Pikes Peak, at 14,115 ft, has been one of those destinations on our list for awhile. Today, we finally had the chance to drive the scenic, spectacular Pikes Peak Highway all the way to the summit of one of America’s most famous mountains. Our road trip started in Denver Colorado, after an early morning flight from YVR via Calgary. As we drove out of the Denver airport in our rental car, we immediately saw the majestic Rocky Mountain range in front of us. Early June is an excellent time for America road trips. We have the longest days, yet since summer school vacation has not started, tourist attractions are not yet at peak capacity.
On our way to Pike Peak, we were able to stop by Garden of the Gods Park, a registered National Natural Landmark. The Park has many towering, dramatic sandstone rock formations, all against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak, brilliant green forest and blue skies.
We drove on a road that winds through the Garden of the Gods formations with several parking areas. We parked in one area and walked a short trail to view some of the larger formations. There are many more trails to explore. One can easily spend a day or two hiking and exploring the area.
Nearby is a Garden of the Gods visitor center with educational exhibits, cafes, and other tourist services. Incredibly, the visitor center and the entire National Landmark Park is free of admission.
Then it was onward to our main destination via Interstate 24. Just before the town of Cascade, we spotted the sign for the turn off to Pikes Peak Highway. Driving a further five minutes after the turn off, we came upon the Pikes Peak Highway toll booth. We fully expected pay a toll for our vehicle but were somewhat surprised when we discovered the toll to be $15 for each person within the vehicle.
Besides driving on the Pikes Peak Highway, there are other methods to the summit. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway travels to the summit. It is the world’s highest cog railway. Currently, it is not running as some of the railway parts are being repaired. It is scheduled to reopen in 2021. One can also hike up the Barr hiking trail to the summit during the summer months. Finally, there are even marathons, hiking races, and even racing car events on this famous highway.
The Pikes Peak Highway is 19 miles from the entrance to the summit. The toll booth provides us with the map that outlined all the scenic points of interest along the way. The highway started wide and gentle. At mile 11, the highway became steeper, requiring total concentration to navigate safely. There is currently renovation at the summit reducing parking space. Therefore, we had to park our car at mile 16, and ride the free shuttle bus provided to reach the summit. We were actually rather glad to turn the last portion of the highway navigation to the trained shuttle bus drivers. This portion of the highway was very steep, barricades at drop off sections were minimal, and the odd marmots scooting across the highway were further distractions. In the shuttle bus, we were able to relax and just enjoy the magnificent views all around us.
At the summit, there is a gift shop and cafe serving simple snacks. There is a short film on the history on Pikes Peak. Outside the gift shop is lookout platform area to explore. We saw the cog rail for the Cog Railway.
After our exploration at the summit, we boarded the shuttle bus for the ten minutes ride back to our parked car. Unlike our relaxing shuttle bus ride up to the summit, the return shuttle bus ride was rather nerve wrecking. The 80 plus year old gentlemen was overly enthusiastic with his storytelling, everything from his background to the current summit construction activities. Instead of hands on the wheel during the steep drive down the mountain, his hands were pointing at different points of interest. He was rather offended when we suggested he should focus on the driving, even suggesting if we were that nervous, he would drop us off on the highway to wait for the next shuttle bus!From the landmark 16 parking lot, we drove down the Pikes Peak Highway back to turnoff for Interstate 24 to continue onward to the small town of Pueblo, where we had pre-booked our accommodation for the night.
We are glad we finally visited the most famous peak in Colorado, inspiring the song “America the Beautiful”.