Pretty Sights Close to Denver that are All Worth a Stop
By Tab Hauser
When flying to Denver, you do not need to drive hours into the heart of the Rocky Mountains to enjoy the scenery and outdoors. Located two hours or less from the capital are the towns of
Canon City and Manitou Springs. We used these two places as our base for a few days to enjoy the area.
Canon City was our first stop after leaving Denver Airport to literally wine down at the Winery at Holy Cross. Located adjacent to a former abbey, this vineyard produces 14,000 cases annually in a dozen varietals.
At their tasting and gift shop, visitors are cheerfully offered samples all their wines. We preferred their Cabernet Franc, Revelation Blend and Reserve Merlot. www.abbeywinery.com
Breakfast on Board
There is no better place to have a cooked to order breakfast then the morning train on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad’s dome car as it enters the majestic Royal Gorge.
After breakfast, walk out to the open air car for the most perfect view looking up at the cliffs of the deep gorge above and the fast flowing Arkansas River to the side.
Eventually, you will see the Royal Gorge Bridge towering over 955 feet above you.
During the two-hour, round trip ride staff members pointed out important features, history and wildlife. For departure time and themed rides go to www. royalgorgeroute.com
A Bridge With a View
After seeing the gorge from the bottom, drive 20 minutes from the depot to see it from the top on the Royal Gorge Bridge. This is the tallest bridge in North America rising 955 feet over the Arkansas River. The bridge is now a pedestrian tourist destination.
While you can simply walk across the bridge for a magnificent drop down view, you can also zip line or take the gondola across for the view of the bridge and the gorge. Don’t miss the video about the bridge’s construction. Go to royalgorgebridge.com
Segway Canon City
A fun way to tour Canon City is on a Segway tour with www.canoncitysegwaytours.com. Their narrated tours start in old Canon City with some history on specific buildings. They then run up on the towns two scenic roads (Skyline Drive or Tunnel Drive) and make a stop at the prison museum.
Each tour can be a little different depending on the group’s interest. Many of the tours end up at the Royal Gorge Brew Pub for beers and burgers. Craig, who runs the company can also arrange rafting tours.
From Canon City, it was an hour drive to near Manitou Springs where we spoiled ourselves by checking into the five star Broadmoor Hotel for two nights. This resort can be a destination onto itself as it is located on 5000 acres of land with a broad range of activities offered.
If I had to choose two words about the Broadmoor, it would be service and comfort. Guest perks include first run movies in their theater. Arriving at 7 PM and hungry we splurged with reservations at their Penrose restaurant for their three-course meal and the views.
We found the food excellent and the wait staff perfectly attentive. We enjoyed the craft cocktails with our dinner but found the wine list pricey. We recommend reservations just before sunset and to linger after dinner to hear their classy jazz band.
Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods Park is a must-do destination. This very manageable 1367 acre park features giant sedimentary rock features that have an awe-inspiring orange glow when the sun shines. Some of these tower up to 300 feet.
Look for the “Kissing Camels” on one formation. Start your visit by entering Garden Drive off Route 24 and stop at Balanced Rock where you will see a 700-ton rock sitting on a pedestal looking like it is about to roll off.
From their drive slowly on the scenic park loop to the visitor center where you can get information on the trails.
The visitor center has a 15-minute sci-fi type film about the creation of the park that will entertain and educate people of all ages.
From the center, drive to either P6 or the P7 parking lot and walk the Center Garden Trail. This easy 1.5-mile loop will take about an hour and have you shoot countless photos.
Before exiting the park consider the one mile round trip trail to the Siamese Twins. Here you will see two rocks connected yet having a natural window between them where can view Pikes Peak. Information on this free park is at www.gardenofgods.com.
Seven Falls at Broadmoor
Get here early for a perfect scenic walk to the seven waterfalls. Visitors of the Broadmoor are offered a courtesy shuttle through the gate. Day visitors need to use the main parking lot and get driven to the gate.
The walk from the gate to the falls should not be missed and takes about 20 minutes. We went first thing in the morning and found the place nearly to ourselves. (A courtesy shuttle is available for non-walkers) Once near the base, walk through the passageway past the gift shop on the left and take the elevator to the top where there is a perch to view all seven falls dropping into each other.
Afterward, walk up to the base past the restaurant and consider taking the 224 steps to see each falls close. On top, there are hiking paths. For admission and information go to www.broadmoor.com and click adventures.
Drive to a Peak
If you don’t have the time, desire or fitness to climb one of Colorado’s 14K peaks then Pike’s Peak is for you. Here you can drive the 19-mile curvy road or take the cog railway to the 14,124-foot summit.
The Cave of the Winds offers underground 60 minute, 90 minute and 2.5-hour tours that range from family mild to wet and muddy. Above ground, there are adventure attractions that include rocking climbing, the “bat-a-pult” open chair ride as well as a jaw-dropping zip line type of experience. Go to www.caveofthewinds.com
Bring an Empty Bottle While Shopping
A nice place to stop for lunch and troll the shops is Manitou Springs. This town’s stores include crafts, antiques, soaps, muskets, arcade games, coffee shops, restaurants, and galleries. What makes Manitou Springs unique is the several open fountains around town that bring water up from far below the surface.
Each fountain has a slightly different mineral taste with a slight hint of bubbles. We saw several locals filling jugs at them. One worthy thing noted while shopping was the overly enthusiastic greeting we received in each place when we entered or left.
While in town, visit the 1895 Miramont Castle for a tour and high tea. www.miramontcastle.org
Find out More
Canon City has several basic motels. We stayed at the Parkview which does not look like much on the outside but was nice on the inside and had a good breakfast. www.parkviewinnmotel.com
The Broadmoor stands out from all the basic branded three-star hotels in the area. We wish we had another day just to enjoy all the facilities there. Stroll the entire hotel to enjoy its original art. For details go to www.broadmoor.com
Don’t miss the Petite Chablis in Canon City for excellent French food, moderate wine prices, and friendly service. www.lepetitchablis.com
The Penrose offers you a welcome glass of Champagne that you can sip in the lounge to enjoy the view. There is a 5-course tasting menu and three-course menu. www.broadmoor.com/dining/penrose-room
The Boulangerie Lep Patisserie cafe next to Petite Chablis makes sandwiches, quiches, and some very calorie worthy French pastries
The King’s Chef Diner located in a little purple castle offers American comfort food and sometimes in humongous portions so ask about their the half size plates. About a dozen diners sit at the counter in a friendly atmosphere.
I would go back tomorrow and do another half order of their “Grump” dish. This is cash only. www.cosdiner.com