Garden of the Gods has been on my bucket list since I moved to Colorado, for obvious reasons. An historic landmark! Unbelievably beautiful! Fairly close to home! Totally free!
On Saturday evening, I received some pretty devastating news, so after a terrible night of sleep, I needed to get up and out of my place for some fresh air and mountains. That usually does the trick. I had planned to also visit the Manitou Incline, which is a famously steep set of stairs in the area, but I spent all afternoon at Garden of the Gods and missed my reservation. It was also way colder than I expected, so when I got in the car after hiking, I wasn’t getting back out.
After an hour and a half drive from Louisville to Colorado Springs, I made it to the Garden of the Gods lot around 11 a.m. Thankfully, the temperatures and impending snowstorm scared the big crowds away; the lot wasn’t even half full.
The reason the park is free to visitors is because it was a gift from Charles Elliott Perkins, head of the Burlington Railroad. In 1879, he purchased 240 acres in the Garden of the Gods on which to build a summer home, but instead decided to leave it untouched.
(It is now a sprawling 1,367 acres.)
Before he died in 1907, he made arrangements with his family for the land to become a public park and for to remain free for everyone. More info on that here.
I read all the signs in the park. It’s so fascinating!
From the parking lot, I hopped on the Palmer Trail. Right from the gate we were headed up the stairway to heaven. I had to make that joke, ok? It was sitting right in front of me.
This trail took me most of the way around the “rock garden” which is the main attraction of the park.
I hiked on a trail that wound through trees, over rocks, and up and down stairs. The views the whole way were pretty spectacular. The huge rocks jutted up into the sky and seemed to change shapes as I walked around them and got more and different views of each side.
Just 30 minutes or so into my hike, light flurries began to fall from the sky. And then suddenly, they turned into huge flakes that showered the park in glimmering white snow.
It was so beautiful. It felt like someone was shaking up a snow globe around me.
But I just kept on hiking and listening to Alex Delany’s Spotify playlist called Very Beautiful Songs. Normally on hikes I listen to podcasts, but his soothing mix of R&B, blues, funk, and disco just felt right.
Eventually I made it to Balanced Rock, which was a very popular photo spot. However, I was much more impressed by the rocks inside the actual garden that I saw at the end of my hike. Since there’s no way to do a loop of the park, I backtracked, found my way to the Palmer Trail again and followed that back to where I started at the lot.
And everything looked totally different since it was covered in snow on the way back.
At this point, my fingers were frozen solid. I was taking so many photos and videos that they never had a chance to warm up in my gloves. I was ready to call it, but I decided to continue on down another trail and that’s what brought me inside the actual garden.
I followed the trail signs and walked up a paved path in between two towering rock formations.
A plaque in front of one read: 260 million years. Another read: 160 million years. Even in a warm and fed state, my brain couldn’t make sense of those numbers.
The rock formations were formed along a fault line and were tilted upward during the formation of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains. (source) Unbelievable.
I kept on despite the bandana around my face freezing to my nose. One rock formation after another left me speechless. The snow kept falling as I slowly circled the garden, reading the signs, craning my neck back to take in the enormity of each rock.
This was my favorite one.
I finally made my way back to the parking lot after weaving my way in and around the park for over eight miles and nearly three hours. It was definitely an afternoon well spent, and I can’t wait to go back to Colorado Springs, see more of the town and take on the Manitou Incline.
Have you been to the Springs or Garden of the Gods? What was your last fun trip?