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25 best things to do in historic Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs lies northwest of Colorado Springs at the base of Pikes Peak. Plan to spend at least a long weekend there. Here’s two reasons: The town offers the relaxed vibe of a mountain resort town with easy proximity to a metropolitan area’s services. Escape summer’s heat at 6,000 feet and enjoy Manitou’s milder winter climate than destinations to its west. Even so, some of its attractions are closed for the winter.

Garden of the Gods RV Resort hosted us, but all opinions are ours. If you make a purchase using our affiliate links, including Stay22, we might earn a small commission for our time and website costs (at no additional cost to you). These links are always disclosed. 

Green mineral water fountain with a brown hut behind it.
Cheyenne Spring was intially bottled at the Manitou Bottling Plant. Shoshone Spring behind it had high mineral content and doctors recommended it in the 1800s.

The mountains and rocks surrounding Manitou define the unique attractions of the Pikes Peak region. Hike or ride to the top of Pikes Peak, wander through rock formations, and test the eight free mineral water fountains, each with a slightly different water taste. Or lose yourself in the world of arcade games. 

Roxie’s reliable report: Follow these tips to avoid altitude sickness.

Table of contents: Beginnings | Visitors Center | Cog Railway | Pikes Peak Highway | Manitou Incline | Garden of the Gods | Rock Ledge Ranch | Arcade Amusements | Summer Concert Series | Coffin Races | Fruitcake Toss | Miramont Castle | Heritage Center | Rockey Museum | Art Center | Downtown | Eat | Stay | Book your trip

The Rocky Mountains from the cog railway above Manitou Springs
Nothing but Rocky Mountains from this vantage point on the cog railway.

Manitou Springs’ beginnings

Indigenous peoples used Manitou Springs’ numerous natural mineral springs for medicinal purposes and considered the location sacred. No armed conflict could sully the springs. Because the bubbly water was the Great Spirit’s breath, they left offerings in gratitude. The soothing soda water helped sour stomachs and dry skin, attracting the Mountain Ute people to winter nearby. The Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other Plains Indigenous peoples shared the healing waters peacefully.

Pikes Peak carries Lt. Zebulon Pike‘s name, even though he didn’t summit the mountain. Dr. Edwin James, a biologist with Stephen Long’s expedition, was one of the first known people to reach the top, at 4 p.m. July 14, 1820. Because of his achievement, the expedition named the mountain James Peak, which didn’t stick. James also brought the mineral springs to wider attention. (Long’s namesake, Longs Peak, at 14,259 feet, is the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.) In 1858, 20-year-old Julia Archibald Holmes was the first known woman to reach the top. 

General William J. Palmer and Dr. William A. Bell co-founded Manitou Springs in 1872. Promoters marketed Manitou Springs as the Saratoga of the West, trading on New York’s Saratoga Springs’ popularity. The town had a dual purpose: a health resort town for visitors and a tuberculosis (TB) care center.

Experience showed that TB patients improved at high altitudes, but no one knew why. Later, science discovered that Mycobacterium tuberculosis dislikes altitude. Many TB patients lived in TB huts, designed like tipis to maximize ventilation.

Aspen mining magnate Jerome Wheeler built a three-story bottling plant to ship Manitou Springs’ mineral water throughout the country. To celebrate its 1889 opening, he donated the Town Clock. Hygeia, the goddess of health, adorns the top.

Manitou Springs Visitors Center with a green question mark sculpture in front and trees behind.
The Manitou Springs Visitors Center

1. Learn the latest news at Manitou Visitor Center

Stop first at the Manitou Springs Visitor Center, where a large question mark greets you. The staff will have all the answers to any tourist questions that arise. Pick up the Manitou map brochure because it has coupons inside.

Roxie’s reliable report: Watch for deer at Fountain Creek behind the center. Sit in the Adirondack chairs built from skis. If you like the chairs, head to Colorado Ski Furniture nearby. They ship their repurposed ski, snowboard, and golf equipment everywhere in the United States.

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Pikes Peak Cog Railway with trees and Pikes Peak in the background above Manitou Springs
Pikes Peak Cog Railway heads upward from Minnehaha, 8,332 feet.

