moderate trek. You’ll cover three miles with about a 250-foot elevation gain. If want to see more of the park, this is an ideal choice.  

Just keep in mind that some of the trails can reach 6,400 feet (over a mile high!) so make sure to pace yourself, drink plenty of fluids and stop for breaks.

Others Ways to Experience the Park

Garden of the Gods has some of the best rock-climbing routes in the country, with a variety of levels to suit everyone from beginners to experienced climbers.

Enjoy a guided horseback ride through the stunning scenery. There are several stables in the area offering tours.

There are also numerous trails in the area perfect for mountain biking. If you don’t have your own, you can rent one from one of the area’s bicycle shops. 

If you’re not into hiking, a great option is a Jeep Tour through the Garden of the Gods and surrounding area to experience the park’s immense natural beauty in comfort.

Or you can get a bird’s eye view of the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak from inside the basket of a hot air balloon. The ride is exhilarating and the views are beyond stunning.

Important Visitor Tips

Entry to the park is free. The visitor center is open from 8 am to 7 pm in the summer and from 9 am until 5 pm in the winter months.  

Parking is one of the trickiest parts of visiting the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO, especially if you visit during peak summer season. The parking lots fill up quickly, so plan to arrive as early as possible or park nearby and take the complimentary shuttle which runs early June through late August and on Labor Day weekend.

The shuttle departs every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shuttles will make three stops on their loop. Park near the intersection of 30th Street and Gateway Drive at Red Ledge Ranch to utilize the shuttle.

Where to Stay when visiting Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs, Colorado

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO rock formations.
Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO rock formations. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Though guests cannot camp in the park itself, there are campgrounds available in nearby towns such as Barr Camp in Manitou Springs and Lone Duck Campground in Cascade.

There are also hotels, motels and vacation rentals available; my group loved our stay at Garden of the Gods Resort. The luxury property is situated on 300 stunning acres and offers guests breathtaking views of the Garden of the Gods Park, Pikes Peak, and the Rocky Mountains.

The resort features a range of luxurious accommodations including standard guest rooms, suites, and private cottages. Guests can nab a tee time on the 27-hole championship golf course, play tennis or pickleball, hike through nearby natural parks, relax in the resort’s spa and wellness center, or take a swim in the outdoor infinity pools.

Naturalist John Muir once said, “Nature in her green tranquil woods heals and soothes all afflictions. Earth hath no sorrows earth cannot heal.”

This is how each of us felt spending part of a day walking through the Garden of the Gods. Seeing it, sharing it with one another, we all felt it was aptly named. Somehow, our friend didn’t seem so far away from us, and with each warm breeze, each bird soaring overhead, we felt his presence.

He would have loved to been here with us, and he was.   

Nature heals, and it’s exactly what we needed on our visit to the Garden of the Gods.

Author

  • Michael Kompanik

    Michael Kompanik is a retired Navy Captain, a managing editor of Rovology Online Magazine and a freelance travel writer. He currently resides in San Diego California with his wife Noreen who is also a travel writer and editor. Together they have traveled to such far off places as Europe, Thailand, Central America, Africa and more. Michael’s wide-ranging interests include history, nature, travel, photography, and, of course, military matters.