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What to do with a day, three days and a week in Colorado Springs 

Insider 2017

click to enlarge Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

As tired clichés go, "the sky is the limit" certainly has gotten plenty of mileage. But in Colorado Springs, it's a little more apt than in most places — mainly because of our altitude. Some of the city's most iconic attractions are outdoors, under that deep blue Colorado sky, perfect for exercise buffs, dog owners and nature lovers of all sorts. But while that's true, it's not the whole story. Really, this city has a little something for everyone. There's more than 150 years of history here, from frontier miners to moneyed patrons of the arts to the rich, diverse place that the Springs has become. It can be a lot to absorb, so we've plotted out some highlights, whether you're visiting for a day, a long weekend or a full week.

If you have 24 hours:

Let's start from the top, quite literally. Often dusted with snow and periodically covered in clouds, Pikes Peak (pikes-peak.com) looms over Colorado Springs. You can reach the top of the 14,114-foot mountain by hiking (a long hike — do some research on this one), the Cog Railway (515 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, cograilway.com) or by car or bike on the Pikes Peak Highway. Whatever mode of transport you choose, you'll be rewarded with a stunning view of the city. Bring a coat, even in the summer, as it's often windy and cold.

If you want a truly heavenly view, but prefer to skip the heights and elements of the Peak, Garden of the Gods (1805 N. 30th St., gardenofgods.com) is a must-see. Visitors are stunned by the enormous red rock formations, including Kissing Camels and Balanced Rock, as they hike or bike along the park's paved trails. Don't be surprised to find rock climbers scaling the formations — if you're adventurous, and have a permit, you can climb them yourself (see p. 25).

Set your sights higher in the sky and sometimes you'll catch the famous Thunderbirds or the Air Force Academy cadets practicing above the city. The AFA grounds are open to the public — unless security measures prohibit — making mothballed aircraft, Falcon Stadium, a visitors center and the iconic Academy Chapel accessible to anyone with valid identification.

For more indoor attractions, downtown hosts cultural gems like the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum (215 S. Tejon St., cspm.org) showcasing the history of the Front Range and touring exhibits in what was once the county courthouse. The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 W. Dale St., csfineartscenter.org), boasts world-renowned installations plus professional stage performances, a sculpture garden and community events. The FAC sits on the former site of a home belonging to Julie Penrose, whose husband Spencer Penrose developed the city's premier luxury hotel, The Broadmoor (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com). It's a destination in and of itself, worth a stroll around the duck pond and a drink somewhere on the property if you're quickly passing through.

A few blocks east of downtown awaits the U.S. Olympic Training Center (1750 E. Boulder St., facebook.com/CSOTC), a proud part of Team USA and the backbone of the Springs' "City for Champions" moniker. A tour of the facility is a must for fans.

click to enlarge Seven Falls - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Seven Falls

If you have three days:

The Springs is rooted in a rich history, its legacies still visible today. Spencer Penrose not only established The Broadmoor, but his personal menagerie also formed the country's only "mountain zoo," the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road, cmzoo.org). Today, the zoo has more than 750 animals, a spot where you can feed the giraffes, a historic carousel and the Mountaineer Sky Ride that showcases views of Cheyenne Mountain and Colorado Springs. The Penroses' graves, at Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun above the zoo, are accessible from the zoo and offer another stunning view of town.

Seven Falls (6 Lake Ave., sevenfalls.com), newly reconstructed by The Broadmoor (where one must catch the free shuttle to visit), highlights a gorgeous 181-foot series of waterfalls. Climb 224 steps along the cascading pools to enjoy hiking, or consider a zip-line tour above the canyon.

Elsewhere, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, the city's founder, left his own indelible marks. Palmer donated park land to the city, along with acreage for schools, churches and libraries. His massive Tudor-style family estate, Glen Eyrie (3820 N. 30th St., gleneyrie.org), is still open for tours and high tea, though it is operated today as an events space and retreat for a Christian organization.

Heading up Ute Pass west of town on U.S. Highway 24, Cave of the Winds (100 Cave of the Winds Road, caveofthewinds.com) takes visitors deep underground and delivers towering views of Williams Canyon from outside. Farther west, near the town of Divide, you can indulge in quiet wooded hikes and mountain-range vistas at Mueller State Park (21045 S. Hwy. 67, cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Mueller) in Teller County. Then visit Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (15807 County Road 1, nps.gov/flfo), where you can study fossilized insects and plants from 34 million years ago. Its 6,000 acres of meadow and forest offer leisurely wildflower walks and views of gigantic petrified sequoia tree stumps.

If you have one week:

Congrats, you've got seven days to play. You've tackled the tourist hotbeds and taken in some local history, but now it's time to expand on that and knock out a few more Springs staples.

click to enlarge Royal Gorge Railroad - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Royal Gorge Railroad

Check out the McAllister House Museum (423 N. Cascade Ave., mcallisterhouse.org) which shows what life was like for early Springs residents; the Western Museum of Mining & Industry (225 North Gate Blvd., wmmi.org), focusing on the region's mining-boom days; and the American Numismatic Association's Money Museum (818 N. Cascade Ave., money.org), with its diverse collection of coins, notes and more that tell the story of human history.

Take a quick out-of-town trip to the historic mining town of Cripple Creek, now a gambling mecca. Pocket your winnings, then visit the Cripple Creek District Museum (510 Bennett Drive, cripplecreekmuseum.com), whose five-building complex boasts Victorian apartments, miners' cabins and an eclectic gathering of mining memorabilia.

Consider visiting the Paint Mines Interpretive Park (29950 Paint Mine Road, adm.elpasoco.com), located east of Colorado Springs near Calhan. It takes about an hour to drive there, but the 750-acre open space includes geological formations and dramatic hoodoos, beautifully highlighted by colorful clay deposits used for centuries by Native Americans.

For animal lovers, the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (4729 Twin Rocks Road, Divide, wolfeducation.org) is a nonprofit sanctuary for wolves and wild canines. Guests can learn about and meet a variety of wolves, coyotes and foxes, with tours that include feeding time, and full-moon experiences.

If you want to end the week with a splash, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, zip-line tours and helicopter fly-bys are all natural options in Cañon City, about an hour southwest of the Springs. Hop over to the Royal Gorge Railroad (330 Royal Gorge Blvd., royalgorgeroute.com) for scenic views through the train's Vista Domes, or dinner on the train as it winds its way through the canyon. Nearby is the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey (3011 E. Hwy. 50, abbeywinery.com), a religious institution turned tasting room with award-winning wines.

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