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Tips For Driving Pikes Peak For The First Time

40 Pikes Peak driving tips to know before you go.

I wouldn’t miss Pikes Peak for anything. But right now, I’m stuck in the holiday rush bubble. The cars are packed in a uniform line like soldiers marching through a military compound.

The air singes. The wind cuts.

Outside, the crickets buzz like the slow, soft pull of a guitar lullaby’s last note. Pause. Pause. And then a steady strum. The birds’ hums are clipped by the rustling of the pines in the breeze. The rocks, beefy and rugged, feed muted tones. Another pause…more silence…and we inch forward towards the gate.

General Info

Location: 5089 Pikes Peak Highway, Cascade, CO 80809, United States

Some of the mountains have the look of an old man’s beard – thin trees, stripped of pines, jut out from the chin of the rounded summits. And there, amongst the peaks, you can hear the siren sing. Pikes Peak is a “fourteener”, a monstrous mountain that mimics an enchantress with sweeping lush green overlay and an iced crown.

If you’re planning on driving up Pikes Peak for the first time, here are 40 tips to know before you go.

Driving Pikes Peak Travel Guide

View of mountains in Colorado while hiking Pikes Peak

Can You Drive Up To The Top Of Pikes Peak?

Yes! Absolutely. Bundle up for the ride (because it’s going to be chilly), but you can without a doubt drive all the way up to the top of Pikes Peak any time of the year.

A daredevil’s climb and an adventure seeker’s drive, Pikes Peak is one of Colorado’s biggest attractions. In 2015, visitor spending in the the region was almost 2 billion. And with over 20 million visitors annually, know that getting to Pikes Peak is a wait. A long one.

10 Tips To Know Before Driving Pikes Peak

View of tall thin trees grazing a mountain while waiting to drive Pikes Peak

After several long moments, we are side-by-side with the ticket-seller, a chipper gentleman sporting a Southern lilt.

The traffic stops here. Our car glides into the woods. The forested growth surrounds us – richly saturated trees nestled in clumps, their needles outstretched.

10 Tips To Know Before Driving Pikes Peak:

  1. There’s aren’t any gas stations along the way so fill up before you arrive (alternatively, you can enter high-stress mode like me when I realized my tank was low. I promise it’s not fun).
  2. Make sure you get there at least one hour before the park opens (the lines get long).
  3. Pikes Peak is open from 9 AM-5 PM every day (timings change slightly depending on the season).
  4. The last allowed entry is at 3 PM
  5. And the highway is technically open “weather permitting”. If you’re traveling on a snow day, call ahead to find out if you can visit. The phone number is 719-385-7325 (skip to road conditions by pressing 1).
  6. But don’t worry because Pikes Peak highway is usually plowed. Even if you’re planning on driving up in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll still be able to visit!
  7. Pikes Peak is closed the last Sunday of June, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
  8. General admission to Pikes Peak is different depending on the season (winter is cheaper, summer is more expensive)
  9. The cost ranges from $5-$15 per adult.
  10. If you’re not looking to drive Pikes Peak, you can usually hop on the Cog Railway (at the moment, it’s closed until 2021).
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10 Tips For Driving At High Altitudes

Girl standing on top of mountain with little pools of water in front of her

Find My Pikes Peak Outfit Details Here

Oh goodness, here they come – queasiness, nausea, lightheadedness creeping together slowly, transforming into one screaming body of altitude sickness (hmmm…this premise actually has the makings of a great horror movie. Hitchcock, are you reading?)

The first time I traveled through the backroads of Colorado, I had a steady thump in my head. It wasn’t a large noticeable thump, but rather a small, metered thump like a five-year-old trying to beat drums to the precise tick of a metronome. Almost in sync, but not quite there.

For me, this was the first warning sign of altitude sickness while traveling.

I definitely had altitude sickness whilst driving Pikes Peak (although I didn’t know what AMS was at the time so I just kind of ignored the symptoms).

