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Top 5 Spots in Colorado Springs Where the Rocks Rock 

From mountains to desert, to river valleys, Colorado has many unique rock formations across the state. Here is a list of top spots where you can see exceptional geological specimens near Colorado Springs. WanderApp also included information on how they formed, what activities you can participate in while there, and the best time to visit.

1.      Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is a registered National Natural Landmark and gained its current name back in 1859. Surveyor Rufus Cable saw the distinct rock blades stabbing toward the sky and declared that it was, “…a fit place for the gods to assemble!”    

How it formed: 250 million years ago, the sandstone rocks of GotG were sand dunes along the sandy beaches of an inland sea. 25 million years later, the sea expanded and covered the entire state of Colorado. Then, 65 million years ago, powerful mountain-building took place as the Pacific plate crashed against the North American plate. Eventually, the softer rocks eroded and created valleys that left the harder rocks in GotG rising over 300-feet in the air, creating the dramatic ridge you see today. 

What to do there: Stop by the Visitor Center; drive through the park on a paved, one-way road in your vehicle; explore the trails via your own two legs (free guided walks are also offered) or by mountain bike; try out rock climbing; or take a guided Segway, trolley, jeep, or horseback riding tour. 

When to go: Anytime. It’s striking whether it’s rainy or sunny and the park is large enough to accommodate everyone (allowing for proper social distancing). 

 

2.  Red Rock Canyon Open Space

Red Rock Canyon Open Space is not to be confused with Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater near Denver. In fact, Colorado Springs’ Red Rock Canyon Open Space is a series of canyons and ridges with plenty of trails to enjoy stunning views.

How it formed: 300 million years ago, sand and gravel washed down from the area that would become the Rocky Mountains and formed deposits. 50 million years later, the shifting deposits transformed from one sandstone to the red, Lyons sandstone of the canyon itself. Over 100 million years the sandstone experienced many transformations. It went from a tidal flat to a shoreline, to a delta, and back to a tidal flat. The layers of sand and mud formed the various formations that make up the canyon today.    

What to do there: Hike the trails; take your dog for a walk on the two off-leash dog loops; try out rock climbing, horseback riding, or mountain biking (there is also a single track and a free-ride stunt park for bikes); if you’re feeling extra adventurous try paragliding

When to go: Go when it’s dry and has been for several days as it can get extremely muddy. Try not to go on a weekend as there isn’t a lot of parking and it gets incredibly busy.

 

3. Palmer Park

Elevation Outdoors Magazine named Palmer Park the “Best Urban Park” in its 2017 list, Best of the Rockies. From the park, you can see views of Pikes Peak dominating the backdrop of Colorado Springs. At 730 acres, it’s also the city’s largest park and has over 25 miles of trails.

How it formed: The white, sandstone bluffs of the park formed over 60 million years ago. The granular rock in the formations are resistant to erosion and are made of the same granite that makes up Pikes Peak. Below these sandstone bluffs are brown sand and mudstone beds made up of volcanic debris that eroded off the mountains before the granite was exposed.

What to do there: Hike or bike the trails; let your dog run uninhibited on the leash-free dog trails; enjoy some bird-watching, take a drive (on mostly gravel roads) through the park; let the little ones enjoy the community playground; ride a horse (watch for the poo on the trails if you’re on your own two feet). 

When to go: The weekends are best if you and your canine are the social type and want to make new friends. If you’d rather avoid the four-legged crowd, go on a weekday. It stays fairly dry so it’s fine to visit after recent precipitation.

 

 4. Pulpit Rock Park

Pulpit Rock Park is a cluster of cliffs and hoodoos—tall, thin rock spires of variable thickness that are made of soft rock topped by firmer, more erosion-resistant rock. The park is also connected to Austin Bluffs Open Space which offers further opportunities for exploration.

How it formed: 65 million years ago, as the Rocky Mountains rose, they also lost a lot of sand and gravel to erosion which created the height of Monument Pass that exists today. Then, just 5 million years ago, erosion of the Rocky Mountains slowed and erosion of the Monument Pass area greatly increased and the original deposits soon became the expansive valley that appears today. Pulpit Rock is a stubborn nonconformist that refuses to erode at the same rate and, therefore, allows hikers a panoramic view of Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs.

What to do there: Hike to the top of the rock to get excellent views, but BE CAREFUL that you don’t fall while trying to take pictures. Dogs are allowed but must be on-leash.

When to go: Go on a weekday so you’re not jockeying for a spot at the top to take your selfie. It’s also best to go when it’s been dry for a while so you don’t have to worry about slipping or losing your grip on the rock scramble to get to the top. 

 

5. Monument Rock Park

While technically not within Colorado Springs city limits (it is within city limits of Monument, CO which gained its name from this rock and a nearby creek of the same name), it’s close enough to be included in this list. 

How it formed: Unknown to this writer. However, as it is made of white sandstone, it likely formed similarly to Pulpit Rock.

What to do there: Hike and bike the trails (great for beginner mountain bikers); bird watch (keep an eye out for the hummingbirds that flock to the bushes near the rock); bring your four-legged friend, but keep them on a leash.

When to go: There are lots of bikers early in the morning and some of the trails are narrow so be aware of your surroundings. However, there is shade throughout the area, so going mid-day or in the afternoon wouldn’t be unbearable as you could find respite from the summer heat.

 

Sources:

Garden of the Gods

Red Rock Canyon Open Space

Colorado Springs Parks

Palmer Park

Pulpit Rock Park & more Pulpit Rock Park

 

 

 

 

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