Outdoors: Cave of the Winds

November 13 2012, 12:06 PM

Why we love it: Yes, Cave of the Winds might be a little touristy for the extreme adventurers out there. But guess what? On an overcast weekend in November, when it’s too cold to hike and too bare to ski, this stop-off just outside Manitou Springs is a pretty solid way to spend an afternoon, especially with the family. What kid doesn’t love to explore? Plus, the hefty dose of local lore the guides throw in qualifies this as a bona fide educational experience.

When to go: Any day except Christmas. Summer hours: 9 a.m.–9 p.m.; winter hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

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This is an outing in which the whole family, young or old, can participate. Even the view of the visitor center as you inch up the winding road, perched on the rim of the impressive Williams Canyon and overlooking the town of Manitou Springs, is a treat. The cliffside deck and airy eatery are a pleasant place to take a load off and enjoy a snack while you wait for your tour.

Choose from the Discovery Tour ($18 adults, $9 kids, five and under free) or the Lantern Tour ($24 adults, $14 kids, five and under not permitted), both of which are led by knowledgeable guides eager to share trivia about the cave’s history and geology. Both take you through narrow passageways, up winding stone steps, into silent, eerie, cavernous “rooms” where impressive stalactites and stalagmites greet you, and strange formations decorate the walls and passageway ceilings. You’ll learn how the caves came to be, from the founding to the exploration to the excavation. The Lantern Tour is a 1.5-hour trek lit by your own handheld lanterns—slightly spookier (think ghost stories and haunted legends) and more physically challenging than the Discovery Tour, which lasts about 45 minutes in the better-lit caverns. Though it’s nothing like shimmying through body-width stone passages on your stomach à la real spelunking, there are some narrow, low-hanging, one-person-at-a-time openings and passageways. Claustrophobics be warned.

Bonus: The caves maintain a comfortable 54-degree temperature at all times, whether it’s 20 degrees outside or 90.

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Getting there: Take Exit 141 off I-25 in Colorado Springs and drive west for six miles on Hwy. 24. You’ll see the sign for the turnoff on your right. Follow the winding mountain road (watch for the hairpins) for just over half a mile to the (free) parking.