Things to do in Colorado Springs with kids: 24 hours in the shadow of Pike’s Peak

Ideas for 24, 48, or 72 hours in Colorado Springs with kids

Maybe you know Denver, and the delights of the Mile-High City. You might be familiar with the powder and slopes of Aspen, Vail, or Breckenridge, and the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. But if you haven’t been to and around the Centennial State’s second city, Colorado Springs, there is a lot you are missing out on. Jodie’s family lives in Springs, so our own family travels have had us regularly seeking out things to do in Colorado Springs with kids. Here are our top suggestions for 24 hours in Springs—along with a few more options in and around the city if you have 48 or 72 hours.

Why is Colorado Springs a great destination for a family vacation?

Colorado Springs combines vibrant local parks with a cool downtown, an array of indoor spaces, with one of the country’s most prominent (and tourist-friendly) mountains, Pike’s Peak. Many local destinations and activities are within a 20-minute drive. Plus, being on the I-25 corridor and other highways helps you day trip out to other destinations.

We’ve been traveling back and forth to Colorado Springs for years, both before coming parents, and ever since Connor was five months old. (Oh, and what a chubby cutesy lump he was… ahem. Sorry about that. Waxing nostalgic.) Here are a few things to keep in mind traveling to Colorado Springs with your family:

Give yourself time to acclimatize.

Average elevation is around 7,000 feet—higher than Denver, and definitely more than a mile. It can take a day or two to get used to it. Try to keep things in a lower gear the first day.

It’s arid, stay hydrated.

This is an arid climate. Along with the high elevation, the dry air can be hard on the throat, nostrils, and sinuses. Have everyone in the family keep up their hydrations and it’ll help with both the elevation and the aridity.

Sunblock up.

Sunlight—and sunburn-causing rays—can be more intense at higher elevations. When heading outside, sunblock up for skin protection. We are big fans of traveling with sunblock sticks: They are small (about the size of a couple of USB thumb drives), easy to apply, and aren’t liquid, so are easy to fly with.

Be ready for some car time in town.

Technically Colorado Springs has some public transportation. But as is the case with many American cities, Springs is car-centered. It typically will be easier to get around if you have your own wheels. The city has also grown a lot throughout the 2010s, so be prepared for traffic and busy roads.

Drive, fly, or take the train?

Colorado Springs has an airport (airport code COS), so flights are available to the city. In our experience, it’s typically worked out cheaper and more convenient to fly into nearby Denver (DEN) and drive down to Springs.

If you like taking the train, Amtrak has routes that service Denver. The 100-year-old Union Station Denver has been completed renovated, retaining its early 20th century character while giving passenger modern amenities, shops, restaurants, bars, and open spaces.

It’s easy to day trip to nearby destinations.

Does the inside of your imagination look like this too? Things to ponder during a moment of calm at Meow Wolf Denver
Does the inside of your imagination look like this too? Things to ponder during a moment of calm at Meow Wolf Denver.

Kid friendly things abound in fun destinations like Manitou Springs, with its carnival-like atmosphere, and cool towns like Castle Rock are within a short drive. Denver is also about an hour and a half away, just a straight shot up I-25. If you want to take in Denver’s attractions, from a Colorado Rockies baseball game to a visit to immersive, trippy, and otherworldly Meow Wolf Denver Convergence Station, you can easily do so, and still be back in Springs before bedtime.

A welcoming city for families: lots of things to do in Colorado Springs with kids

We see Colorado Springs as a good family travel destination because the city is pretty safe, with excellent infrastructure. From local parks to Pike’s Peak, we are also big fans of the variety of outdoor spaces. 

Whether you have 24, 48, or 72 hours in Colorado’s second city, there are lots of things to do in Colorado Springs with kids, and we’ve got a grab bag of ideas for you. Put together your itinerary with some of the spots below—and let us know in the comments what attractions and destinations you wind up checking out!

24 hours in Colorado Springs

Red rocks, yellow sandstone, pretty much any rock in Colorado Springs can become a de facto playground.
Red rocks, yellow sandstone, pretty much any rock in Colorado Springs can become a de facto playground.

From your morning meal to an evening adventure you might never guess was in Colorado, here are inspiring and delicious fun things to do during 24 hours in Colorado Springs:

Breakfast: Snooze

We first got introduced to Snooze when Jodie’s parents treated us to breakfast at one of their Denver locations. Snooze’s Springs North Academy spot is convenient to getting around the city. Plus, their extensive menu has lots of options for kids, not to mention gluten-free items. The customizable Snooze breakfast burrito alone is worth the trip.

