Coloradans are lucky to have many opportunities to view rolling grasslands, pine-covered hillsides, snowcapped mountains, and massive, colorful rock formations, but rarely do we get them all in a single vista. Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is one such place, with its rusty-red upturned slabs; the (usually) white top of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak in the distance; and lush vegetation drawing millions of people from around the globe annually. It’s easy to see why the area was considered sacred for thousands of years.

In the late 1800s, a railroad baron named Charles Elliott Perkins purchased much of the land (which was given its current name by a surveyor in 1859). Per his wishes, his children donated 480 of the most beautiful acres in the United States to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909, with the stipulation that they always remain free, undeveloped, and open to the public. Here’s everything you need to know to visit the 1,367-acre National Natural Landmark—while avoiding the crowds.

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When to Visit Garden of the Gods

If you live in Denver—just an hour and a half from Garden of the Gods—there’s really no reason to add to the crowds on a peak summer weekend. Instead, take a Wednesday off, or consider a shoulder-season trip: Some of the best photos of the park can be snapped in late spring, when the flora is verdant and Pikes Peak is still white-capped, while fall provides ample leaf-peeping opportunities. For the most privacy, go in the winter months and hope for a dusting of fresh snow that glistens in the still-ample sunshine and brings out the rich, rusty reds of the rock formations.

Garden of the Gods Hours and Regulations

  • Garden of the Gods is free to visit.
  • Park hours are 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. November through April and 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. May through October.
  • Leashed dogs are welcome—so long as you clean up after them.
  • Following Leave No Trace principles is particularly important since the park is so busy. Bonus points for (kindly) educating out-of-state tourists about why they shouldn’t go off-trail, pick flowers, take rocks home as souvenirs, or carve their initials into the formations.
  • Alcohol is not allowed. (Not-so-fun fact: In reflection of Perkins’ temperance, it was actually a condition of the land donation that “no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed” in the park.)

Where to Park at Garden of the Gods

From the eastern entrance off 30th Street near the visitor center, the road through the park is mostly a one-way loop. During the offseason (roughly Labor Day to Memorial Day), or in the early mornings or evenings any time of year, you can often score spots in what’s labeled on maps as the “main” parking lot or P2—which has bathrooms and quick access to the Central Garden area, where a paved trail loops through many of the park’s must-see formations—at the north end of the park.

You’ll also have a decent shot at finding spaces in the dozen or so smaller lots located near various trailheads throughout the park. Any other time, your best bet is the overflow lot across 30th Street from the visitor center. (Trust us: Even if you manage to find a spot, you’re better off spending your time walking the half-mile from the overflow lot—unless idling behind a car line of Texans snapping photos of rock formations is a thing for you.) In the summer, free ADA-compliant shuttles run between the overflow lot, the visitor center, the entrance to the adjacent Rock Ledge Ranch historical site, and a drop-off spot near the Central Garden from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Tip: For an incredible photo-op, drive up to the Mesa Overlook parking area off Mesa Road. Sunrise and sunset are particularly spectacular, but you can capture stunning panoramas of the park and Pikes Peak any time of day.

What to Do at Garden of the Gods


Start by popping into the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center (free and open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day). There, you can pick up a map, learn what animals to watch for (like bighorn sheep, black-billed magpies, and mule deer) via a taxidermy exhibit, and see a cast of the dinosaur skull found only in Garden of the Gods: Theiophytalia kerri, from the Greek theios and phytalia, meaning “belonging to the gods” and “garden,” respectively, and discoverer James Hutchinson Kerr. The species also makes a cameo in How Did Those Red Rocks Get There?, a 12-minute film—$6 for adults, $4 for kids ages five to 12, four and under free—shown every 20 minutes in the theater downstairs. Adults will appreciate the brief overview of the park’s history and geology, while the time-traveling, point-of-view film keeps kids entertained.


Yes, Adventures Out West runs trolley, jeep, and even Segway tours from the visitor center—but the trails here are short and easy (especially by Colorado standards), so save your money and explore on foot. Talk to the rangers at the visitor center’s information desk to find the perfect route among the park’s 21 miles of trails for your group, or try one of our favorites.

Perkins Central Garden Trail: This paved trail (about a mile if looped from the main parking lot; a bit more if you’re coming from overflow) is a must-do at any time of year, as it winds through the park’s marquee formations, including Tower of Babel, North Gateway Rock, Pulpit Rock, and South Gateway Rock. Thus, it’s also the busiest. If you don’t want to dodge selfie sticks and Instagram influencers in the wild, go early or late in the day.

