Located just a few miles off Interstate 25, Garden of the Gods (www.gardenofgods.com) boasts an impressive collection of sandstone and limestone formations set against the backdrop of majestic Pikes Peak. And although the natural beauty of this Colorado Springs landmark remains undisturbed, wheelchair-accessible trails have been added over the years. Today this popular site is the perfect place to enjoy Mother Nature’s splendor, without having to travel into the rugged back country. So hop off the interstate and enjoy a wheelchair-accessible hike at Garden of the Gods.
Garden of the Gods History
According to local historians, two surveyors played a vital role in naming Garden of the Gods. Back in 1850, one surveyor eyed the unique rock formations and remarked that it would be a great backdrop for a beer garden. The second surveyor looked at him incredulously and responded, “Beer garden? Why it’s a fit place for the Gods to assemble.” They melded the two phrases together, and somehow the name stuck.
Twenty-five years later Charles Elliott Perkins purchased the 480-acre parcel, with the intention of building a summer home there. After careful consideration, , he dropped his construction plans, and instead decided to preserve this natural wonderland, and open it up to the public. Sadly he died before he could accomplish his goal; but in keeping with his wishes, his children donated the land to the City of Colorado Springs.
There were a few conditions on the bequest though. Absolutely no land development is allowed; and alcohol can never be sold, consumed or manufactured on the premises. And last but not least, Garden of the Gods is to remain open to the public, free of charge. And thanks to Mr. Perkins’ stewardship, today Garden of the Gods remains an oasis of undisturbed natural beauty.
A New and Improved Visitor Center
The best place to begin your visit is at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, located near the park entrance. There’s plenty of accessible parking near the entrance, and barrier-free access to the building, which was renovated and enlarged in 2015. Inside there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around two large halls filled with interactive state-of the-art exhibits about the geology, ecology and cultural history of the park.
And don’t miss “How Did Those Red Rocks Get There?”, an excellent high definition movie, that’s shown on a 23-foot screen and features special lighting effects and a surround sound audio system. There is level access to the theater, and wheelchair-users can just roll-in, park and enjoy the movie. And because of the theater design, you can sit just about anywhere.
A small gift shop, an accessible restroom, and the hip and healthy Bean Sprouts Café round out the services at the visitor center. Free maps of the area are available; and the employees are very knowledgeable about the accessible trails and parking areas.
Take a Hike
After you leave the Visitor & Nature Center, drive down Gateway Road to Garden Drive, and look for the parking area on your left. The paved lot has accessible parking spaces, but if they’re full continue down Garden Drive to the dedicated accessible parking lot. There is level access to the accessible Perkins Central Garden Trail from either parking area.
This paved 1.5-mile trail takes you in to the heart of the park, and passes the bases of the highest rock formations. There is a 30 foot change of elevation on the trail, but there are level spots every 50 feet, and plenty of places to sit down and rest.
The rock formations are named for objects they resemble — Kissing Camels, Cathedral Spires and Keyhole Window, to name a few. And because of the trail design, it’s easy to do as little or as much as you desire. You can always stop and watch the rock climbers along the way, or sit down and enjoy a sandwich or snack. There are no concessions in the trail area so bring along whatever you need, and make sure to pack out all of your garbage.
When you’ve had your fill of hiking, continue along Garden Drive until you hit Juniper Way Loop. This road will take you back out to Gateway Road, and give you one last glance at the sandstone formations. It’s a great way to end a Garden of the Gods visit, and it’s especially scenic at sunset.