2. Summit Pikes Peak the easy way on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway

The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway has climbed to the top of Pikes Peak since 1891. The railway reopened after a significant 2021 remodel. You’ll ascend 14,115 feet in 9 miles while riding in comfort. Allow 3.5 hours for the round-trip journey. Watch for wildlife, such as elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.

When you reach the summit of Pikes Peak, you’ll immediately understand Katherine Lee Bates’ inspiration for “America the Beautiful.” Buy some donuts at the summit. Eat them at the top because they’ll lose their fluffiness quickly as the train loses altitude.

Know before you go

  • Purchase tickets well in advance and reserve a parking spot.
  • Until high summer, snow may block the railway from the summit. The railway will prorate ticket prices accordingly.
  • The summit’s temperature will generally be about 30 degrees lower than the depot’s, so dress in layers.
  • The cog railway does not turn, which means you will see the same view on both legs of the trip. Because of this, sit on the side closest to the mountain for the best experience. 
  • Arrive about 30 minutes before your boarding time.
  • The train does not offer bathrooms; use the restrooms in the depot before you board.
  • Bring food and drinks, and wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
  • If you’re prone to altitude sickness, consider buying canned oxygen at the depot’s gift shop.
  • Book a Pikes Peak tour through Viator (ad).
Your Pikes Peak guide

3. Climb Pikes Peak in your car on the Pikes Peak Highway

Conquer one of Colorado’s legendary 14ers, peaks higher than 14,000 feet — in your car. The toll road from the foot of Pikes Peak to its top winds through 19 miles of mountain terrain to the 14,119-foot summit. 

The summit view differs from east to west because Pikes Peak creates weather at any time. Sometimes snow falls on the summit in July, and snow may persist in the shade all year. When snow is falling at its base, the peak may be sunny. Cloudless days allow guests to see five states: Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Kansas. Look for the earth’s curvature as the view fades into the distance. Float amid the clouds when the peak is foggy.

Stops along the ascent

On your Pikes Peak ascent, stretch your legs, and take photos at the frequent pull-offs. The road crosses four life zones, enabling wildlife sightings, like the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and yellow-bellied marmots. Legend whispers that Big Foot walks the Peak. Learn about the peak’s history, geology, and biology at a “Meet the Ranger” program.

Anglers should fish the North Slope Recreation Area for elusive brook, brown, cut bow, cutthroat, lake, and rainbow trout in three lakes from May to October. Test fly-fishing skills at North Catamount Reservoir where only flies and lures are allowed. 

Can your legs and lungs handle hiking and mountain biking at 9,200 feet? Find out on North Slope’s trails.

Also, look for the accessible Crystal Reservoir Gift Shop and the Historic Glen Cove Inn. Glen Cove is about halfway to the top, where you can eat, pan for gold, or take a rock climbing class. 

Spectacular views and the Pikes Peak Summit House’s donuts and fudge await you at the top.

On your way down, watch for the Rangers checking descending cars’ brakes above Glen Cove. Their checks ensure the brakes are not overheated and prone to failure. Instead of riding your brakes, use lower gears to slow your descent.

Know before you go

  • Before you go, check the mountain’s fees and hours.
  • Reserve a time to drive the peak.
  • Call 719-385-7325 for up-to-date road conditions.
  • View the summit’s webcam.
  • Read this detailed guide to the route.
  • The summit does not allow overnight parking, and all vehicles must exit the mountain by 5 p.m.
  • The website says you need half a tank, but fill up your gas tank instead of risking an empty one.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Watch the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb each June. The Race to the Clouds attracts the world’s best drivers.

Related: The highway entrance is only half an hour from the Florissant Fossil Beds and the northern end of the Gold Belt Tour National Scenic Byway.

Hikers ascending the yellowish uneven steps between evergreen trees
The view up the Manitou Incline (Samart K. Jain/Flickr)

4. Ascend Pikes Peak the hard way on the Manitou Incline

Do you go to hiking extremes? Then reserve a free time slot for climbing the Manitou Springs Incline. Most hikers should plan for an hour’s hike straight uphill.From Manitou Springs, the former railroad bed looks like an arrow straight up the mountain. A closer look reveals 2,744 uneven steps and a 2,000-foot elevation gain on the mile-long trail. Its average grade is 45 percent, with some sections hitting a 68 percent grade.

