9 Awesome Experiences in Colorado Springs 

Colorado Springs is a great summer vacation destination, and you need not be a hiker or outdoor enthusiast to enjoy what Colorado Springs has to offer. There is such a variety of available activities that literally, there is something for everyone.

If you’re considering a trip to Colorado Springs, here are 9 awesome experiences to add to your itinerary:

  1. Raft the Arkansas River. I’ll have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about my first river rafting experience.  Fortunately, there are several levels of raft trips from which to choose, so whether you’re looking for a big thrill or a more relaxing trip, there are tour companies that can accommodate your needs.River Rafting on the Arkansas River

    River rafting
    We floated with Echo Canyon River Expeditions.
  2. Visit the Royal Gorge. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is about an hour from Colorado Springs.  This attraction offers an opportunity to walk across the worlds highest suspension bridge which was constructed in 1929. The bridge spans this 1200 foot deep canyon and provides a bird’s eye view of the Arkansas River which continues to carve away at the rock below.  We rode the gondolas over the gorge and then crossed back via the bridge.  The scenery is spectacular.  There is a playground and train ride for children as well as thrill rides for big kids and adults. For more information on visiting the Royal Gorge: Colorado Springs Day Trip: The Royal GorgeRoyal Gorge Park in Coloradoroyal gorge 1-3 trip
  3. Hike Garden of the Gods. Garden of the Gods is an oasis in the city of Colorado Springs.  This public park was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971 because of its dramatic landscape and sandstone rock formations.  This park boasts a fabulous visitor center with a museum and a restaurant.  Garden of the Gods offers several easy hiking trails from which to view these magnificent formations. Not surprisingly, this Park is quite popular, so you may want to visit in the morning to avoid some of the crowds.Colorado Spring Garden of the Gods TripGarden of the Gods Colorado Springs Trip
  4. Tour the Olympic Training Center. I have always loved the Olympics, so the opportunity to tour an actual Olympic training facility was one I just couldn’t pass up. And let me tell you, it was WAY cool!  The facility reminded me of a college campus but rather than attend classes, the athletes train! We saw several Olympians training during our tour! This attraction can be quite popular in the summer and tour times do sell out, so plan accordingly. Have I mentioned the Olympic Training Center was REALLY cool!?!? For more information on visiting the Olympic Training Center:  Colorado Springs: Olympic Training Center

    Olympic Training Center Campus
    View of the Olympic Training Center campus from atop the Visitor Center.
  5. Tour Cave of the Winds.  The main attraction at Cave of the Winds is, of course, a cave. It offers a fun tour of this cave which has an interesting back story.  This cave has been entertaining visitors continuously since 1881 making it one of Colorado’s oldest tourist attractions.  But, you’ll find more than just a cave here. The ropes course and gemstone panning were just a couple of the other opportunities for fun! For more information on visiting Cave of the Winds:  Colorado Springs: Cave of the WindsCave of the Winds Colorado Springs
  6. Visit the US Air Force Academy.  Wow! This is one of those proud to be an American experiences.  Don’t miss the movie in the visitor center which provides a glimpse into the daily life of these brave men and women.  And the chapel? It is simply spectacular! For more information on visiting the US Air Force Academy:  The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

    The Cadet Chapel at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
    The Cadet Chapel
  7. Ride the Cog Railway to Pikes Peak. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is just plain fun.  The views are outstanding as the train climbs to over 14,000 feet far above the treeline.  You might even get to see some bighorn sheep. This train ride is a really neat experience! At the top you are given time to walk around and take photos.
  8. Explore the Western Museum of Mining and Industry.  Colorado has a rich mining history, and the  Western Museum of Mining and Industry provides a glimpse into this history with several interactive exhibits and gives you the opportunity to see industrial machinery from the past  in action.  There is also a panning station to practice your gold panning. And while we didn’t find gold, we had a blast trying!Western Museum of Mining and Industry

    Colorado Springs Travel-29
    Unfortunately, we found only fool’s gold!
  9. Hike Red Rock Canyon Open Space. This is a neat recreational area in Colorado Springs which makes for a great picnic spot.  You can also go hiking or biking while you’re there. It’s a nice place to enjoy the outdoors without leaving town! Red Rock Canyon Open SpaceColorado Springs Travel-5

Did I leave something out? I know I did! I’ll just have to check out more of the incredible adventures in and around Colorado Springs on my next visit!

The BEST National Park Visitor Center

I absolutely love our national parks, and for me, spending time in the park’s visitor center is a MUST! While there are some great national park visitor centers throughout the park system, there is one that really stands out: the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center!

Hot Springs National Park is located in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It is about an hour’s drive from the capital city of Little Rock.

