One of the most well-known military institutions in the country resides in the city of Colorado Springs: the United States Air Force Academy. It’s an accredited four-year university with more than 4,000 undergraduate cadets enrolled each year.
About 70% of the faculty is comprised of active-duty Air Force officers. The rest of the teaching staff is a mix of long-term civilian professors, visiting civilian professors, as well as visiting professors from other branches of the U.S. military.
The mascot is the falcon, and the sports teams are known as the Air Force Falcons. Most of the athletics compete in the NCAA Division 1 Mountain West Conference.
History of USAFA
In 1947, the Air Force was officially deemed a branch of the military, and plans for the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) were first proposed. After searching hundreds of different locations in various states, the committee settled on Colorado Springs as the clear winner for the academy with its natural beauty and varied terrain.
The USAFA opened officially in 1954, and many graduating members have gone on to become military leaders and politicians. In 2006, the campus underwent a renovation to upgrade many of its half-century-old buildings, and the campus is now as beautiful as ever.
Today, the USAFA remains a state-of-the-art facility for military education and admission is aggressively competitive for its prospective cadets.
Cadet Chapel, Hiking and Self Guided Tours
The Air Force Academy is open to the public at select times. There are a number of notable things to see and do. The elevation ranges from around 6,200 feet by I-25 to 9,000 feet 6,200 feet near the Farish Recreation Area. So come prepared for the altitude and take it slow.
Visitor Center – The 35,000 square-foot Barry Goldwater Visitors Center welcomes the public daily from 9am to 5pm. Go through the North Gate to access it. It features various films and exhibits, as well as a snack bar and gift shop.
Cadet Chapel – Of note is its famous chapel on the north side of campus, the Cadet Chapel. This architectural wonder is a popular place to capture a unique photograph as well as attend a special service. Although it’s currently under construction, estimated to be completed in 2023. To the east of the Visitor Center is a 1/3 mile paved trail winding thru nature to the Cadet Chapel. You can also park in the Arnold Hall parking lot to reach the chapel, a similar length but less hilly.
Landmarks – There are also a few other landmarks to see on a tour of the grounds, such as the sporting facilities, notably Falcon Stadium, as well as Clune Arena and Falcon Baseball Field. There’s also a museum dedicated to USAFA graduates and Falcons Hall of Fame. Arnold Hall features military and Academy exhibits. Honor Court showcases bronze statues and aircrafts.
Cadet Lunch Formation – From Monday to Friday, 11:30am to noon, you can catch the cadet wing marching to lunch. Weather pending, you can witness the display from the Honor Court wall or by the Cadet Chapel, which both look over the Terrazzo.
Hiking – There are some beautiful hiking trails open to the public during normal visiting hours, 9am-5pm daily. The trails are open to military/government ID card holders between 5am and sundown daily. Trails include:
- Falcon Trail – 13 mile loop open year round to hikers. It has interpretive signs along the way explaining various wildlife and geology of the region. It provides fantastic views around the Academy, crossing the road at several points, giving a chance to shorten the hike. Scouts can get a badge for completing the loop from a local troop.
- Santa Fe Trail – Most of this trail runs parallel with the Academy and I-25 from Monument to Colorado Springs. It’s 40 miles long, and the sections of the trail that cross USAFA land could be closed for security.
- Stanley Canyon Trail – 2 mile trail begins from the Academy Hospital parking lot through the canyon to Stanley Canyon Reservoir. Parts of the trail are steep with loose rocks. It does provide terrific views of The Springs.
- Farish Hiking Trail – Once you finish the above 2-mile trail at Stanley Canyon Reservoir, you can trek the Farish Trail into Pike National Forest. It’s a 5.5 mile trail following old dirt roads for a majority of the distance to Farish Memorial and Academy recreational facility. Due to its elevation it gets cold and storms come in quick in the summer.
The USAFA is open to civilian visitors normally every day from 9am to 5pm, but check their website before you visit to confirm.
There are two entrances to the Air Force Academy: via the South Gate and the North Gate roads. Both are accessible from I-25 via the North Academy exit to the south and the North Gate exit to the north.
Address: Air Force Academy, CO (near Colorado Springs)
Map: USAFA Hiking Trails (JPG)