The Most Visited Mountain In All Of North America
Driving into Colorado Springs and the surrounding area it is impossible to miss Pikes Peak, which looms up ahead in the clouds and dwarfs all of the other nearby mountain summits. At 14,115 feet it is home to the highest railroad in the USA, Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which offers train tours up to the summit. On a clear day the view from the top of “America’s Mountain” is absolutely breathtaking!
Pikes Peak is the most visited mountain in North America because the summit is reachable by train AND by road (now freshly paved the entire way) 😀
Anyone that has visited the Garden Of The Gods will undoubtedly have noticed Pikes Peak in the background. However if you have not visited, Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods are located so close together I encourage you to visit both at the same time — it’s the perfect way to spend an outdoor afternoon in Colorado Springs. (After you come back down from the mountain, reward yourself with some tasty food and fresh home-brewed beer at the Phantom Canyon Brewing Co in downtown Colorado Springs — another of my local favorites.) 😉
Pikes Peak gets its name from Zebulon Pike, an explorer who led a failed expedition up to the summit in 1806, but was not made a national historic landmark and park until 1961. It was home to a gold rush in the mid-1800s and was also the site that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write the song “America The Beautiful.”
Be Prepared For Pikes Peak
At the park entrance, which is actually just a tollgate entrance, all visitors have to pay a fee before proceeding up to the summit. It costs $10/person with a limit of $35 per vehicle, although fees might vary slightly between seasons. Pay attention to the information and advice that you are given at the gate by staff, mostly pertaining to your vehicle and personal safety. Keep in mind that you will have to ascend and descend the steep, winding 19-mile road to the summit, and be sure that you:
- Have enough gas — at least half a tank is recommended. It takes a lot of fuel to get up such a steep road.
- Have good brakes — this should be common sense. You will need them on the descent.
- Bring extra cash — there are no mountaintop ATMs. However Pikes Peak does have three gift shops / snack parlors. Two are located at 1/3 and 2/3 of the way up, respectively, and a third is at the summit.
There are also many scenic view points and paved shoulders at various points, allowing you to pull over and take pictures, stretch the legs, or even give the car a break. (Which reminds me of another thing — don’t arrive at Pike National Forest in an old and busted vehicle hoping to make the climb all the way to the top. It is a steep road and much like that damned Energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going and going…)
Notable mile markers include:
- MM#3 Your first view of Pikes Peak
- MM#14 Scenic views of Garden Of The Gods, Colorado Springs, the Pikes Peak summit, and the Continental Divide
- MM#16-16.5 Scenic views of the Switchbacks, Pikes Peak Reservoirs, the Continental Divide, Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range, and the Ghost Town Hollow Mine.
If you don’t stop to take a bunch of pictures, and don’t get stuck behind that one obnoxiously slow vehicle, then it takes between 45-50 minutes to reach the top of Pikes Peak. Be prepared for the temperatures to be up to 40°F colder at the summit than at the base 6,000 feet below. (That is more than 20°C of a difference.) It is September while it’s 75°F in Colorado Springs, it was 30° and snowing at the summit of Pikes Peak!
The summit is absolutely breathtaking. Literally. It is hard to breathe due to the extreme elevation and lack of oxygen. Even a short walk across the summit leaves you breathless. Having been up at extreme elevations before, seen volcanoes and mountains up close in Costa Rica and Hawaii and other places, can honestly say that each one is unique in their own way. Pikes Peak not only has the history but also the Cog Railway that rolls all the way up to the station up top, a mere few feet from the gift shop and prime picture zone. While I have not experienced the railway myself first-hand — you have to buy tickets at least a day, if not several, in advance — I have heard that trip to the top is even more spectacular than by taking the tollway.
From My First Pikes Peak Trip
Before beginning the less-exciting trek down the mountain, make sure to grab a few souvenirs from the gift shop. The offer all of the usual postcards, shot glasses, t-shirts and clothing, information books, magnets, random trinkets, and everything else you have come to expect from gift shops around the world, even food! Something about being high always make me hungry 😉