We made the most of Marc’s day off – taking our time end enjoying a leisurely drive back to Colorado from New Mexico. We knew we had a BIG and tough couple of months ahead of us and felt some sightseeing along the way would get our time in Colorado off to a positive start! We left the Great Sand Dunes after lunch and drove 175 miles up I-25 to Colorado Springs so we could drive through Garden of the Gods before dark and yes, you guessed it – take more photos with Rocky and Juice!
We managed to stay ahead of the storms which had been brewing in the Great Sand Dunes and kept our fingers crossed we’d make it to Garden of the Gods before it got dark or the rain set in – or both! We arrived around 4.45pm so we still had daylight but the sky was already quite grey.
If you haven’t visited Garden of the Gods before, it’s well worth a visit when exploring Colorado. It’s one of those majestic places that simply takes your breath away and leaves you wondering…how on earth did all those red rocks get there!? Garden of the Gods is open year round and is equally beautiful no matter what the season, though I can tell you from past experience that in winter it can get pretty darn cold! I first visited Garden of the Gods back in 2009 on a road trip with my “Thelma and Louise Road Trip” partner-in-crime – my awesome Aussie far-traveling friend Nicki AKA Groover. We were wowed by the stunning red formations contrasted by the brilliant white snow and almost froze our fingers off in the 14 degree F temps (minus 10C) even with gloves on! But given Colorado’s cold and snowy winters, we expect most RVers are unlikely to visit at that time of year anyway.
About Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods red rock formations were created during a geological upheaval along a natural fault line millions of years ago. It was so named in August 1859 after two surveyors explored the site. One of the surveyors suggested it would be a “capital place for a beer garden” while his companion, awestruck by the impressive rock formations, exclaimed “Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” At 1,364 acres, Garden of the Gods is popular for activities such as hiking, technical rock climbing, road and mountain biking and horseback riding. It attracts over two million visitors and boasts more than 15 miles of trails with a 1.5 mile trail running through the heart of the park that is paved and wheelchair accessible. The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center offers a view of the park, educational exhibits and a short movie “How did those red rocks get there?” which runs every 20 minutes. Oh, and not only is it open every day of the year, but it’s also FREE! Score.
How to access Garden of the Gods without damaging your RV!
If you’re traveling by RV as we are, DON’T do what we did and follow the signs to come in via Highway 24 and Garden Drive! By the time we saw the NO RVs sign it was too late to turn around and so we had no option but to keep driving and hope for the best. We reached the top of Garden Drive which has an entry and exit road right beside the famous Balanced Rock. This access road (see pic below) would be fine for most vehicles and smaller RVs – say a Class B or Class C – but it’s definitely NOT suitable for a Class A like ours towing a vehicle, and probably not for a fifth wheel or truck and trailer either.
Marc pulled over into a pullout while I ran up ahead to assess the situation. There were two roads – one to enter and one to exit the park. There was absolutely no way we would make it through the narrow entry road as it curved around and it had overhanging rocks which would unquestionably damage our coach. However, the exit road was both wide and straight enough to accommodate us safely. Fortunately, the place wasn’t busy and I was able to halt traffic for a minute while Marc pulled Rocky and Juice up safely into the park. Phew! Once inside the park, we knew we were OK to drive all the way around the main road, as we’d been there before.
TIP: Access Garden of the Gods via N 30th Avenue and stop at the Visitor’s Center. They can advise you on roads that are safe to drive with your RV.
Some of the smaller side roads within Garden of the Gods park are not recommended with an RV. We didn’t stop at the Visitor’s Center or get a brochure or map so we can’t share that detail with you here. But if you stay on the main loop around Garden of the Gods and just use the pull-outs for photo opportunities, you should be just fine. Of course, the park gets very busy on weekends and holidays and even weekdays/nights during the summer, so if you are bringing your RV along try to avoid the busiest times – it will be a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience.
