Content Produced in Partnership with Visit Colorado Springs
If you subscribe to the soulful country lyrics, “I’ve gone west, rollin’ down the highway like a tumbleweed; I’ve gone west, where the canyons fall into the deep blue sea, “you may think that heading west is your only option for adventures in Colorado. But beyond a well-timed musical interlude, Denver is blessed with intriguing mountain destinations virtually any direction you head.
Just outside Colorado Springs and two hours south of Denver, Canon City has a surprising amount to do for a long weekend or road trip. Boasting acres upon acres of national forest, glacially carved peaks and a massive gorge, Pike’s Peak region has plenty to offer travelers in search of wide-open spaces, reckless abandon, and that mountain magic with fewer crowds and more space to roam than your typical I-70 sojourn. But be prepared because it just may surprise you how much there is to do there – so much so you may need to take an extra vacation day.
Hit the Whitewater
One of the best ways to beat the heat in summer and one of Colorado’s most popular whitewater areas, there are 52 rafting operators in the Royal Gorge region, and at any given time 250 boats on the river. We went with Echo Canyon River Expeditions who has trips down both the Arkansas and Bighorn Sheep Canyon. It’s a choose your own adventure from Class II lazy river-style rides to roaring, adrenaline-pumping Class V rapids in full and half-day excursions.
Cross the Longest Suspension Bridge in America
Home to the highest suspension bridge in the continental US and one of Colorado’s most visited attractions, Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is both a natural wonder and adventure park. Feel the bridge bounce and sway under your feet as you traverse it, looking for your state flag to represent, or take in the breathtaking views from above via a gondola ride. If you’re in for a thrill, America’s highest zipline is actually a suspended seat in the sky, while the Skycoaster will have you free-falling at 50 mph 1200 feet directly above the gorge.
Reach New Heights
Royal Gorge’s newest attraction, the Via Ferrata, is Italian for “Iron Way,” a systematic style of climbing that dates back to European wartime. For recreational purposes, it introduces people to a safe, protected climbing route through the canyon with built-in hand and footholds along a fixed cable system. Led by trained mountain guides, you’ll descend deep into the gorge and back up proving you truly earned those views.
Dine on a Train
A railroad line through Colorado’s grandest canyon, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad is a scenic two-hour dining experience that takes you back to travel’s heyday and unequivocally the highlight of our trip. Initially established as a mining route, competing railroads battled to be the first to circumvent the area rich in resources and views. Today, it’s touted as America’s most spectacular rail journey with a passenger route sure to wine and dine you with on-board big band music and a history of the area in what turns out to be the best restaurant in town (I dream about that prime rib). With tracks that run along the Arkansas River, many of the cars are open-air, so you can feel the breeze in your hair as you take in the stunning sunset. Make sure to check the schedule because they frequently have seasonal excursions like the Santa Express and Murder Mystery dinner theater.
Go Back to the Prehistoric Era
Did you know the Canon City area was huge for prehistoric activity? You can learn all about it at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience, which is fun for kids and adults alike. The guided tour will teach you all about the 25 different species of Little Foot’s relatives found in Colorado, like how the stegosaurus was the most famous to come out of the Jurassic area, which ones consume 800 pounds of food a day, and see some of the most complete fossils ever found along with massive recreations, including the second biggest turtle in the world found (of course) in Texas. When you’re ready for some fun photo ops, the Dino Walk and high ropes course will bring you face to face with hilarious animatronic T-Rex and friends.
Drink Wine in a Divine Setting
A monastery established by Benedictine monks may seem like a strange place to imbibe, but the beautiful campus of the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey is indeed the perfect setting for sipping and swirling under the setting sun. What used to be an art school for church kids, the winery has been around since 2001, producing their fair share of award-winning varietals. Utilizing Colorado grapes as much as they can in their blends, they grow Riesling on-site and get much of the rest from Palisade. Be sure to try the Wild Canyon Harvest, which is made from grapes collected from the community, so each batch tastes just a little bit different, and Sangre de Cristo Nouveau, which translates to the “Blood of Christ” created to serve as a tastier blend at communion. Take some time to explore the sprawling property as you’ll find surprises around every turn from an escape room to a prison guard training center.
Animal lovers will adore their time at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, an education and rescue sanctuary that puts apex predators and majestic creatures on full display. One of the few facilities in the US accredited to house endangered species; you’ll hear the story of each animal and learn all about how wolves became a villain in the media despite being vital to the circle of life and critical to maintaining the predator-prey balance including how they single-handedly repopulated Yellowstone’s wildlife. There are a variety of different tours from your standard walkthrough to more intimate experiences like photo sessions with the animals, meet and greets, and full moon tours, each ending with a hoot and a howl.
Get a Thrill
Touted as one of America’s best scenic drives, Skyline Drive is a harrowing three-mile razorback ridge with drop-offs on both sides and no guard rails. A little strip of road overlooking the entire town of Canon City and the surrounding mountains, the panoramic view isn’t for the faint of heart as the narrow, one-lane highway features steep cliffs and hairpin turns with a few pull-offs to take in the landscape. There’s a short hike to the top where you can actually see dinosaur fossils in the rock wall.
Have More Time?
Combine your Canon City escape with a trip to Colorado Springs, which is home to Garden of the Gods, one of the best free parks in America, Pikes Peak, and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. I have tons of recommendations of what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Colorado’s first resort town.
Where to Stay: Royal Gorge Cabins
The way to get off the grid the right way, Royal Gorge Cabins has both chic mountain chalets and rustic yurts for glamping. Just minutes from most major Canon City attractions, it’s a relaxing and refreshing place to rest your head after a long day of explorations that’s as cozy as it is photogenic.
Like It? Pin It!