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!

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!

7 Secrets to Stretch Your Vacation Budget Without Sacrificing Fun!

For most of us, considering the budget is just part of going on vacation.  And while it would be nice to travel and not think about the costs, that isn’t the reality for most of us.  I hold out hope that maybe someday…

As we all wait patiently for our ship to come in, consider these 7 secrets to stretch the travel budget without sacrificing any of the fun:

  1. Pack a Picnic:  Packing a picnic is my favorite way to stretch the budget.  Why? Because it is fun!  We started doing this several years ago when traveling with a toddler.  We found it was easier and much more enjoyable to have breakfast or lunch outside somewhere rather than in a crowded restaurant.  Saving money was an unplanned bonus! We’ve continued to pack picnics because it gives us more time in our destination – which is frequently a National or State Park.  But, this tip works in a city as well.  It was a blast eating breakfast in front of the Bean in Chicago!

    A Picnic by the Bean in Chicago
    A picnic by the Bean in Chicago made for a perfect breakfast experience!
  2. Embrace the Roadtrip:  It is a no-brainer that driving is often significantly cheaper than flying.  Our trips are usually to destinations where we’d have to rent a car anyway.  So, when we drive instead of fly, we avoid the cost of airfare AND rental car! This savings means we can either travel more or stay gone longer! WIN!  And, the drive itself can be fun!  Just view the roadtrip as part of your vacation!The road trip
  3. Be Flexible: While I love the idea of traveling during the shoulder season or during the school year, that just doesn’t work for our family at this time.  Even with the traditional school schedule, you can visit places during their less busy time – during that destination’s off season.  That means doing things like going to a ski resort in the summer!

    Ski Lift in Big Sky Montana
    Riding the ski lift in Big Sky, Montana was only 1 of the many fun summer activities!
  4. Consider Similar Destinations:  The popular spots are typically popular for a reason. But sometimes, a nearby but lesser known destination can offer a very similar experience without all the people or the cost! We used this strategy on our recent visit to Maine. Rather than spending a week in Bar Harbor (Acadia National Park), we spent a couple of days in Acadia and the rest of the time in another beautiful coastal town, Boothbay Harbor.  Guess what?  You can go whale watching, eat lobster, and sea kayak in both places, but the cost of lodging was less in Boothbay!  As a bonus, there was less traffic!

    Lighthouse in Boothbay Harbor, Maine
    Boothbay Harbor, Maine had all the elements of a coastal town in Maine without the traffic associated with a National Park in Bar Harbor.
  5. Select Budget Friendly Activities: National and State Parks offer many budget friendly vacation activities.  Enjoying outdoor activities like hiking or fishing costs very little or no money.  Some of the most fun we’ve had on vacation was doing things that didn’t cost a dime.  Even when we aren’t near a park, there are things to do that don’t cost much.  For example, hunting for sea glass in Maine was a blast. And, the free tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Ft. Worth was fantastic! Chances are that you’ll be able to find plenty of fun low or no cost activities wherever you go.

    Rocky Shoreline at Monterey Bay in California
    The shoreline in Monterey, California is a great place to kick back and enjoy the outdoors… for FREE!
  6. Watch Prices: Do you have a list of places you’d like to visit? We do, and I periodically glance at prices for those destinations.  That way, when a good deal comes along, I know it.  We have used this strategy in selecting our vacation destination for years.  And, it works!

    Lake Powell
    We found a great deal for a hotel in Page, AZ (Lake Powell).  It was high on the list, so we decided to go!
  7. Plan Ahead:  Planning your activities and meals before you leave not only helps you budget, but also keeps you from wasting time with the what-do-we-do-next conversation.  With a little prep work, you can not only avoid wasting time, you have a better chance of keeping your group happy with your meal choices.  To top it all off, when you plan your activities ahead of time, you can use your budget more strategically.