Beware: This trail is extreme! If you can’t climb stairs at home, don’t try to climb the Incline.

The City of Colorado Springs offers these tips:

  • Bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen.
  • Make sure to properly hydrate by drinking water the evening before your reservation.
  • Check the weather. After wintery weather events, ice develops quickly near the top of the Incline. Microspikes are strongly recommended!
  • Do you have proper clothes and footwear? Sneakers or sturdy hiking shoes are strongly recommended. Dress in layers.
  • Visiting from a lower elevation? Allow your body to acclimate properly for a few days before hiking the Incline.
  • Dogs are not permitted on the Incline for safety reasons. Leave your pet at home.
  • Return on the Barr Trail. Wondering why? Imagine tripping and falling down the Manitou Incline.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Challenge yourself with the 13.3-mile Pikes Peak Ascent and the Pikes Peak Marathon, held on the same weekend every September.

Hikers and a dog strolling on a concrete walk beneath rock formations
Walk through the fantastic Garden of the Gods.

5. Stroll through the Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs

Every day is a good day to visit the Garden of the Gods. The fantastical red rock formations conjure up visions of ancient, eroded castles, gigantic dorsal fins of lost subterranean sea creatures, and eccentric carvings by mystic sculptors. Snow accentuates the fine details of the sharply eroded rocks.

Paved accessible walks wind through the free park while hiking trails surround the formations.

A pair of rock climbers ascend red rocks in the Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs
Whether as a participant or a spectator, rock climbing is fun.

Rock climbing is both an outdoor recreation opportunity and a fine spectator sport. To participate, rock climbers must register for a free permit. The park permits technical rock climbing but prohibits rock scrambling (climbing on a rock formation more than 10 feet up from its base without proper equipment) and rappelling. 

Cyclists will love the Garden of the Gods. You can sign up for bike tours, rent an e-bike or a mountain bike, or ride your own. Stop at the visitors center for maps and tips about the best routes and park regulations.

Know before you go

Covered wagon Rock Ledge Ranch sign with trees and Pikes Peak in the background
Rock Ledge Ranch with Pikes Peak in the background (Ning Tranquilligold Jin/Flickr)

6. Warp through time at Rock Ledge Ranch

Turn left at the Garden of the Gods gate. Maybe a shimmer in the air will warn you of a time portal. The portal transports you to periods between 1775 to 1907. The 230-acre Rock Ledge Ranch, where the Utes made their headquarters, homesteaders settled, and communities grew, showcases Western heritage.

Man wearing a warm hat playing Skeeball at Arcade Amusements, Manitou Springs
Skeeball is just one of the many game options at Arcade Amusements.

7. Soothe your Pac-Man Fever at Arcade Amusements

If Pac-Man’s waka-waka-waka is the soundtrack of your life, Arcade Amusements is your ticket to paradise. Also known as the Penny Arcade, it offers over 400 coin-operated penny arcades games from the 1930s to the present day. A menagerie of rides is ready to ride in the passages between the five arcade buildings.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Players can earn tickets at some games, like skeeball, and redeem them for prizes. Feed your tickets into machines in the Skeeball building and take the receipt to the prize counter. After you play, enjoy an ice cream cone or taffy at Patsy’s Original next door.

8. Attend the Summer Concert Series in Soda Springs Park

Every Monday and Thursday, Manitou Springs holds a free concert in Soda Springs Park’s Bud Ford Pavilion.

9. Race coffins in Manitou Springs

Celebrate Halloween with the annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races. Crawford moved to Manitou Springs in 1889 hoping to ease her TB symptoms, but she died two years later. She asked her lover, William Hildebrand, to bury her atop the 7,200-foot Red Mountain. Hildebrand and 11 others fulfilled her wishes. Unfortunately, after 38 years of harsh winters and spring rains, Mother Nature ejected Emma and her coffin. The remains cascaded down the mountainside where young children found only the casket handles, a nameplate, and a few bones.

The Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce started the first coffin races in 1995.

10. Toss Christmas fruitcakes in Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs started its annual Great Fruitcake Toss a year after the first coffin races. At the annual fruitcake toss, contestants compete in various age divisions in Balance, Basketcake, Accuracy, and Distance events. 

Looking down on the red Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings
Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings (Phil Hagelberg/Flickr)

11. Experience touchable Anasazi cliff dwellings in Manitou Springs

Visiting places like Mesa Verde National Park can be frustrating because so much is off-limits. In contrast, Manitou Cliff Dwellings encourages visitors to enter and touch the dwellings, which aren’t native to Manitou. Enthusiasts removed them from southwestern Colorado and reassembled them in Cliff Canyon above Manitou Springs. Visitors can explore a pueblo and shop at the gift store.

Roxie’s reliable recommendationDownload maps and a self-guided tour app.

12. Take adventure above and below the ground at Cave of the Winds

Cave of the Winds Mountain Park is diagonally across the road from Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Above-ground adventures include the Wind Walker Challenge Course, Bat-A-Pult Zip Line, Cliff Hanger Climbing Wall, and Geronimo’s Leap. The Pioneer Package includes them all for a discount. Additionally, pan for gemstones, climb the Stalactykes Adventure Slide and crawl in the Caver’s Crawl Box Challenge.

Below the ground, choose from three cave tours: the family-friendly, 45- to 60-minute Discovery Tour, the Haunted Lantern Tour, and the 2.5- to 3-hour advanced Expedition Tour.

The tan brick Miramont Castle with Christmas decorations and an American flag
The Miramont Castle features an eclectic mix of architectural styles.

13. Explore diverse architecture at Manitou Springs’ Miramont Castle

Numerous architectural styles blend into a harmonious whole at Miramont Castle. See examples of nine different architectural forms from the Gothic front door and throughout the house. Because the castle stairsteps up the mountainside, the front door is at street level, while the back door exits from the fourth floor. Eight anchors drilled 16 feet into the ground secure the castle to the mountain.

Brown shed in the parking lot behind Miramont Castle
TB patients lived in these huts, designed to maximize fresh air exposure.

Exhibits show the mansion’s history and local history. A firefighters’ museum is in the basement. An original TB hut stands in the upper parking lot.

Father Jean Baptiste Francolon was born into wealth. In 1892, he was poisoned in New Mexico and came to Manitou to recover his health. He built the castle for himself and his mother. Instead of living in poverty as his priestly vows required, Francolon’s castle had every upper-class amenity the era provided, like indoor plumbing and electricity. Everything was opulent, like the powdered gold leaf in the dining room’s ceiling.

The Sisters of Mercy agreed to care for the priest and his mother as long as they lived in the mansion. Francolon returned to France in 1900. Four years later, the sisters opened a TB sanitarium there.

Manitou Springs resident John Carlton Young Sr. was the Presiding Judge (PDF) in the Nuremberg Trials High Command Case. The trial determined whether the German high command staff was guilty of war crimes during World War II. His law library and trial images are on display in the castle.

“Inhabited,” not “haunted”

A staff member said the house is “inhabited,” not haunted. She lived near the mansion as a child and sometimes saw children playing in the garden. She envied them because she had to go to school and they didn’t. Ah, the advantages of being a specter.

Roxie’s reliable reportMiramont means a place with a mountain view. In the glass-surrounded Queen’s Parlour Tea Room, soak in those views. Borrow a fancy hat to complete your high tea experience.

Related: Notorious Colonel John Chivington, who commanded the Sand Creek Massacre, once owned the land where the castle now stands.

14. Meet Manitou Springs’ past at the Manitou Springs Heritage Center

Dallas is a long way from Manitou Springs, but Manitou Springs resident Bob Jackson captured the iconic photograph of Jack Ruby assassinating Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. An exhibit at the Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Museum tells the story.

Related: Follow JFK’s assassination timeline in Texas.

