The Cog Railroad to Pikes Peak and a Visit to Garden of the Gods

Pueblo, CO

Leaving South Fork we headed east on US 160 for about 120 miles to Salsenburg, CO where we turned north on I-25. After about 60 miles we arrived at the Pueblo KOA, our base for some visits to nearby Colorado Springs. We looked at staying closer to Colorado Springs but had trouble finding a park.

Our first adventure was a ride up the cog railroad to the top of Pikes Peak. We rode the train a few years ago (OK, it was 30 years ago!) but don’t remember a great deal from that experience. Plus the railroad just recently re-opened after being closed since 2017 while undergoing a complete renovation.

Pikes Peak from I-25 (the barren peak through all the power lines)

The rail line starts at a depot in the town of Manitou Springs, located at an elevation of 6,320 feet, and climbs 8.9 miles to the summit of Pikes Peak at an elevation of 14,115 feet.  The average grade of the line is 12% but tops out at 25%. Normal trains can not retain traction on the rails at grades steeper than 10%, so the railway needs to use a cog and rack system to help pull trains up the mountain and control the speed of the descent.

Going up

The trip one way takes about an hour and ten minutes. There is a forty minute stop at the summit to enjoy the views and check out the new visitor center. That totals up to a three hour experience.

Colorado Springs below as we clear the tree line
Lake Moraine
Windy Point – old steam engines replenished their boilers here
Another view of Lake Moraine

Below is a view of Manitou Springs from the summit. In the center of the photo you can make out three rock formations. That is an area known as Garden of the Gods. We’ll share our visit there later in this post.

The Pikes Peak Summit House is a National Historic Landmark and the continued production site of what have become, over the last century, cult favorite donuts. Pikes Peak Summit House donuts can only really be consumed at the summit of Pikes Peak. The recipe is optimized for the high altitude; thinner air means lower air pressure, which means a lower boiling point for water (186 degrees rather that 212 degrees). Try taking the donuts to a lower elevation and they’ll collapse, their fluffiness will disappear.  The Summit House was completely rebuilt during the recent cog railroad renovations, including an eco-friendly new donut making machine. The new machine is so large (about 1,500 pounds, 92 inches tall and 84 inches wide) that crews had to bring it in early, then finish the building around it.

We planned to bring a portion of the donuts back with us to see it collapse, but that didn’t work out so well. The photo below tells the story of what happened to that specimen.

Two trains sit at the summit in the photo below. The one on the right is about to return back down the mountain. We came up on the one on the left, and will re-board it in a few minutes.

The train we rode during our first trip up Pikes Peak

Below is a photo of the sign that once sat at the road that leads to the summit. A few years ago the elevation of the peak was recalculated and the peak is now listed at 14,115 feet so the sign has also undergone a renovation.

Don’t miss the train, it is the final one of the day!
Going down

While we enjoyed the experience, we don’t think we would take the cog rail up to the peak again. Our main concern is the crowding in the cars. Previously the configuration was two seats on either side with the seats facing two seats across from you. The new cars have three seats on one side and two on the other. The cars were manufactured in Switzerland and we don’t think the Swiss are as “supersized” as many Americans. And with limited room between the seats facing each other, you play knee-tag with the person across from you for two hours and twenty minutes. And while the views as you approach the summit are impressive, for most of the ride you are going through a pine forest with limited visibility. Even with these concerns, if you have never done it, we would still recommend a trip on the cog railroad (one time).

The next day we returned to Colorado Springs to visit an area of rock formations called the Garden of the Gods. We took a tour of the area shown below called the Perkins Central Walking Tour. Remember the photo earlier in this post showing the Garden of the Gods from Pikes Peak? Below is a reverse view of that photo.

A wide, concrete walkway weaves its way between the formations.

See the climber?

In 1879 Charles Elliott Perkins purchased 480 acres of land that included a portion of the present Garden of the Gods. Upon Perkins’ death, his family gave the land to the City of Colorado Springs in 1909, with the provision that it would be a free public park. A plaque on one of the formations commemorates this gift.

We spent the rest of our visit roaming among the formations.

Pikes Peak

All our photos make it appear that we were alone in our exploration. But the area is one of the most popular tourist spots in eastern Colorado and is always filled with visitors. The nimble hiker is also very nimble with a camera and was able to capture the rock formations while avoiding the inclusion of the masses. Even with the many people sharing the walking paths, we enjoyed observing the many beautiful formations.

We have one more adventure in this area before we head west. We’ll share that in our next post.

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16 Responses to The Cog Railroad to Pikes Peak and a Visit to Garden of the Gods

  1. Jeff Pierce says:

    Our friends lived Colorado Springs for quite a while, and our niece graduated from the USAF Academy, we’ve visited many times. I’d agree that Pike’s Peak is a ‘one-n-done’ experience. There are so many water fall trails, fossil beds and as you noted the Garden of the Gods to visit.
    But the new trains do look a lot nicer and safer 🙂
    Thanks for the memories.

  2. Joe Taylor says:

    What a fun stop. Garden of the Gods should be on everyone’s list of “go to places”. We drove to the top of Pikes Peak, but the train sounds like fun and I sure could use one of those donuts right about now.

  3. Nancy says:

    Amazing sights! Beautiful pictures! Did you have any problems feeling light headed at Pikes Peak? I have a friend who passed out as soon as she stepped off the train.
    Fun times for you both!

    • placestheygo says:

      I felt a little light headed at first but not bad. I think it was because we had done a couple drives to over 10,000′ and had stayed at parks that were over 8,000′. I imagine if you had just arrived from a lower elevation it might have hit you hard.

  4. I thought it might be fun to take the train up and then hike the trail back down but I couldn’t get Jim to agree to that so we just drove up. It was a steep and winding road!
    I forgot how pretty Garden of the Gods is, and crowded, unfortunately.

    • placestheygo says:

      I think I would have to agree with Jim on this one. It’s a steep 13 miles back down. Yes, driving was the way to go. I imagine there is never a time when Garden of the Gods isn’t crowded.

  5. Laurel says:

    Your photos from the top of Pike’s Peak look like you’re looking down from an airplane! That is such a steep descent, I’d be trying to put the brakes on all the way down. Which I’m sure the person across from me would not appreciate, since from your description of the seating arrangements, I would have my feet on their knees, haha!!

    Garden of the Gods looks beautiful, and your photos are great. Good job on keeping the masses out of your photos!

  6. Cheyenne Mountain State Park was an awesome place to stay, if you ever get the chance. I found Garden of the Gods waaaaay too crowded, nice job getting photos without many people!

  7. Jodee Gravel says:

    Thanks for the great tour of the mining museum, it looks like they did a really great job recreating that harsh working environment. Pike’s Peak isn’t very “pretty” is it? I love that they have special donuts and completely understand that the elevation experiment was unsuccessful 🙂 We stayed in a very tight little park in Manitou Springs so it’s good to know Pueblo has a better option for the area.

    • placestheygo says:

      Pikes Peak isn’t “pretty” at all. Nothing but a pile of rubble. John also felt the view wasn’t that spectacular. He said we have seen much better in our travels. But, after 30 years and with the new cog, we thought we’d give it a go. Once and done! But the donut was yummy!!!

  8. I had a big laugh when I saw caption of the do nut and the picture after it! Of course those are for eating not experimenting.
    We were only up to the Windy Point when we rode that train. There were still thick snow on the tracks but sure nice to see now what we missed.

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