This is part of 5280's weekly Outdoors column, where every Tuesday we explore a part of the state for you.
Why we love it: It is a tourist trap that is worth the trip.
When to go: Anytime of the year, but be an early bird the day you go.
For hiking-veterans, the Garden of the Gods’ 15-miles of trails—including concrete paths—won’t be an adventure. You probably won’t get lost (the nearest parking lot is just a skip away) and you won’t climb until your calves burn. However, even an endorphin junkie can dig the red rock light show at this National Natural Landmark near Colorado Springs.
To get a jump on the tourist crowds, skip the visitor and nature center and head to the central garden area of the nearly 500-acre park. You won’t be the first visitors: Petroglyphs have been found on the sandstone formations and there is evidence of habitation since 1330 BC. Park the car, pull out the stroller or wheelchair (bonus points for outdoor experiences that are handicap accessible!), and grab the camera. There isn’t one path as much as there are several loops that take you between massive vertical sandstone slabs with names like Sentinel Spires and Pulpit Rock. One of our favorites? Three Graces, although you’ll probably have to wait in line to nab a family picture in front of it.
When the kids start to tire out, pull out some snacks and watch the climbers—there are more than 100 routes in the area—work against gravity. Then, repeat. You'll notice even more on your second stroll.
Getting there: Travel on I-25 south for about 60 miles. Take the Garden of the Gods Road exit (#146). Stay right at the fork and merge onto Garden of the Gods Road.