What makes the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center so special? It’s cool (or shall I say hot) backstory!Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

In the 1800’s, the natural hot springs located in this area became a tourist mecca.  During that time, people believed that these springs had healing properties. People from around the nation would travel to this area to spend time soaking in the springs, drinking the water, and receiving other treatments to cure their ailments. The town of Hot Springs developed around this natural resource to provide the many visitors with much needed services.

Hot Springs National Park Spring Water
The spring water from Hot Springs National Park is still flowing.  Visitors are welcome to fill containers of water to drink or take home.

Hot Springs was the first public land to be set aside for protection based on it’s natural resources.  In 1832, Hot Springs National Reservation was established.  It became known as the “American Spa.” This area was designated as a National Park in 1921.   This designation led to the development of the Bathhouse Row that we see today. By the 1960’s, the heyday the hot springs had come to an end and many of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row began to close including the Fordyce Bathhouse.Hot Springs Reservation

The elegant Fordyce Bathhouse operated from 1915 to 1962.  It remained closed until it opened as the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center in 1989.  It has been lovingly restored to its original glory.  Hot Springs National Park Fordyce Bath HouseHot Springs National Park

Today, the Fordyce Bathhouse offers visitors a glimpse into what it was like to come to a glamorous bathhouse and to be pampered with a true spa experience during the first half of the 1900’s.

Some of these spa experiences aren’t too far removed from what you may enjoy in today’s spa visit.  Visitors in the early 1900’s could enjoy a hot bath, pedicure, hair and beauty treatments, steam treatments, and a custom developed workout regimen.  Some treatments, on the other hand, are in much less demand today.  Certainly many of us would say “no thank you” to an electric shock massage.Hot Springs National Park Fordyce Bathhouse

This National Park Visitor Center is a real gem. The Fordyce Bathhouse has 4 floors of bathhouse history to explore. It is fascinating to see and to imagine what it might have been like to visit this elegant spa in the early 1900’s.Hot Springs National Park Fordyce BathhouseHot Springs National Park-12Hot Springs National Park-14Hot Springs National Park-23

The Fordyce Bathhouse is just one of several beautiful structures on Bathhouse Row. Many of the bathhouses have been restored as the area has undergone a period of revitalization.  Buckstaff Bath is still in operation today offering spa services with the famous thermal waters of this National Park.  Superior Bathhouse has recently reopened as a brewery and distillery as well as a full service restaurant which utilizes the thermal waters to produce its craft beverages.Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

A visit to Fordyce Bathhouse great way to spend a leisurely afternoon. Take a stroll along Bathhouse Row or simply spend some time in a rocking chair on a bathhouse front porch.  Then, take a bath just like visitors to Hot Springs have been doing for over 100 years!Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

Turret Arch: Short Hike, Big Payoff

One thing I love about Arches National Park is there are several short yet spectacular hikes. The hike to Turret Arch is one of them. This hike doesn’t require much of your vacation time but still has that WOW factor you’ll remember long after the trip!Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park- 5 trips

You may actually be more familiar with Turret Arch’s neighbors – the North and South Windows, aka the Spectacles. And while the Windows might be the more well known kids on the block, don’t discount Turret Arch.

Windows Trail sign showing the trail to Turret Arch.
Windows Trail sign showing the trail to Turret Arch.

The trail to Turret Arch is a short spur off the Windows Loop Trail.  The whole loop trail is only a little over a mile with minimal elevation gain, so it is quite family friendly.  While Turret Arch is purported to be smaller than the Windows, it didn’t seem that way to me. Perhaps its the arch’s vertical shape that makes it seem so massive.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-18 Trips

The path to Turret Arch includes an easy set of stairs.  Once you reach the top, you can walk through the arch and view it from the other side.  This is a great place to just sit and enjoy the scenic view of rock formations and the La Sal Mountains.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-11 trip

Turret Arch is a castle-like rock formation which actually contains two significant openings. While walking through the large arch, you’ll notice a second smaller opening. The smaller more circular arch is adjacent to the large vertical one.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-9 trip

While Turret Arch might not be the most famous arch in Arches National Park, it is one of the one of the most dramatic.  Standing under this massive rock formation you can appreciate its scale while taking in outstanding views of this unique National Park.

7 Budget Friendly Vacation Ideas for Summer

If you’re trying to decide where to take the family on summer vacation but are worried about your budget, don’t stress! It is possible to have an awesome trip without breaking the bank!

To find that destination that fits your family’s budget, consider places that are a little different.  By this I mean avoiding the headliner destinations like Disney, major cities like San Diego or Chicago, or the super popular beaches.  While I love all of those places, they aren’t always the most budget friendly.  Also, look for places that are either off the beaten path or have plenty of capacity in terms of lodging.  This can often mean lower prices!

While budget friendly means different things to different people, here are some ideas with enough options to fit your family’s budget.

