“Garden of the Gods.” I thought. Imagine the hubris of someone claiming a destination with as much beauty that it was compared to the Garden of Eden. At least, that’s what I thought before I visited Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. To say I was humbled by the experience doesn’t really justify it. And as I explored deeper into the Garden of the Gods hiking trails, I quickly became a convert to the sentiments of those who first stumbled upon this spectacular valley just an hour from Denver.
Garden of the Gods is expansive, beautiful, and is a fully-immersive experience. And it’s also completely free. This goes back to Charles Elliott Perkins, the head of the Burlington Railroad back in the late 1800s. He was so in love with the land that he wanted it to be experienced by anyone and everyone. When Charles donated the land to the city of Colorado Springs, he did it on the condition that the park remains free to access for all-time. Since then, the walking and hiking trails in the Garden of the Gods have welcomed over two million visitors each year.
It’s no surprise that hiking the Garden of the Gods has been rated as one of the best things to do in Colorado.
About Garden Of The Gods
Before adventuring with these Garden of the Gods hiking experiences, it’s worth understanding a little more about the magical landscape that will surround you when you enter the park. Believe it or not, Garden of the Gods sits within the city borders of Colorado Springs, Colorado. This makes it one of the most majestic urban parks in the entire world.
Garden of the Gods is spread out over a 1,400-acre property that includes the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, home of Charles Elliott Perkins. On the property, you’ll also find the fantastic Garden of the Gods Visitor Center. All of these are intertwined by 15 miles of winding Garden of the Gods hiking paths.
Geologically, the Garden of the Gods is a mesmerizing combination of Grasslands, woodlands, and mountain forests. The park sits just a short drive from the towering summit of Pikes Peak Mountain, often called “America’s Mountain” due to it being the inspiration for the song “America the Beautiful.” But even with the views that surround it, the real story of the Garden of the Gods is the 300 million years of history etched into the rock formations that draw so many visitors each year.
The Best Garden Of The Gods Hiking Trails
Hiking at the Garden of the Gods is otherworldly. The only other places where I’ve been as blown away by the natural landscapes that surrounded me were Iceland and the American Southwest. Even after hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park, Garden of the Gods stands out on pure visual impact. The compact area and accessibility of the Garden of the Gods make it a destination that really anyone can enjoy. Whether you’re a new parent pushing a stroller or a veteran runner racing the trails, the Garden of the Gods can be experienced by everyone. And anyone can get as much out of the hiking trails as they would like.
Before you start hiking in Garden of the Gods, make sure to stop by the Visitor Center at the corner of Gateway Rd and North 30th St. Here you can pick up color hiking trail maps. The Visitor Center is worth a wander around as well. There are displays that tell the history, both recent and ancient, of the park.
Siamese Twins Trail (1-mile loop)
Nestled in the southwest corner of the park, not far from the southwest entrance, is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Garden of the Gods. The Siamese Twins trail is less than a mile long, but this loop offers some of the most beautiful views in the park. Along the trail you’ll find epic views of Pikes Peak and, of course, the popular Siamese Twins rock formation.
The Siamese Twins hiking trail is a little off-the-beaten-path, so it tends to be a little less crowded than some of the other Garden of the Gods hikes. The best parking lot for this hike is P14. This is the trailhead for both the Siamese Twins Hike and the Cabin Canyon Trail. Stay right to do the Siamese Twins hike. This hike climbs about 100 ft. On a clear day, the Siamese Twins formation creates a perfect frame for a photo of Pikes Peak.
Perkins Central Garden Trail (1.5-mile Loop)
The Perkins Central Garden Trail is the most popular of the Garden of the Gods hiking trails. The trail spans from the Kissing Camels on the North Gateway Rock to the Cathedral Spires between North Gateway Rock and South Gateway Rock. The front side of the loop is absolutely gorgeous with the towering center of the Garden of the Gods in full view. The loop is relatively flat and easy. It’s a perfect beginner walk for young families or anyone looking for calm trails perfect for strollers or wheelchairs.
The Perkins Central Garden trail is named after Charles Perkins, who donated the land. The loop starts at the Main Parking Lot at the north end of the park. This hiking trail offers loads of great spots for kids to play as well. On the front half of the path, look up and you might see some of the rock climbers high up on the cliff faces.
Palmer Trail (1.5-mile one-way)
The Palmer Trail is one of the longer Garden of the Gods hiking trails. This rough trail runs along the north and west sides of the park from the Main Parking Lot to the middle of the Siamese Twins hiking trail. The trail snakes along on the outskirts of the park and offers elevated views of the Gateway Rock. You’ll also have the chance to stroll through some of the more lush greenery of the park. Along the Palmer Trail hike, you’ll pass The Giant Footprints formation and you’ll end right at the Siamese Twins.
The Ridge Trail (.5-mile loop)
If you’re looking for a slightly more challenging Garden of the Gods hiking trail, the half-mile Ridge Trail is for you. The trail has a modest 100 ft elevation. To access the trail, start at the South Garden Parking Lot (P10) and head towards the massive Sleeping Giant formation.
This one’s a bit tougher (rated moderate), but it’s shorter (only a half of a mile round-trip). Expect about a 100-foot elevation gain.
Palmer-Scotsman-Buckskin Charlie-Ute-Susan B. Bretag Loop
If these Garden of the Gods hikes haven’t shown you enough of the park, the 3.7-mile Palmer-Scotsman-Buckskin-Ute-Bretag Loop is for you. This picturesque hiking loop circles much of the park bringing visitors face to face with many of the most spectacular rock formations in Garden of the Gods. This loop is excellent for those who want to see as much of the park as possible.