    Hamburger at Crave in Colorado Springs
    During pre-trip Internet research, I discovered Crave, a Colorado based restaurant in Colorado Springs.  I knew this hamburger restaurant would be a big hit with my family.  It was TASTY! (and now I’m just hungry)

Travel can be expensive.  But, I never have regretted spending money on these vacation experiences.  Using these strategies, it is  possible to plan an awesome trip without breaking the bank!

Colorado Springs: Cave of the Winds

Cave of the Winds Mountain Park is an family friendly attraction located in Manitou Springs which is about a 15 minute drive from Colorado Springs.  We visited Cave of the Winds on our Colorado Springs vacation.  It overlooks Williams Canyon and offers more for visitors than just a cave tour.  The facilities are designed so that you can spend quite a bit of time at the park. There is a snack bar, restrooms, various activities, and a gift shop.  Although, the cave tour is the main attraction.

The cave tour that we chose was the Discovery Tour.  On the tour, the guide shared the interesting story of how the cave was discovered. The Discovery Tour is very family friendly. By that, I mean there is no crawling or squeezing through tight spaces which might seem scary or claustrophobic.  For those who are more adventurous, there are other tours available.

Other than the cave tour, Cave of the Winds Mountain Park offers a ropes course as well as more thrilling swings/rides over the canyon.

Gemstone panning was a big win with my kiddo. It is fun to purchase a bag of material and sift through it in search of gemstones and colorful rocks. This activity was a great way to pass time as we were waiting on our cave tour to begin.  As a bonus, the treasures make nice souvenirs!

Gem stones at Cave of the Windscave-of-the-winds-1-trip

Cave of the Winds was a hit with my family.  We had a pleasant afternoon enjoying the scenic views as well as the activities.  When you’re planning your trip to the Colorado Springs area, be sure to check out Cave of the Winds Mountain Park!

Colorado Springs: Olympic Training Center

For anyone who enjoys watching the Olympic Games, a visit to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs is a real treat!  Guided tours of the facility are available which provide a glimpse into the daily life of an Olympic athlete.  The regular guided tour takes about an hour and includes an orientation video.

You will begin your tour in the the visitor center.  Of course, what visitor center would be complete without a gift shop?  This one has a wide variety of Team USA items, so I was able to pick up my Colorado Springs OTC tee shirt!  In addition, there are also several interesting exhibits. A highlight for me was an up close view of an Olympic gold medal!

The Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center reminds me of a college campus, but those on this campus are pursing Olympic gold!  The Olympic Training Center includes dorms, a cafeteria, strength and conditioning facilities as well as recreation facilities.  It is home to more than 500 athletes and coaches.  But, not just anyone can live and train here.  The Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center is invitation only!

Olympic Training Center Campus
View of the Olympic Training Center campus from atop the visitor center.

The Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center provides training and support services for a variety of different Olympic and Paralympic sports.  During our visit, we had the opportunity to observe athletes training in several sports including shooting, men’s gymnastics, weight lifting, and wrestling.

Watching the Olympics on TV, it is easy to forget the time and resource commitment that goes in to bringing home all those Olympic medals! It is inspiring to see the dedication of these amazing athletes and learn about their training regimen.

Olympic rings in a pond at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

When traveling to Colorado Springs, I recommend taking a tour of the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center.  If you’re visiting during the summer travel season, I’d suggest booking your tour in advance as it is quite a popular Colorado Springs attraction.

Go Team USA!

Colorado Springs Day Trip: The Royal Gorge

The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is located about 60 miles from Colorado Springs and makes a nice day trip if you are using Colorado Springs as a hub.  It is located near a town called Canon City.  Originally constructed in 1929, the Royal Gorge Bridge is  one of the highest suspension bridges in the world!  The gorge itself is one of the deepest canyons in Colorado and is very narrow which adds to its uniqueness.  The bridge affords the opportunity for a great view of the Arkansas River which runs far below.