A short but sweet visit
For us, simply driving around Garden of the Gods and stopping at a few key vantage points for photos is our idea of a great afternoon. Next time, we’ll be sure to allocate enough time for a hike as well and take a picnic lunch or dinner. The next morning however, Marc did get back out into the Garden of the Gods for his favorite activity – road biking – while I stayed at home and did my favorite activity… sleep in! 😉
All up, we spent about an hour and a half in the park on Friday afternoon. If you’re short on time, you could drive the loop (about 4 miles) and see the highlights in under an hour including pull-offs for photographs. Allow 2-3 hours if you want to walk around, explore the Visitor’s Center and exhibits and grab a bite of lunch at the Trading Post, which is apparently quite good for ‘fast food’ (4 star rating on Yelp) and also has a nice shop/gallery – again, based on the Yelp reviews – we haven’t experienced it first hand.
Of course, you could always head 2 miles downtown into touristy Manitou Springs to explore the shops and have lunch at one of their many restaurants and cafes. On previous visits to the area, we have enjoyed brunch at both Adam’s Mountain Cafe and the exclusively gluten-free Coquette’s Bistro and Bakery for crepes, omelettes, burgers, cupcakes and much more.
If you have time for more sightseeing, take the 19 mile drive – or a train ride – up “America’s Mountain” Pike’s Peak – Colorado’s most famous mountain at 14,115 feet. We drove to the top of Pike’s Peak in 2013 with the Peak to Peak Miata Club – when we owned a Mazda Miata instead of the MINI we have now – and had a blast. Watch our one minute video below to get a quick view of Pike’s Peak (filmed in May 2013)!
We spent Friday night at Garden of the Gods RV Resort, located less than a mile from Garden of the Gods park. It was almost full and we snagged one of the last spaces – a tight one designed for coaches 35 feet max. Ours is 35’10” plus the dolly and MINI! Still, Marc’s legendary driving and maneuvering skills meant he got Rocky settled in snugly by the back wall with Juice parked up tight beside us, just in time for dinner. Our full hook-up site (back-in) cost us under $30 at their off-season rate, being late April. Peak season rates start in May.
Dinner “where it all began”
We headed downtown to a local favorite – Pizzeria Rustica – for a fantastic rustic pizza dinner with red wine. You know what romantics we are – we couldn’t pass through Colorado Springs without returning to the restaurant “where it all began”. But… where all “WHAT” began, you ask!?
In June 2011, on our way back from the Great Sand Dunes, we stopped at Pizzeria Rustica for dinner – we’d found it on Yelp when searching for “dog-friendly” restaurants and it had an outdoor patio where our beloved Coda was welcome. The staff even brought out a bowl of water and a few treats for Coda, which she thought was furry-awesome!
On a side note, the award-winning Pizzeria Rustica’s sensational Insalata Caprese (we had the Caprese “special”) and authentic wood-fired pizzas are not-to-be-missed. They hand-stretch their dough and make buttery smooth mozzarella fresh daily on the premises, are certified 4 star Green and dedicated to the slow-food movement – supporting local farmers and locavores year-round. Add to that their offering of hand-crafted beers, exceptional wines, gluten free and vegetarian options and their focus on simplicity and you simply can’t go wrong – good food and beverages at good prices. You can learn more about the restaurant’s philosophy and menu here at their website. Gosh, this sounds like an ad for them doesn’t it!? It’s not – they don’t even know we exist – suffice to say, it’s one of our favorite dining experiences, because…back to the point now… it’s “where it all began”!
It all began that night in 2011 as we sat out on the patio and began chatting to a fun and friendly couple sitting at the table beside us. We tend to do that a lot. As it turns out, they were from Florida and had been hit hard by the housing crisis of 2007-08. Faced with a 40% drop in the value of their home(s), they began to question why they were complicating their life with three large houses – the one they lived in was 5,000 sqf with a pool they never used, along with the associated high maintenance costs, utility bills, property taxes and the like. They decided to walk away from it all, bought a motorhome and hit the road full-time to travel the country. We loved hearing their story and were incredibly inspired, thinking “how awesome would it be to do that some day!?” We left that evening excitedly chatting about RVing around the USA “some day” then promptly forgot about it for the next 2.5 years while “life got in the way” with work and our upcoming wedding among other things.
Sure enough, in October 2013 the ideas surfaced again and this time, we began discussing it more seriously – which was more realistic considering Marc’s new job was now virtual and he could literally do it from anywhere. And, as you probably know from reading our past blog posts, the rest is history!
After dinner on this particular night in April 2015, we went outside to the patio again – this time without our dear, departed Coda 🙁 – and recorded a short video, sharing our experience and memories, along with a few fun insights We hope you enjoy it!