Roam The Epic Red Rocks of Colorado at Garden of the Gods
When you think red rocks, what states do you imagine? Arizona? Utah? Maybe even Nevada? Us too. Well, then you could understand why we were completely caught off guard when we saw towering red rock formations right in the heart of Colorado.
Yes we knew of the famous Red Rock Amphitheater near Denver. But we didn’t think that there would be other dope red rock parks in the surrounding area. Whodathunk?!
Just an hour south of Denver, resides one of Colorado’s most famous red rock locations known as the Garden of the Gods. Imagine colossal, vertical red rock slabs encompassed by a beautiful snow-capped (during winter) mountain backdrop. Sounds magical doesn’t it?
Well, the name doesn’t lie. This nature reserve truly is a garden of incredible feats.
What Exactly is Garden of the Gods?
So what is this miraculous place and why is it so damn popular?
This otherworldly realm is most famous for its 300 foot jagged red rock structures that stretch upward towards the sky. Not something you see everyday, especially in the mountainous state of Colorado. The rocks sit inclined at a 90° angle and are surrounded by lush green vegetation.
The geologic features of the red rock are composed of ancient sedimentary layers of sandstone, conglomerates, and limestone. Originally these sediments were layered one on top of another horizontally. Overtime, these layers were shifted and tilted vertically due to intense pressure from the uplift of the nearby Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak.
Years later, erosion from wind and water are what formed the rocks into what they look like today. Something similar to that of tall narrow fins peaking up out of the ground.
This is just one of the main features of the park. There are numerous other scenic landscapes and formations to see throughout the grounds.
Visitors can easily walk to and around these epic rock structures along a number of different hiking trails. Trails both paved and unpaved depending on your preferences. The best part? All of the park is open to the public for free!
So now you literally have no reason to not check out this amazing place.
Directions to the Park
Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center is located in the northwest corner of Colorado Springs, just an hour from the big city of Denver, Colorado.
Exit highway 24 on 31st street heading north. Continue straight up 31st street for 2 miles until you see signs for Garden of the Gods. Turn left to go into the park or right which takes you to the visitor center.
Or you can simply plug the address into Google: 1805 N 30th St, Colorado Springs, CO 80904
May 1 – Oct 31: 5am – 11pm
Nov 1 – April 30: 5am – 9pm
Cost of entry: FREE
If you’re visiting from out of town, Colorado Springs is your best place for nightly accommodation. Not nearly as large as Denver, but a city full of charm nonetheless. We stayed at a lovely AirBnb the night prior and enjoyed some good local brews from Colorado Mountain Brewery. A brewery just 15 minutes from Garden of the Gods? A perfect end to a day outdoors.
Things to Do at Garden of the Gods
Before you start your adventure, be sure to scope out the visitor center just outside the main grounds.
Inside is a small museum with a bunch of informational exhibits about the history and geology of the park. Also a great first stop to speak with a ranger and ask about the trails and current conditions.
Don’t Underestimate the Crowds!
Garden of the Gods is a popular tourist attraction. Obviously because of the epic scenery but also the convenience of being able to see all the gorgeous rocks without having to do any “real” hiking. And of course, it’s FREE!
Be aware of the potential crowds and plan to go during the off season if you wish to explore the gardens with peace and quiet. Parking is also harder to find during the busier seasons.
Below is a quick list of what to do with only one day in the park. You can easily access all these spots along the main loop road that goes through the Garden of the Gods.
This one-way road travels in a counter-clockwise fashion. No need to backtrack as long as you plan your stops along the way!
We only had time for 4 activities due to the traffic at the time. These were our 4 stops listed below.
1. Explore The Heart of Garden of the Gods
The main attraction of the park is the tall red rock formations that we discussed earlier. This is conveniently at the very beginning of the loop road. Which means this should be your first stop!
If you’re just looking to wander around the base of these red rocks, you can do so along the Perkins Central Garden Trail. This is an easy concrete paved path that wraps around the many different rock fins.
Typically, this is the most popular “trail” in Garden of the Gods since it takes you through the heart of the red rocks.
Although, if you’re wanting this plus a view from up top, then make it a loop trail by combining the Central Garden Trail with the Palmer Trail. The Palmer Trail takes you up to a higher vantage point for excellent views of the red rocks.
See map below of loop trail. The red line indicates the Palmer Trail and the purple line is the Central Garden Trail.