💡 Tip: Pancake of the Week!

Especially for the kids, be sure to check out the ever-changing, innovative Pancake of the Week. PotW ideas come from customers. Offerings in August 2022 included banana and graham crackers, blueberry streusel, and even tiramisu.

Morning: Olympic & Paralympic Museum

There are sports. And then there are the Olympics and the Paralympics. Already a training hub, Colorado Springs is home to the 60,000-square foot U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum. Open since 2020, the museum combines athletics personal stories, world events, and even simulated games so that visitors can fully immerse themselves in what being in the games is all about. Plus, an optional “digital locker” lets you customize your museum experience and record your performance at event simulations such as goalball, archery, and track.

Especially moving for us? The Paralympics and Olympics are entwined throughout the museum’s three floors. Along with understanding how athletes train, we could see real examples of racing wheelchairs and prosthetic devices—including an Ottobock Genium X3 prosthetic leg that’s similar to Jodie’s own Genium.

💡 Tip: Torches, virtual games, and medals.

Your self-guided tour starts at the top floor and winds down. The third-floor torch display had us tearing up to see the stretch of torches from the modern games. Each torch has its own multimedia library about the torch, its games, and video clips of the torch lighting ceremony. Virtual games simulate real events, and are great for getting out energy and wiggles. As you finish the tour, you’ll find an entire wall of medals throughout the games—with spaces left open for games to come.

Lunch: Poor Richards Downtown Restaurant & Pizzeria

Since 1975, Poor Richard’s has been a lunch and dinner cornerstone of downtown Colorado Springs. Slices and pies are generous, as are the salads and the well-stacked pastrami Reuben, complete with some nicely sweet and tangy sauerkraut. Plus, Poor Richard’s offers more things to do in Colorado Springs with kids than just have lunch. After you eat, take time to explore the companion shops for thoughtfully sourced selections of books, toys, and gifts.

💡 Tip: Simple options for kids.

The kids menu keeps things simple: pizza, PB&J, or a grilled cheese, with half options available for smaller appetites too. 

Dessert: Josh & John’s Ice Cream

Just up the street, a short, digestive wander takes you to the delightfully purple, deliciously handmade ice creams of local favorite Josh & John’s Ice Cream. Flavor and quality creamily combine in generous scoops—and the house-made waffle cones are a must. Their innovative flavor menu changes regularly, but there are also standard flavors you can always rely on.

💡 Tip: 4 words: Salted. Peanut. Butter. Cup.

Swiss coffee almond, rumchata, and Colorado cookies and cream are just a few of the delectable offerings you might find on the menu. But a family favorite for us (especially Anthony)? Salted peanut butter cup. Richly flavored yet balanced, it took the edge right off a hot afternoon.

Evening & Picnic Dinner: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

"Daddy! Mommy! Kiss!" Well, if we must :)
“Daddy! Mommy! Kiss!” Well, if we must 🙂

After some afternoon downtime to digest and relax from such a big morning, cap off your evening with a little jaunt. When you are in Colorado Springs, it’s easy to get used to the hills, the expanse of the Front Range, and above all, the looming 14,114-ft. mass of Pike’s Peak. Yet less than an hour east of the city, you’ll find yourself in grasslands, with small rolling hills. It’s prairie country that, as Jodie’s dad puts it, can feel more like Kansas than Colorado.

Located on the eastern side of El Paso County, Paint Mines is what you see when all that grassland and top layers of earth get dug away. White rock with striations of purples, yellows, and reds glow in the evening sun. Short hikes can get you from the parking lot to the rocks, but depending on your mobility, the trail is not accessible.

Paint Mines is one of those places that can feel like a different planet. It reminded us a little of John Day and the Painted Hills in Eastern Oregon. And like those otherworldly feeling places, Paint Mines also reminds us just how beautiful—and full of surprises—our own little world can be.

💡 Tip: Incredible sunset and evening light for family photos. Pack a picnic dinner, then wander the formations!

We suggest Paint Mines for an evening visit. The light, especially in summer, is luscious, and you might also catch some big cloud formations. Remember that if you want good light in the mines area itself, you’ll want to arrive at least an hour earlier than sunset. There are lots of spots that make for a great family vacation photo.

Plus, there are picnic tables around the parking lots, perfect for an evening picnic.

48 hours in Colorado Springs

Of course, 24 hours is only the beginning. If you are spending more time in Springs, here are some other day trip suggestions for things to do in Colorado Springs with kids.