Also, learn about the now-destroyed Red Mountain Incline with remnants of its 12-foot-tall sign. Of course, the heritage center covers the current inclines, Manitou Springs water bottles, artist C.H. Rockey, and Artus and Anne Van Briggle’s pottery.

15. Rockey Art Museum honors a Manitou Springs institution

With his long white beard, C.H. Rockey looked like a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The artist passed in 2019, but the Rockey Art Museum preserves his studio. Like the man, the studio would feel at home in Middle Earth. The entire studio breathes Rockey’s world, from the walls covered with his paintings to creations on every flat surface and hand-crafted furniture. Don’t miss it.

16. Create and enjoy creative works at the Manitou Art Center

The Big Red Chair welcomes guests to the Manitou Art Center. Take a selfie with #bigredchair before entering. The MAC’s galleries, studios, exhibition space, and classrooms are in two adjacent buildings on Manitou Avenue.

The 515 building holds the MAC darkroom, wood shop, metal shop, ceramics studio, and other spaces. Both buildings are accessible, and the parking lot is free. 

Stone bridge with a view of Arcade Amusements in Downtown Manitou Springs
Experience charming Downtown Manitou Springs.

17-19. Shop in historic Downtown Manitou Springs

The hours will disappear when you walk through Downtown Manitou Springs, where numerous destination shopping opportunities abound, including art galleries. Explore Manitou Springs’ parking options, including a free shuttle from outlying parking lots. Check Manitou’s website for discounts, and know that some shops and attractions observe “Manitou Time,” meaning they may not be open at the precise times they promise to be. 

Colorful ceramic Mexican frogs
Place a pop of color in your home from El Camino Real.

These are three of our favorites.

Camino Real Imports

Awash in vibrant color, Camino Real offers pottery, metal art, jewelry, and more.

The Glass Blowers

Glorious handblown glass creations fill the store at the Glass Blowers of Manitou.

The Olive Tap

Sample a vast selection of gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars at The Olive Tap.

A flight of beer and pork green chili on a snowy patio in Manitou Springs
Drink beer at Manitou Brewing Company.

20-22. Eat at Manitou Springs’ restaurants 

Manitou Springs’s restaurant scene is full of varied cuisines. We recommend these options.

Manitou Brewing Company

Manitou Brewing offers the best pork green chili we’ve eaten, and the pretzel bites were divine. Barr Trail Pale Ale was our favorite of their beers.

Rocky Mountain Beignets

Enjoy a taste of Louisiana at Rocky Mountain Beignets (RMB). The restaurant began as a food truck, then opened in a permanent location in 2021. RMB makes its beignets (pronounced ben-YAY) fresh daily with house-made dough. Accompany them with a variety of coffees, lattes, cappuccinos, and café au lait. The pillowy French pastries are fried and dusted with powdered sugar, honey, or chocolate.

Hell’s Kitchen Pizza

Savor luscious New York-style pizza at Hell’s Kitchen. Try the mac and cheese pizza and the garlic knots.

Cliff House Hotel's front drive
Enjoy the elegant Cliff House at Pikes Peak.

23-25. Stay in Manitou Springs

In Manitou, stay in luxury accommodations, vintage motels, or RV parks. Many of Manitou Springs’ lodging options are open seasonally. Please check their status before booking.

Here are three options to try.

The Cliff House at Pikes Peak

Live in luxury’s lap at the award-winning Cliff House (sponsored). Wheeler Spring is across the street.

Two pairs of stocking feet in front of the fireplace
We loved the fireplace in our Garden of the Gods RV Resort cabin.

Garden of the Gods RV Resort

Cozy defined our stay in the RV resort’s extended-stay cabin. We loved sitting in front of the gas fireplace and the full kitchen.

The Buffalo Lodge Bicycle Resort

Buffalo Lodge caters to cyclists and hikers and provides many activities in the unique mountain town.

You’re going to love Manitou Springs!

Book your trip

Let’s add your trip to your calendar! Roxie’s reliable recommendations will get you ready.

Plan your flight and book your tickets:

Plan your overnight accommodations anywhere from national chains to private homes with:

Save on activities, from tours to attractions:

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