Nestled in the shadows of Pikes Peak and the city lights of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs offers the charm of a small town, but close to all the area’s biggest attractions. Plus, with its laid-back vibe and eclectic downtown, Manitou Springs is the perfect place to enjoy a weekend getaway without the fuss of the big city.
From soaking in hot springs and ancient cliff dwellings to mountaintop adventures and heart-pounding rides, here are the top things to do in Manitou Springs for the perfect Colorado vacation.
No matter what time of year you visit, there is always something to do! Discover these year-round activities in Manitou Springs.
SunWater Spa Hot Springs
Open every day except Monday, SunWater Spa Hot Springs is one of the best attractions in Manitou Springs. With eight tubs that are naturally heated to 104° Fahrenheit with mountain views, SunWater Spa is a relaxing retreat that is sure to please all visitors. Geothermally heated mineral water emerges from the famous Seven Minute Spring before being pumped into the resort’s eight tubs.
Soaking reservations are available online or via telephone, and each soaking slot lasts for ninety minutes. Children under 14 are not permitted at the resort, and the entire spa area is a whisper-only zone to enhance the relaxing and introspective atmosphere. Besides the always popular soaking tubs, SunWater Spa also has two saunas and yoga classes available with a reservation.
Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado’s registered National Natural Landmarks located near Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. Visitors from all over flock to this free attraction for the beautiful views and world-class outdoor activities. Most well known for the huge sandstone rock formations of jagged spires and fins that jut out of the ground and form a dramatic landscape, it’s one of the most photographed places in Colorado.
There are a number of trails throughout the park, ranging from easy to moderate. Additionally, electric bikes are available for rent on the Garden of the Gods website, or in person, for exploration, and visitors are also welcome to bring their own bikes.
There are a few popular bouldering areas in the park, but keep in mind that permits are required for any climbing. For visitors who want to hear the history of the park from an expert, guided nature walks can be booked ahead online.
Art Galleries, First Friday Art Walks
Manitou Springs is home to one of Colorado’s many creative districts. With over a dozen studios and galleries and over three dozen pieces of public art, Manitou Springs has a surprisingly large art community. Support the local art scene by stopping by the Manitou Art Center or one of the many art galleries to see the work of talented local artists.
On the first Friday of each month March through November, the Manitou Springs Creative District puts on an Art Walk. The Art Walk runs from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Manitou Cliff Dwellings
As one of the top historical sites in the area, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are made up of a number of cliff dwellings that were originally home to Anasazi Native Americans eight hundred to a thousand years ago. The remains of the dwellings were actually originally located in McElmo Canyon near Mesa Verde, but they were carefully deconstructed, transported, and reconstructed in their current location in the early twentieth century.
Today, visitors are invited to explore the cliff dwellings and museums that document this interesting piece of American history. Visitors can walk throughout the 40-room ancient site, where visitors can even try and squeeze into some of the tiniest of rooms that are less visited. The Pueblo and Cave Museums feature a number of exhibits detailing the daily life of the Anasazi people, and some exhibits even feature original weapons and pottery.
Keep your heart rate up with challenging climbs and mountaintop views with these summer activities in Manitou Springs.
Hike the Manitou Incline
Gaining nearly 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile of horizontal distance, the Manitou Incline is a serious climb that challenges even the fittest of people. The average grade of the trail is right around 45%, making it a remarkably tough hike that only seasoned hikers and athletes should attempt.
Originally built as a cable car route before being destroyed by a rockslide, the Manitou Incline transformed into a popular tourist attraction that lets visitors test their strength with a tough workout. The trail is free to access, but free reservations are required to hike.
Parking can be tricky, so it is recommended to use the free Manitou Springs shuttle that departs the Hiawatha Gardens Building. Limited parking is available at the Barr Trail lot and along Ruxton Road, but it often fills up quickly. No dogs are allowed on the trail. Visitors should come prepared with plenty of water and snacks.
Pikes Peak Highway
No trip to the Colorado Springs/Manitou Springs area is complete without a drive to the top of Colorado’s Pikes Peak on the Pikes Peak Highway. The start of the road is just a few miles northwest of Manitou Springs, so it’s easily accessible and definitely worth the detour. The road is 19 miles long, and it gains nearly five thousand feet of elevation before topping out at the summit at 14,115 feet above sea level.
Most visitors spend two to three hours at Pikes Peak, and that includes driving up the road, spending time at the summit, and driving down. There are a number of beautiful spots along the route to pull over and take in the views, plus the panoramas from the summit are second to none.
Opening May 28, 2021, is the Pikes Peak Summit House, the new and improved visitor’s center that serves famous donuts, trail mix, and a number of other hot and cold snacks.
Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Another fantastic way to experience Pikes Peak is on the Cog Railway. Operating since 1891, this 9-mile trip takes visitors to the top of Pikes Peak through a number of beautiful areas including the stunning Pikes National Forest and Engelmann Canyon. Visitors are welcome to purchase food and drinks at the two gift shops at the Cog Railway station, but no outside food is allowed on the trains.
A round-trip ride on the Cog Railway lasts around three hours, but adventurous visitors are welcome to hike down the Barr Trail to the bottom of the mountain. The Cog Railway departs from Manitou Springs and it is recommended that riders arrive approximately thirty minutes prior to departure.
Cave of the Winds Mountain Park
Cave of the Winds Mountain Park is a large park featuring a number of expansive cave tours as well as above-ground activities that are fun for the whole family. The most popular tour is the Discovery Tour. Lasting 45 minutes and departing every 20 minutes all day, this family-friendly tour brings visitors through 15 different cave rooms.
The Lantern Tour is 90 minutes long, and it allows visitors to explore deeper into the caves with the help of candlelight lanterns. This tour features a section of the cave that is only around four feet long, so visitors with back or knee problems are advised to choose the Discovery Tour.
After spending some time below ground, head to the surface for one of Cave of the Wind’s adventures. One of the most popular attractions is the Terror-dactyl. This terrifying ride drops riders nearly one hundred and fifty feet down into the canyon below before being winched back up to the edge. Reservations are not required, but the park recommends that visitors make reservations ahead of time.
Red Rock Canyon Open Space
Red Rock Canyon Open Space is a large, 1,474-acre park located directly between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. There are 11 trails in the park, and they range in length from just under two miles to just over five miles, so visitors of all types can find a trail to suit their abilities. Bikers and runners are also welcome on the trails.
Besides hiking, many people come to Red Rock Canyon Open Space to climb one of the 85 official climbing routes. Climbers must register at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center before ascending the rock faces. Dogs are welcome in the park, but they must be leashed on all official trails. There are also two marked off-leash dog loops.
For any visitors pressed for time on a visit to Manitou Springs, look no further than Rainbow Falls for a short but rewarding walk. At only a tenth of a mile long and located right off the road, hikers are instantly met with a unique waterfall that is famous for the large amounts of graffiti that cover its base. Although the graffiti can be off-putting, the waterfall is still beautiful, and this is a lesser-known spot that is often free from the crowds that flock to Manitou Springs every summer.
Visitors should keep in mind that overnight camping is not permitted at Rainbow Falls, and all visitors are discouraged from swimming or wading in the water due to the possibility of there being broken glass or other dangerous items under the surface.
Soak up the cool vibes and the cool views with these top things to do in Manitou Springs.