Towering high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Pike’s Peak is a glorious grandeur, only two hours from Denver. With over half a million visitors each year, Pike’s Peak is the most visited mountain in North America, giving it a well-deserved nickname, “America’s Mountain.”
The beautiful views from the majestic mountain even inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write one of America’s most patriotic songs, America the Beautiful after a trip to the summit in the late 1800’s. Nothing since has diminished the mountain’s beauty or the extraordinary views from its summit. You can enjoy the alpine scenery, view wildlife, travel beyond the timberline, and pass the clouds to arrive at the mountaintop. Visitors can reach the summit via car, train, peddling a bike, riding on horseback, or hiking on foot.
Drive to the Top
If you choose to go by car, you’ll cruise along Pike’s Peak Highway, a 19-mile road to the summit. Go in slow mode to take in all the mountain scenery and to carefully navigate the series of hairpin curves. Most of the road lacks guard railing alongside sheer drops, so proceed with caution. Enjoy the drive at your leisure and take the time to enjoy the view, there are several pull-offs to stop for a closer look and some excellent photo opportunities.
Ride the Rails
If you’re looking for a train ride, you’ll depart from the Manitou Springs depot for the 8.9 mile ride to the top on the world’s highest cog train via the Pike’s Peak Cog Railroad. Since 1891, this ride has been a favorite way to sit back in the comfort and safety of the train while the conductor entertains passengers with history and fascinating facts about the mountain.
Bike and Horseback
For the fitness enthusiast looking for a challenge you can bike the Barr Trail or the Pike’s Peak Highway to reach the summit. You can arrange for this adventure through a variety of outdoor adventure outfits. If biking up is too much, you can either take a van or train up, or then ride your bike down. You can even ride a horse up and peddle down in a bike. There are many combinations to suit your physical capabilities and interest.
Hit the Trail
The most popular hiking route to the top is Barr Trail which begins in Manitou Springs. It is 13 miles one way and gains 7,400 vertical feet in elevation. A predawn start is recommended or you should make a reservation for an overnight stay in the Barr Cabin located approximately 6.5 miles from the trailhead at 10,200 foot elevation. This trail is recommended for the experienced and stronger hiker.
No matter which way you choose to reach the summit, you will pass through 4 life zones starting from lush high plains to fragile alpine tundra. Look for playful yellow-bellied marmots and powerful bighorn sheep. Elk, deer, and bear make their home in the pine and aspen forests. Interesting rock formations are scattered throughout mountainside. At the highest elevations, vegetation becomes nonexistent and a barren landscape consisting mostly of piles of rock and dirt appear.
Getting to the wonderful views at the summit means a significant change in elevation. This brings with it differences in air pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels. The effects of the increased elevation can start being felt on the way up, and quite likely after 30 to 40 minutes at the summit. Slight nausea, headache, and shortness of breath can occur. To help counter this, drink plenty of water before during and after you reach the summit. If conditions persist or become unbearable, descend the mountain to relieve the unpleasant conditions.
The average high temperature is 48° in the warmest month, August. So, no matter when you head up, add on the layers including hats and gloves to protect you from the cold and high winds at the top. Take in the intensely scenic 360° views, click some photographs, then head inside to the gift shop and restaurant to warm up – knowing you made it to the top of America’s Mountain.