Perkins Central Garden Trail & Palmer Trail (Loop trail)
Park in the first parking lot on the left once you start the loop road. This is in between #1 and the restrooms on the map above.
A heads up, this parking lot may be full since it’s the main parking lot to access the red rocks. If not here, you can park elsewhere nearby and walk back.
Walk across the street from the parking lot to start the Palmer Trail. This trail has a slight gain of 250 feet on a dirt path. Soon enough, you’ll see excellent views of the red rocks from a distance. Not something you can see so easily from the road or any other trail.
Continue along this trail till it connects back to the main road. Cross the street to walk onto the paved Central Garden Trail. From here, you can continue the loop as I marked on the map above or make your own route exploring the base of the red rocks.
Once done, head back to the parking lot to complete the loop trail.
Both these trails combined made for a quick 45 minute walk. We love how you can experience both the dramatic views of the rocks from afar and from below at the base all within this short loop.
Highly recommended for the best of both worlds! *cue Hannah Montana theme song*
2. Balanced Rock
You can’t miss one of the most favored rock formations in the Garden of the Gods, Balanced Rock. No literally, you can’t miss it since you physically drive right by it on the main road.
For a closer look instead of a drive by, park in the small parking lot across the street from Balanced Rock or along the street.
Balanced Rock is basically what you think it is, a balanced rock! This large boulder appears to defy the basic laws of physics by its ability to remain standing with little underneath it to hold it up.
The reason for this odd occurrence? Soft layers of shale at the base that eroded much quicker than the harder sandstone layers above. Resulting in the boulder aligned on a narrow pedestal.
Who knows how many more years till Balanced Rock eventually tumbles over?’ Such a rare geological occurrence for a seemingly short amount of time in geology’s standards. We appreciate the chance to see such a wonderful, natural phenomenon.
Conveniently, Balanced Rock is located right off the side of the road. No need to hike or trek very far to see it. You can climb up on the surrounding red rock for a closer look if you wish. Just be mindful of your environment and don’t trek anywhere you aren’t supposed to.
3. Trading Post
If you’re needing a pit stop for either food or a bathroom break, visit the Trading Post right past Balanced Rock.
Inside is a small cafe with sandwiches, salads, wraps, and other lunch items in case you get hungry. As well as fairly large gift shop and some bathrooms. There is even a small art gallery to take a peek at.
We didn’t spent too much time here as we were just needing to use the restroom. Although it’s a super convenient store should you need a pick me up in the middle of your day.
4. Ridge Trail – 1/2 mile loop
To see the massive red rock formations from a different perspective, be sure to check out Ridge Trail. This is just a few minutes down the road from the Trading Post.
Ridge Trail is moderate 1/2 mile loop with only a 100 ft of elevation gain. It’s well liked for the feeling of being more immersed in the red rocks, which I’d have to say is pretty accurate.
If you hike counter-clockwise along the loop, you’ll make a short trek up a hill to a small overlook. From here, you can peer down in between two red rock fins for a unique angle, as well as see pleasing views of the valley off in the distance.
Continuing on, you’re taken down where you begin to actually walk on a red rock surface. This area provides a lovely viewpoint of both the bright red rocks and the tall mountains off in the distance. A great contrast of landscapes.
Overall a very easy and quick trail. Something you should add to your list if you have 20 minutes to spare.
Don’t Miss Garden of the Gods on Your Next Colorado Adventure
As huge lovers of red rock, we were stoked to discover such an astonishing location right in the middle of Colorado.
Garden of the Gods boasts incredible rock structures paired with beautiful nature that makes it near impossible to not have your jaw drop. Being absolutely free of charge and easily accessible is a plus, making it a perfect day trip for those looking for a relaxing break from the big city.
While we only had one day to explore Garden of the Gods, we still felt extremely satisfied with all that we saw. Although we do wish we had more time to delve into more trails of the park! It’s like we barely scratched the surface of this amazing place.
Nonetheless, we won’t ever forget the beauty and uniqueness of those towering red rock skyscrapers. It makes us so grateful to be living on such a magical planet.
For more exciting things to do, click below to see the top tours and activities at Garden of the Gods or just click here to see the full page list.
We enjoyed a road trip through the state of Colorado to visit all of the state’s most popular natural parks. If you’re looking for more outdoor adventures like this, head south to see Great Sand Dunes National Park. Just one of the many amazing national parks of the state you just can’t miss.
Have you been to Garden of the Gods before? What did you enjoy doing the most? Tell us in the comments below!
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