This winding loop starts at the Main Parking Lot. Head west on the Palmer trail winding uphill through the trees. As the trail drops, you’ll reach Columbia Rd. This is where you’ll meet the Scotsman Trail. Turn to the right and follow Scotsman till you reach the Sleeping Giant rock formation. This is where you’ll meet the Buckskin Charlie Trail. Turn right again and you’ll be winding down towards the east side of the park. Cross Ridge Rd. and make a left onto the Ute Trail. Follow the Ute Trail along the edge of the South Parking lot. You’ll merge with the Susan B. Bretag trail which will bring you back to the Main Parking Lot.
Can’t Miss Rock Formations At Garden Of The Gods
As you’re hiking Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, you may feel the need to follow specific routes. But this list of Garden of the Gods hiking trails is meant to be taken as a “start here” type of document rather than a rule. To be honest, the best way to experience Garden of the Gods is with a map from the Visitor Center and a list of the rock formations that you definitely shouldn’t miss.
The park itself is relatively small when you think of how much incredible landscape is packed into it. There are over 19 truly notable formations in the park. And at first glance, it’s impossible not to notice many of them. And Garden of the Gods hiking isn’t the only way to experience the park either. The park has trails set aside for cyclists, and many casual walkers. Those with mobility issues can even see many of the park’s formations from the roads that circle much of the park.
The landscape that surrounds Garden of the Gods was once underwater. Over millennia, thousands of layers of sediment piled onto each other and solidified into rock. As the mountains pushed the surrounding ground skyward, the water drained away and the earth shifted. Over millions of years, weather and water erosion have shaped the stone into magnificent formations. Yet in the rock, you can still see evidence of ancient seas, beaches, and mountains. Fossils, including ancient marine life and dinosaurs, are still being discovered in the Garden of the Gods. Some of the most memorable rock formations at Garden of the Gods are:
The Siamese Twins formation is located on the Siamese Twins Trail where it junctions with the Palmer Trail. This formation is super popular with photographers both for its unique look and the fact that it creates a perfect window for Pikes Peak Mountain. The formation and trail are in the southwest corner of the park near Parking Lot 14.
There’s always a crowd around Balanced Rock, which is on Garden Dr. near the southwest entrance. To access Balanced Rock easily aim for Parking Lot 15. If the parking lot is full (which it often is) continue on to Parking Lot 16. Balanced Rock, if you look at it from the right angle, doesn’t look like it should be standing at all. This massive formation appears ready to topple at a moment’s notice. Are you brave enough to tuck underneath it for the photo opportunity?
The Gateway Rocks
The two towering Gateway Rocks loom several hundred feet above the Garden of the Gods valley. Their deep red color gets even richer after a rainstorm. The colors of these massive formations remind me of our time riding camels through the red desert, Wadi Rum, in Jordan. The Gateway Rocks are located near the eastern entrance to the park.
The Kissing Camels
Look up when you’re on the west side of North Gateway Rock and you’ll find the Kissing Camels formation. The camels, perched high above the park, can be seen quite well from the Palmer Trail.
Surrounded by magnificent rose stone, White Rock stands out because, well, because it’s bright white. This crinkly rock sports a small cave on its western face. The cave is often called Ketner’s Cave in honor of a trapper who signed his name here in 1731.
Tips For Hiking Garden Of The Gods
Before you head out to explore or hike Garden of the Gods, it’s important to be prepared. It’s true that this park is small and most of the trails are quite easy. But, Garden of the Gods is at an elevation of around 6,400 feet. That is more than a mile above sea-level. If you aren’t used to exertion at elevation, take it slow. And always stay hydrated. This is especially important for those hiking Garden of the Gods with kids. The surrounding climate is high-plains desert. Coupled with the altitude, drinking lots of water is very important. Even if you’re used to exploring the wonders of Colorado, it’s still great to be prepared.
Make sure to pack snacks or bring a picnic lunch, don’t forget to a great cooler like this one to withstand the hot sun. There are lots of great places to stop and relax. And every stop in Garden of the Gods includes an incredible view. Also, remember that climbing the rock formations might sound pretty cool. But falling off the rocks is a regular source of injury within the park. There’s also the reality that climbing up is usually much easier than climbing down. Don’t be one of those people who has to be rescued for biting off more than you can chew.
It’s also recommended that you stay on the marked trails as much as possible. This is to help keep the rock formations in great condition so that many others can continue to enjoy their visit to Garden of the Gods. There are areas to climb and explore safely. Please limit your adventuring to those areas in order to ensure the experience stays pristine for future generations.
Where To Stay Near Garden Of The Gods
If you’re planning on hiking in Garden of the Gods and you’re visiting from out-of-town, you might want to consider some of these amazing hotels near the park to complete your Colorado Springs experience.
Cliff House At Pikes Peak
Located just 1.6 miles from Pikes Peak and 6 miles from Garden of the Gods, The Cliff House at Pikes Peak offers a combination of local history and luxury. The hotel is part of the National Register of Historic Places, which is befitting as it’s older than the state of Colorado itself. The Victorian-style hotel has 54 guest rooms and offers a complimentary buffet breakfast. Each room has a small fridge and en-suite bathrooms are fitted with heated toilet seats. You can check out their prices and availability here.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort
If you’re looking to make your accommodations near Garden of the Gods part of your experience, consider a stay at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. This hotel includes indoor/outdoor pools, tennis courts, a spa, and a wellness retreat. And all of this is paired with an 18-hole golf course. The local accessibility with a remote feel also makes for a great escape. You can even enjoy a complimentary boat rental to use on the resorts 35-acre lake. You can check out their prices and availability here.
Have you ever gone hiking in the Garden of the Gods? Tell us about your experience in the comments below. Or drop by our Facebook Page and share a photo of your experience. We would love to share in your travels.
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