Hiking at Garden of the Gods

by

Share this article

When the December 2018 government shutdown forced us to change our winter break travel plans, we started scrambling. I mean, National Parks are our thing. Coming up with something else isn’t always easy for us. We started researching state and local parks around the country. One option quickly rose to the top of our list: hiking at Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado.

Our friends over at Nature Tech Family visited Garden of the Gods in the summer of 2018 and we loved their photos. With just a little research, we knew that we could easily spend a few hours hiking and exploring at this unique and scenic local park and National Natural Landmark. 

The Siamese Twins at Garden of the Gods
The Siamese Twins

Ultimately, we chose Rapid City, SD and the Black Hills for our main destination for our winter road trip. We made a point to route ourselves through Colorado on our return home, though. Somehow, we ended up having a perfectly sunny and warm winter day for our visit. Seriously, we couldn’t have asked for better weather for hiking at Garden of the Gods!

The Scotsman and Pikes Peak
The Scotsman and Pikes Peak

(Disclaimer: When we link to places you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes which earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy  for more information.)

Garden of the Gods Basic Information

Garden of the Gods is a small public park filled with red rock formations overlooking Pike’s Peak and the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. You’ll find a variety of large and small rock formations created during a geological upheaval millions of years ago. Subsequent erosion and glaciation of the rock created the look of today. 

You can explore the park by car, bike or foot – hiking trails and roads with bike lanes and weave throughout the park. As you might guess, rock climbing is also a popular activity here. Additionally, the Visitor and Nature Center has several exhibits and a short film on the geological forces that formed the rocks and the biodiversity found here. 

Garden of the Gods Visitor Center
Garden of the Gods Visitor Center

Garden of the Gods is located in Colorado Springs – right on the edge of town. Seriously, it’s just 5-10 minutes off the Interstate with plenty of shopping, dining and hotels in the area. While you could easily spend several days exploring Colorado Springs and the surrounding area, you could also easily visit Garden of the Gods as a day trip from Denver.

The best thing about the park, aside from its beauty, is that its free! That’s right – no admission fees. The original owner of much of the parkland, Charles Perkins, wanted this land to be free to the public. Following his wishes, his family donated the land to the city after his death. 

Planning Your Visit

Start your visit at the Visitor Center, located across the street from the main entrance. Be sure to talk to a ranger or volunteer for information and answers to any questions you have. We were given a fabulous map that includes the main rock formations, hiking trails, roads and parking areas. The back of the map even includes other attractions in Colorado Springs and the surrounding area.

Crowds at Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods
Crowds of people explore at Balanced Rock

If you are visiting in the summer, be prepared for a lot of people. Thankfully, when we were there in early January the crowds weren’t bad. I think the only reason for that was the time of year. 

The day we visited was a nice sunny day that was relatively warm. By the time we left the park, just before noon, temperatures were rising into the 50s and the number of people was quickly increasing! If we had stayed into the afternoon, I fully expect the parking lots to have been nearly full.

Morning light in the Garden of the Gods
Morning light in the Garden of the Gods

If you don’t have a lot of time, you can certainly see the highlights in about an hour by just driving through the park. Most of the rock formations are easily visible from the road and there are small parking lots scattered throughout the park. For those with more time, or who are interested in more hiking, you could easily spend a full day or even longer here. 

We spent almost 3 hours driving, hiking and taking pictures. That did include a stop at the visitor center and trading post. If spending a full day here, bring a picnic lunch or plan to stop at the Bean Sprouts cafe in the Visitor Center or the Balanced Rock Cafe at the Trading Post. 

Balanced Rock Cafe at Garden of the Gods
The cafe inside the trading post is a great place for lunch or a snack.

Hiking at Garden of the Gods

The park may be relatively small, but the network of trails totals about 15 miles. In fact, you could park at one end of the park and spend the entire day hiking at Garden of the Gods. If visiting in the summer, or anytime with high visitation, I would suggest you plan for more hiking/walking and less driving. 

A quick selfie while hiking at Garden of the Gods
A short and easy hike gets you to the Siamese Twins rock formation.

But, don’t get scared by the term “hiking.” Honestly, there is not a lot of elevation change here. Additionally, a good number of the trails are paved. As long as you have average mobility, you should be able to explore on foot just fine.

Perkins Central Garden Trail

The first area you should plan to explore on foot is right near the entrance at the North Main Parking Lot. Here you’ll find a paved path that wanders through some of the largest and tallest rock formations in the park. 

Paved trail at Garden of the Gods
Perkins Central Garden Trail

In this area you’ll see the difference between the large North Gateway Rock and the thin Sentinel Spires. The variety of rock formations at Garden of the Gods is really interesting.

