Unless you just can’t stand nature, one of the things you’re going to want to do when you visit Garden of the Gods is hiking. There’s something for everyone here, from wheelchair accessible paths to rocky trails with several hundred feet of elevation change. When you visit Garden of the Gods, make sure you take the time to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and do one of these great hikes!
1) Central Garden Trail
With minimal elevation change and a paved walkway ideally suited for wheelchairs and strollers, the Central Garden Trail is the perfect introduction to the most well-known rock formations in Garden of the Gods. Starting at the Main Parking Lot, stroll in the shadow of the towering North Gateway Rock (do you see the Kissing Camels?) and make your way to the Twin Spires, which are situated in between North Gateway Rock and South Gateway Rock. There are numerous smaller rocks in this area, which are perfect for letting the kids play on. This is also a great place to watch technical rock climbers make their way up the sandstone walls. At this point, you can loop clockwise or counter-clockwise past the west sides of the Gateway Rocks, into a meadow with panoramic views of the Central Garden, and around Three Graces and Cathedral Spires. After completing the loop of your choice, trace your way back to the parking lot. The longest loop is just over a mile, which hopefully means you have plenty of energy left for another classic Garden of the Gods hike.
2) Siamese Twins Trail
Situated in the southwest corner of the park near Balanced Rock and the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, the Siamese Twins Trail is a short (less than one mile) loop that offers incredible views of Pikes Peak and an up-close look at the Siamese Twins formation. Since this is a little farther from the Central Garden area, you’ll also find more solitude. Start out at the Spring Canyon Trailhead and go in a clockwise loop, heading north out of the parking lot. Follow the well-marked trail as it climbs all the way to the Siamese Twins. Take a few minutes here to take your picture in the window of the Siamese Twins, with Pikes Peak looming behind you. Now that you’ve done the hard part by climbing over 100 feet, enjoy the meandering trail all the way back down to the parking lot.
3) Niobrara / Chambers / Ute Loop
If you enjoy sweeping panoramic views, this 2 mile hike through the southeast corner of Garden of the Gods is for you. Start at the South Parking Lot and head south on the Ute Trail. Instead of looping the Ute Trail, continue south on the Niobrara Trail. As the trail nears the southern end of the park, it turns east and switchbacks up onto a hogback ridge. Once you’re on the ridge, you are treated to expansive views of Gray Rock and the Gateway Rocks. At the end of the hogback ridge, follow the switchbacks down the Chambers Trail and take a right. Before the trail reaches the road entering the park, take a left on the Ute Trail and return to the parking lot.
4) Palmer / Scotsman / Buckskin / Ute / Bretag Loop
At just over 3.5 miles, this loop circles through most of the park and offers stunning views of the Central Garden formations each step of the way. Start at the Main Parking Lot, cross the road that you drove in on, and take a left on the Palmer Trail. As the trail winds its way uphill and turns south, the foliage gives way to incredible views of the Central Garden area. Continue along the west side of the road and enjoy the long downhill section (you drop almost 300 feet!) until you cross the road at its intersection with Columbia Road. From here, go counter-clockwise on the Scotsman Trail as it ascends toward the Sleeping Giant formation. Hang a right at the intersection with the Buckskin Charlie Trail and wind along the main loop road. Instead of continuing on the Buckskin Charlie Trail as it loops back to the west, cross Ridge Road and take a left on the Ute Trail. Continue on the Ute Trail as it passes through the South Parking Lot and keep an eye out for rock climbers ascending the east face of Gray Rock. Once you cross the road entering the park, you have less than a half mile to go along the gently graded Susan G. Bretag Trail back to your car.
5) Choose Your Own Adventure
Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, where you got to decide what happened at critical points in the story? Hiking in Garden of the Gods offers a similar experience. With well-marked trails and easily identifiable landmarks like Pikes Peak or Gray Rock, navigating Garden of the Gods is a breeze. One of my favorite things to do is to park my car just outside the park and see where my legs take me. The possibilities are endless, even if your supply of energy isn’t.