The Royal Gorge Bridge Centerroyal-gorge-1-3-trip

General admission tickets include a ride on the gondolas across the gorge.  The ride offers a great view of the river.  If you’re like me and get the heebie-jeebies in confined spaces with no possibility of escape, don’t fret too much.  The ride is relatively short and isn’t scary.  The gondola ride is a great way to enjoy sweeping views of the gorge.

The view of the Royal Gorgeroyal-gorge-1-12-tripsroyal-gorge-1-7-triproyal-gorge-1-6-trip

The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park has more to offer than just walking across a bridge.  In addition to the gondola ride, there are several other activities.  While some attractions offer a thrill, many activities are geared towards families with children including a really nice playground which was a big hit with my kiddo. We spent about a half day here enjoying what the park had to offer.

Colorado Flag on the Royal Gorge Bridge
State flags line the bridge

We rode the gondola first and then walked back across the bridge.  Along the rails of the bridge are the state flags which is a fun touch and makes for a shareable photo for your friends back home.  There is no rush to cross the bridge.  You can take your time and enjoy taking in the view and snapping pictures along the way.royal-gorge-1-2-tripsroyal-gorge-1-11-tripsIn addition to the gorge and river below, the area itself is quite scenic.  I was quite surprised to see big horn sheep grazing in the park!  And, the mountains in the distance are a nice backdrop to the canyon.

If you are visiting the Colorado Springs area, I highly recommend adding the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park to your itinerary.  It is well worth the time and there are other things to see and do in the area such riding on the Royal Gorge Railway or going on a river rafting adventure.  Whether you’re traveling with children, seeking thrill attractions, or looking for a leisurely stroll with scenic vistas, you can find something to suit your fancy at the Royal Gorge.

The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

There is so much to see and do in Colorado Springs.  If it is not on your vacation to-do list, go ahead and add it now!  While you’re there, be sure to visit the United States Air Force Academy.

The first stop (after passing through security) should be the The Barry Goldwater Air Force Academy Visitor Center.  Of course, there is a gift shop where you can buy anything Air Force.  You can also get a map and orient yourself for your visit.

For me, there were two highlights in the Visitor Center:  the movie and the mock dorm room.  For some reason, I found the mock dorm room quite interesting.  When I went to college, my car was packed full of all of the necessities for dorm life… not so much for these entering freshman.  To say the Academy has a minimalist approach to dorm room decor is an understatement.  There is certainly no picking out matching shower curtains and towels for these students.  By the time a Cadet is a senior, he or she might get to have such luxuries as a fan or a radio.

Air Force Academy dorm room
Mock dorm room at the Air Force Academy.

The 14 minute movie gives visitors a glimpse into the life of Cadets from arrival to graduation.  Of course, their training is both academically and physically rigorous.  The level of commitment to excellence that these Cadets exhibit is amazing, and I certainly felt a sense of respect for these men and women who serve our great nation with so much dedication.  Be prepared, you might have the urge to hum America the Beautiful as you exit.

As you leave the visitor center, take the 1/3 mile paved nature trail to the Cadet Chapel. The Cadet Chapel is open to the public as long as there are no services or events.  The chapel is certainly the crown jewel of the facilities at the Academy.  It is simply breathtaking inside and out.

airforce-academy-colorado-springs1-8-tripairforce-academy-colorado-springs16-tripairforce-academy-colorado-springs1-5-tripairforce-academy-colorado-springs1-4-trip

The Cadet Chapel at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
The Cadet Chapel

After enjoying the Chapel, take a stroll through the Honor Court and gaze at various bronze statues.  During our visit, we had the opportunity to observe several groups of Cadets marching in formation.  We speculated that were marching to dinner because it was 5pm.   We just stood there and watched. Wow!

I’m certainly grateful to have had the opportunity to visit such a iconic American institution.  One can’t help but feel a sense of awe as one considers the number of the brave men and women who have studied and trained here over the years.