  1. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Colorado Springs combines the best of city amenities and outdoor adventure.  Because Colorado Springs is a good size city, there are plenty of lodging options to fit your needs and budget.  There is LOTS to do in Colorado Springs much of which costs little or no money. You’ll have no problem finding plenty of activities your family will love.

    Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, CO.
    Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, CO
  2. Branson, Missouri: This vacation town is nestled in southern Missouri and has a variety of lodging options that won’t break the bank.  This town has family oriented shows and activities galore.  Branson even has a theme park, Silver Dollar City, which is actually pleasant as far as theme parks go. Silver Dollar City is a cozy park with much to please the kids and adults. And, a season pass is very reasonable making a multi-day visit a great bang for your buck!  Trust me, your kids won’t want to leave!

    Ride at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO
    One of the many family friendly rides and attractions at Silver Dollar City, a theme park in Branson, MO
  3. Big Sky, Montana. Yes, I admit I am partial to summertime in the mountains! Big Sky, Montana is the nation’s largest ski resort.  That means there is a large supply of lodging available at significantly reduced rates during the off season.  Trust me, a ski in/ski out cabin is an awesome place to spend a summer vacation! Big Sky is beautiful during the summer and there are so many family friendly outdoor activities to enjoy. And, Yellowstone is only a short drive away!

    Ski Lift in Big Sky, Montana
    Ski Lift in Big Sky, Montana
  4. Northern California.  You may wonder how California could possibly be budget friendly. Northern California is home to the Redwood State and National Parks. This natural beauty is spread out over a large area, so you will find a variety of small communities along the coast which makes a great base for exploring this national treasure.

    Redwood National and State Parks located in Northern California.
    Redwood National and State Parks located in Northern California
  5. Coastal Maine. Why not consider a different kind of coastal getaway rather than a traditional beach vacation? Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline – that’s more coastline than California! There are charming communities all along the Maine coastline which means there are lots of lodging options. You can get that quintessential Maine experience in so many different places, so you aren’t limited to the more well known (and pricier) resort towns.

    East Boothbay Ocean Point near Boothbay Harbor, Maine
    East Boothbay Ocean Point near Boothbay Harbor, Maine
  6. Arkansas. The Natural State offers the best of both worlds for your summer vacation. Arkansas is a small state, so you can enjoy the amenities of a small city or town such as the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock or Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville but still be close to nature. Opportunities for outdoor adventures are as abundant as they are diverse.  From the State’s beautiful lakes to its scenic mountains, options for outdoor fun include water sports, hiking, climbing, caving, floating, digging for diamonds, biking, birding, and much more! Visit the first National River, the Buffalo National River, or America’s first lands to be set aside for natural features, Hot Springs National Park. If you love the outdoors, you’ll find something to suit your fancy in Arkansas! And best of all, your vacation dollars will go along way in this budget friendly state!
    Float the Buffalo National River in Arkansas
    Float the Buffalo National River in Arkansas

    Bridge over the Arkansas River on the Arkansas River Trail in Little Rock.
    The Arkansas River Trail near the Clinton Presidential Center in Downtown Little Rock is a great place for cycling
  7. The 4 Corners. This area of the country where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado converge offers a variety of adventures! Explore Mesa Verde National Park and Hovenweep National Monument to experience the rich Native American history of the area.  Take a day trip to Monument Valley and try to name all of the movies filmed in this area of the Wild West.  Trek the mountains of the San Juan National Forest.  There is so much to do here, you’ll probably just need to plan to go more than once!

    The 4 Corners
    The 4 Corners marker, Hovenweep National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, CO

Don’t let a limited budget keep you from enjoying a family vacation. For tips on stretching your budget, check out 7 Secrets to Stretch Your Vacation Budget Without Sacrificing Fun!

There are so many awesome places to visit in this great country! So, hop in the car and explore someplace new!

5 Reasons to Get Out of Your Car and Hike Balanced Rock

One of Arches National Park’s most iconic formations is Balanced Rock.  Perched precariously atop a mudstone monolith is a 3600 ton perfectly balanced rock…or so it seems.  In reality, the rocks are attached.Balanced Rock Trailhead Sign

Balanced Rock can be seen from a distance when driving the park’s main road.  The parking lot also offers an outstanding view. So, it might be tempting to just pause, snap a photo, and skip the trail. Don’t.