Palmer Trail: Midday, escape the throngs by hitting this less-traveled trail, which runs for a couple of miles along more forested areas on the west and north sides of the park and gains enough elevation to scare off flip-flop-clad tourists. You can access the trail from multiple points and lots, but be sure to hit the highest ground to the northwest of the park; from there, you have great views of the Central Garden area and the Kissing Camels formation to the east and Pikes Peak to the west.

Ridge Trail: This half-mile loop, which starts from the South Garden area, rises less than 100 feet in elevation, meaning it’s short and easy enough to tackle in just about any weather. It’s also great for kids, who love the feeling it gives them of being up among the rocks.

Siamese Twins Trail: Named after two hourglass-esque formations attached at multiple points with a hole in the middle that perfectly frames Pikes Peak, this half-mile roundtrip stroll is well worth it. In the evening, park at the Spring Canyon South Picnic Area to catch the Strausenbach Trail north for views of the setting sun lighting up the Central Garden area. Then cross Garden Drive to catch a segment of the Palmer Trail up to the Siamese Twins, where, hopefully, the photo-op line has dissipated. Loop the Siamese Twins Trail and a connector back to your car. Total trek: about a mile.

If you must get a photo of yourself “holding up” Balanced Rock (on the southwest end of the park), do it during nonpeak hours and, at the very least, earn it by taking the short hike there from the Trading Post lot. (Unforgivable: pulling off to the side thereby adding to the bottleneck effect of this roadside attraction.)

Rock Climb

You must have proper equipment (note: climbing chalk and chalk substitutes are banned) and obtain a free permit online to do technical rock climbing at Garden of the Gods. Local companies such as Front Range Climbing Co. offer guided excursions, and families should look into Adventure Out West’s kid-friendly offering, which can be booked at the visitor center and includes an hour and a half of beginner-level scrambling, climbing, and rappelling.

Where to Eat Near Garden of the Gods

For casual breakfast, lunch or picnic fare, head into Manitou Springs, just past the park’s south entrance. Maté Factor Cafe is a local favorite for smoothies and sandwiches, and Manitou Brewing Co.’s patio is ideal for a flight and a bite post-hike. Family-owned Crystal Park Cantina scores points for its margaritas, made with 100 percent agave tequila and fresh juices, and vibrant Southwestern fare.

If you’re up for a fancier meal near the park, check OpenTable to score a reservation at the Grand View restaurant at Garden of the Gods Resort and Club, which is perched on the ridge almost directly above the visitor center and, indeed, has grand views of the park. The hotel and private club’s various eating establishments—and those incredible vistas—are otherwise only available to guests and members. (Mind the resort-casual dress code at all times.) For a more relaxed vibe, go for breakfast in the morning with the kids.

Those with time to hang around Colorado Springs should make the 12-minute drive to Ivywild School. Housed in an old, you guessed it, elementary school, it’s arguably the coolest food hall in the state. You can grab a Bristol Brewing Co. beer and quaff it while you wait in line for Lazo Empanadas or a Detroit-style slice from Decent Pizza Co. If you’re lucky, you’ll land a seat in the Principal’s Office, Ivywild’s swanky coffee shop and cocktail lounge.

Also on the southwest side of the city, eatertainment paragon Trainwreck opened in 2022 and serves pub grub with a side of sand volleyball and bocce courts, golf simulators, live music, and plenty of TVs showing the game du jour.

Where to Stay Near Garden of the Gods

Although you can see most of the park in a day, two is better—especially if you’re trying to avoid the busiest hours.

If you can afford to splurge, book a park-facing room in the recently renovated Garden of the Gods Resort and Club. Established in 1951 as a private club, its large bathrooms with dedicated primping areas hark back to more glamorous times, when celebrities like John Wayne, Walt Disney, and Gene Autry (and their dates) needed the space to dress up for dinner, tennis, and even the pool. These days, guests (who’ve been allowed to book stays since the resort opened to the public in 2013) prefer to sip wine—from the suites’ in-room dispensers, of course—on their patios or balconies while gazing down at Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak beyond. Another perk? The ability to take in that same view from a treadmill in the gym, a patio yoga or spin class, or the adults-only infinity pool, which is heated and open year-round.

For a more economical option, check out Garden of the Gods RV Resort, located near the southern entrance of the park. There, you can rent a cottage or bunkhouse or even pitch a tent, and Fido is welcome to join you; there’s an onsite dog park for him and a pool and playground for the kids.

In downtown Colorado Springs, about 10 minutes from the park, Kinship Landing, new in 2020, offers rustic-chic, family-friendly suites as well as bunkrooms and a camping deck ($89 per night) where you can pitch a tent with views of Pikes Peak—but still access a private bathroom.