Ride the Cog Railway Train up Pike’s Peak

It’s not every day, or everywhere, that you can take a train up to the top of a tall mountain. Yet the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway has been making the three-and-a-half hour round trip through the Pikes Peak region since 1891.

Riding on a narrow gauge railroad past rocks and 2,000-year-old bristlecone pine trees, you’ll make your way up to the top of the 14,114-ft. Pike’s Peak (tip: keep an eye out for bighorn sheep!). At the peak, warm up with a hot beverage and a donut at the renovated visitor’s center. You can also wander around the Peak, and take in the expansive views of Colorado Springs and points all around.

Remember: The air up here is much thinner even than in Springs itself. Stay hydrated and take things slow. Also plan to wear some cold-weather gear, since it tends to be pretty chilly on the peak.

Romp in the Garden of the Gods

It's always important to support nature.
It’s always important to support nature.

If you drive down I-25, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Garden of the Gods. Even from a distance you’ll know right away how aptly named this collection of red rock formations is.

Located pretty much in between Colorado Springs and the funky, tourist center of Manitou Springs (like the penny arcade), Garden of the Gods feels like it was called into being by some divine force. The red rocks look like nothing else in the area, not the yellow sandstone of formations such as Castle Rock farther north, nor the dark brown humps of the Front Range. The rocks of the Garden glow with a lustrous, orange red—ideal for visiting during the early morning or around sunset.

We love visiting in the afternoon or around sunset. The evening light is magical on the rocks, plus the loop road makes for a relaxing scenic drive. Picnic areas throughout also make it easy to bring in snacks or dinner.

If you want to spend more time exploring, the park also offers a variety of tour options, including an audio tour, bicycle tours, and even Segway tours.

72 hours in Colorado Springs: Take a day trip to Royal Gorge Bridge & Park

Ready to cross back over the giant gorge, along a bridge lined with flags from each US state.
Ready to cross back over the giant gorge, along a bridge lined with flags from each US state.

Got another day? Here’s an amazing road trip that combines natural wonder with an incredible feat of 20th-century building and technology.

If you happen to call it Roaring Gorge, by the way, don’t beat yourself up over it. (Anthony will probably still make that mistake at least once in this article.) Royal Gorge is definitely worth a roar though. Located just west of Cañon City about an hour and a half hours from Colorado Springs, Royal Gorge is a destination that combines a stunning natural gorge with a feat of engineering.

The hubbub began in 1929, with the completion and opening of a massive suspension bridge over the Arkansas River 956 feet below. The novelty of crossing this expanse has never worn off. Not only do you look down a long way, you also look back in time: The exposed walls of Roaring Gorge (dang it!) are made of pre-Cambrian rock, some up to nearly 4 billion years old—rock from the very early days of our planet.

Attractions wild and mild

Today, Royal Gorge is a privately owned area, but it combines elements reminiscent of a National Park and a theme park. You can cross the bridge in as mild or wild manner as you want. Connor, for example, was content to walk across the bridge with his grandfather and Anthony. For Aster, her grandmother, and Jodie, they took a ride across in an enclosed gondola (though be prepared for long lines).

If you prefer bigger thrills, you can cross the Gorge on a zip line, or swoosh up and out in the Royal Rush Skycoaster.

The approach to the Gorge is also its own attraction. The drive through this part of Colorado winds through hills, sagebrush, and small trees. As you near the park, pack a picnic for lunch or a snack at the many pullouts, many with picnic tables, not to mention a high-up view of the river far below.

A free shuttle can take you across the bridge and to some of the park’s attractions. We got a kick out of the raptor show, along with the film about the history of the park, bridge, and Gorge—including a terrible 2013 wildfire that decimated the park. The bridge was about the only thing that survived, though about 100 of its deck planks needed to be replaced. Today, the damaged boards are part of the wall of the new visitor center, reminding us all of the power of nature—and of perseverance.

However you cross or experience Royal Gorge, we loved how it combines nature, engineering, culture, and history. The playground, theater, and other attractions also make the area perfect for a day trip—and a look down nearly a thousand feet into the rushing river below.

What will you do on your family vacation to Colorado Springs with kids?

This is just the beginning of the amazing things you can do on a family trip to this area! There is so much to see and do with kids in and around Colorado Springs. Personally, we can’t wait to go back to Paint Mines, and to catch the cog railway up to the summit of Pike’s Peak.

What will be on your Colorado Springs family vacation itinerary?

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