Be sure to note “White Rock,” one of the few rock formations that is not a deep red/orange color. The walking is easy and if you time it right you might see some rock climbers (sadly, there weren’t any the day we were there).

Bonnie in the Garden of the Gods
Bonnie in the Garden of the Gods

If you want to do just a little bit of scrambling over the rocks, continue onto the unpaved Upper Loop Trail. You will find some small uphills here as well as the opportunity to climb up on the formation called Sleeping Giant. From the top, you’ll have mostly unobstructed views from above the treetops. 

Red rock formations at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods

You can also access the Upper Loop Trail from parking areas 6 and 7. While these parking lots are closer to Sleeping Giant, they are also much smaller.

Siamese Twins Trailhead

If you only have time for one hike, I suggest the trail to the Siamese Twins formation. The closest parking area (lot 14) provides a short and easy trail to one of the most scenic views in the park. On a clear day, the Siamese Twins formation perfectly frames Pikes Peak in the background.

Pikes Peak and the Siamese Twins
Pikes Peak and the Siamese Twins

The unpaved trail is only about a 1/2 mile roundtrip. It does include some uneven and rocky terrain but overall is not a difficult hike. 

Once you arrive at Siamese Twins, you’ll likely have to contend with quite a few others trying to get the perfect picture. Even on a not-so-busy day we ran into several groups all vying for the same shot.

Getting the perfect picture at Garden of the Gods
Two tourists making sure they get the perfect Instagram picture.

Be patient and enjoy the view, even if you can’t get the perfect Instagram shot.

Other Rock Formations

One of the best things about the rock formations here is the names. Not only are the names descriptive, but they are also often spot-on.

Scotsman

One of my favorite formations that I haven’t already mentioned is the Scotsman. Located in the middle of the park, you’ll get the best view from the road near the parking lot 12. We actually parked farther down and walked through the “inside” paths for a picture and it wasn’t the right view. 

The Scotsman at Garden of the Gods
The Scotsman

From the road, though, you’ll immediately understand why this formation is name the Scotsman.

Balanced Rock and Steamboat Rock

Also be sure to drive (or walk) to the south end of the park to see Balanced Rock and Steamboat Rock. 

Balanced Rock at Garden of the Gods
Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock is probably one of the photographed formations in Garden of the Gods, for good reason. My brain truly can’t comprehend how this rock doesn’t just tip over. If you have time, park and walk around here. This formation does look different from the various vantage points.

Kids (and kids at heart) can spend some time climbing on the rocks here.

Grant taking pictures at Balanced Rock.
Grant taking pictures at Balanced Rock.

Across the road, you’ll find Steamboat Rock. While not nearly as impressive a natural engineering feat, you should easily see how this rock got its name. 

Where to Stay and Eat

There are tons of hotels and restaurants in Colorado Springs. We stayed at the Hampton Inn by the Air Force Academy. The hotel is a little dated but was comfortable and priced right. It also is located right off the Interstate with a couple of restaurants nearby.

Read TripAdvisor reviews and book the hotel.

For dinner, we went to Colorado Mountain Brewery. Honestly, the most difficult thing about being in Colorado Springs was deciding which brewpub to check out! 

Bison Poppers at Colorado Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs.
Bison Poppers at Colorado Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs.

Grant enjoyed a couple of pints of their flagship beer. I opted for an Ace cider. The large menu offered something for just about everyone from bison jalapeño poppers to wraps and pasta. 

Final Thoughts on Garden of the Gods

I almost want to call this little local park a hidden gem. And for many folks that probably is an appropriate term. For those who are familiar with the area, “hidden” may not be quite the right word. I certainly think everyone who has been to Garden of the Gods would agree that it is a “gem” though.

Pikes Peak through the window in the Siamese Twins
Pikes Peak through the window in the Siamese Twins

The red rock formations themselves are spectacular. If you manage to visit on a sunny day, the colors truly are vibrant and intense. Add in the backdrop of the Front Range and you’ve got a picture-perfect park.

Visitors with limited time or mobility can see just about every rock formation from the road in no more than an hour. Those who want to spend more time exploring and hiking can easily spend several hours here. 

If you’re in the area, I would certainly suggest scheduling a couple of hours for exploring and hiking at Garden of the Gods.

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. We can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.

We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.

With unique red rock formations to explore, hiking at Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs is a great way to spend a few hours outdoors!
Enjoy this story? Be sure to pin it on Pinterest and share it to Facebook and Twitter!

Share this article

2 thoughts on “Hiking at Garden of the Gods”

  1. Great blog. I read many on Garden of Gods and this was by far the most informative. Today will be my 3rd time at the park and still so much new to see and see again.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

I accept the Privacy Policy