Here are 5 reasons why it is worth your time to get out of the car and take the hike:

  1. The Trail is Short and Flat: There aren’t many excuses that hold water for not hiking this trail.  At only .33 mile with very minimal elevation gain, it is suitable for the whole family.  It doesn’t take much of your vacation time to enjoy this wonder.Balanced Rock Trail
  2. It’s All About Perspective: Many photos of Balanced Rock are from the same angle. Yet, it has a distinctive and unique shape. To appreciate this feature of Balanced Rock, you must walk around it on the trail. Balanced Rock
  3. Appreciate the Scale: Balanced Rock is big… really big!  It is proported to be the size of 3 school buses… although I suspect that this is an approximation.  Walking around this well-known balancing act helps you better appreciate its uniqueness. Balanced Rock Trail
  4. Stop and Smell the Roses: While there are no actual roses, there are plenty of plants to enjoy. And while I wouldn’t suggest getting close enough to a cactus to smell it, I do recommend stopping to observe the many creatures which call this small section of the park home.Tree on Balanced Rock Trailimage
  5. It Might Be Your Last Chance:  Not to be overly dramatic, but someday it will fall. Like all of the formations in Arches National Park, over time the forces of nature change the landscape. This means that Balanced Rock will eventually come crashing down.Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock is just one of the many special things that makes Arches National Park a great place to visit.  The best way to enjoy this natural wonder is slow down and appreciate this spectacular sight!

Balanced Rock

Arches National Park: Park Avenue Trail

When I think about some of my favorite areas in Arches National Park, Park Avenue Trail immediately comes to mind. This section of the park is stunning and easy to reach! The trail meanders thru a canyon flanked by enormous fins, monoliths, and statues.

View from Park Avenue TrailPark Avenue Trail Arches National Park_-7 Trips

This hiking trail is rated as moderate because of the fairly steep descent into the canyon from the parking area.  However, there are stairs, so it isn’t treacherous.

Park Avenue Trail is 1 mile in length which makes it a 2 mile out and back hike.  If you are fortunate enough to have 2 vehicles, you can save yourself the uphill climb.  Simply begin at the Park Avenue Parking area and leave the 2nd vehicle at Courthouse Wash!

Park Avenue Trail Sign with Map
Park Avenue Trail Map

If you don’t have the time (or energy) to hike the Park Avenue Trail, you can still enjoy some fantastic views from the Park Avenue Viewpoint at the parking area.  However, taking time to hike this trail offers a unique perspective on one of Arches National Park’s iconic vistas.

Park Avenue Trail Viewpoint
Park Avenue Trail Viewpoint

5 Jaw Dropping Not-So-Obvious National Parks for Your Bucket List

The Big Three – Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.  These iconic National Parks are known for their jaw dropping appeal. But, there are other National Parks that are just as spectacular!

These 5 National Parks may be less famous but still deserve a place on your travel bucket list:

  1. Redwood National Park: Walking among these giants in Northern California is something you have to experience in person.  There is no way that words or photographs can illustrate the shear mass of these unforgettable behemoths!  Here you can enjoy watching the fog rolling off the ocean and consider the role it plays in this amazing old growth forest. Plan to spend several days in the Redwoods as the groves are spread out over a large area.  You’ll certainly want to savor this experience!Redwood Trees in Redwood National Park
  2. Great Sand Dunes National Park:  The massive sand dunes alongside the Rocky Mountains are nothing less than extraordinary!  Don’t miss the park visitor center where you can learn about how and why all that sand came to reside in the mountains of Colorado.  To top it all off, this unique ecosystem is home to a variety of wildlife.Great Sand Dunes by Rocky Mountains
  3. Canyonlands National Park:  The Grand Canyon isn’t the only National Park where the Colorado River is a leading character. Canyonlands National Park is a vast area of the Colorado Plateau where the Colorado and Green Rivers converge. The endless number of canyons, buttes, and mesas offer unlimited adventures. Aren’t up for hiking down to the bottom of a canyon (and back up)?  No problem! You can access many areas of Canyonlands National Park by vehicle, so you can explore at your own comfort level.  And the views in the Islands in the Sky district of Canyonlands are no less jaw-dropping than its more famous cousin.Canyonlands National Park Islands in the Sky
  4. Crater Lake National Park:  This unique National Park boasts one of the purest bodies of water in the world.   This royal blue gem is the deepest lake in the United States and has no other bodies of water flowing into it.  It is fed only by rain and snow, so it is very clean. The rim of this extinct volcano caldera offers views of the lake from several perspectives.  If you are visiting during the summer months, be sure to take the volcano boat tour for great views as well as a sip of this better-than-bottled water.Crater Lake National Park
  5. Zion National Park:  Utah’s first National Park is one of my all time favorites!  The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is stunning, and there a variety of hiking trails to help you enjoy this dramatic landscape.  Right outside Canyon Scenic Drive is the town of Springdale, Utah.  This quaint town is a great home base for your stay in Zion Canyon.  It boasts several unique and charming local restaurants, shops, and galleries offering a pleasant way to unwind after a day exploring this National Park.Zion National Park

A vacation that includes a visit to one of our National Parks is a great way to unplug and enjoy family time.  Whichever park you choose, a unique and memorable experience awaits.  America’s National Park system is truly America’s Best Idea!