10 Tips For Preventing Altitude Sickness While Driving Pikes Peak:

Fangs of white down the Pikes Peak mountain
  1. Know the symptoms of AMS. Altitude sickness (or AMS – Acute Mountain Sickness) is a common occurrence for travelers scaling large heights in a short amount of time.
  2. If you are feeling really sick, please visit a doctor immediately (it’s okay to head back).
  3. Also, if you have any disease that affects red blood cells, I would not recommend traveling without letting your doctor know beforehand and asking for prescribed medication.
  4. Pack a warm mug of herbal tea. Herbal teas typically don’t contain caffeine (a substance you should avoid during high-altitude situations).
  5. Pack (and drink) loads of water. Avoid alcohol.
  6. Your lips will feel flaky at high altitudes. Opt for UV-protection chapstick.
  7. Sunscreen is a must. According to AMC Outdoor Magazine, “UV exposure increases by roughly 10% every 1,000 feet of elevation.” If you are planning on driving Pikes Peak, those numbers sum up to a sunscreen necessity.
  8. The magazine even goes on to state that “snow reflects up to 80% of UV radiation.” Simply put, in winter (and at the frigid snow-capped top of Pikes Peak), you are battling almost double normal UV exposure.
  9. If you’re feeling a little woozy, stop by the half-way point for a stretch break. These are my favorite stretches to improve blood circulation: Downward Dog and Camel Pose.
  10. Oxygen-rich foods (like carbs, greens, citrus) will help you adapt to the high altitude more easily. This is the time to have an avocado toast for breakfast (no shame).
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10 Tips For Driving Pikes Peak Uphill

The winding road that is Pikes Peak Highway (you can see the city in the background)

As we climb higher and higher, the air starts to thin. The oxygen decreases, ever-so-slightly. The temperature drops, slowly. 80 degrees. 70 degrees. 60 degrees.

10 Tips For Driving Pikes Peak Uphill:

  1. At its highest point, Pikes Peak is 42 degrees. Even in the dead of summer, Pikes Peak begs sweater weather.
  2. When you first start driving Pikes Peak, you’ll see shades of blue start to emerge fairly quickly. The hues grow into a monotone expanse. The prettiest reservoir (one of three) is Crystal Lake, known by fishing enthusiasts for its run of trout. Don’t forget to bring a fishing license, a fishing rod, and some bait.
  3. The drive is along a 19-mile paved road.
  4. Don’t run the air conditioner while driving up Pikes Peak (your engine may overheat).
  5. The round-trip journey takes roughly 4 to 5 hours (if you stop for lots of photos like I did).
  6. You’ll pass through six life zones (the Montane Zone in the summertime is blanketed in wildflowers).
  7. While driving Pikes Peak’s Montane Zone, keep your eyes peeled for mule deer.
  8. Pikes Peak is full of wildlife (bears, mountain lions), but most don’t come near the highway area (except for the squirrels).
  9. A new Visitor Center is currently under construction so you can’t drive all the way up at the moment. Stop at Mile 16 and take the free shuttle (arrives every 5 minutes) to the Summit House.
  10. You have to try a Pikes Peak donut! There’s a donut shop at the top and while it sounds a bit kitschy, these donuts (just under $2 apiece) are made and prepared with the high altitude in mind (so you have to eat it while you’re at the top otherwise it will collapse inwards). And if you’re looking to warm up, pick up a coffee-to-go as well.
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10 Tips For Driving Pikes Peak Downhill

A closer look at the city as I'm driving down Pikes Peak

For the next eighteen miles, the car pulls downwards.

Even though I’m only going 20 miles per hour, my hands are shaking on the wheel. But I don’t want to ruin the brakes (or…ummm…run off the side of a mountain).

I twist and turn the giant brochure in one of my hands. The ticket-seller had given it to me earlier. But now, a little notice amongst a list of warnings catches my eye.

10 Tips For Driving Pikes Peak Downhill:

Snowy winter in Pikes Peak
  1. If you picked up a rental car, familiarize yourself with the gears (you need to know how to downshift).
  2. Shift to low-gear.
  3. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour (unless otherwise labeled).
  4. Uphill traffic has the right of way.
  5. At the halfway point, a park ranger will scan your car. You’ll be motioned towards the Glen Cove Inn parking lot if your brakes have overheated (I learned this the hard way).
  6. It doesn’t take long for the brakes to cool (roughly 5 minutes).
  7. But there are a few short trails nearby if you want a stretch break.
  8. Glen Cove Inn also has a tiny gift shop and restrooms.
  9. If you’re not used to the climate or the altitude, driving Pikes Peak in winter can be tough (and slightly scary).
  10. So summer (albeit more expensive) is the best time to visit Pikes Peak (as the drive is much easier).

Driving Pikes Is Worth It For The Views. Here’s Why.

As the ice melts, lakes spool from the glacier’s steady drips. Ice masses ribbon along the side of the mountain, and at the very bottom, little white flakes trickle down into the ground, one droplet at a time.

Right now, the oxygen is too thin for me to get out of the car (it might just be me, but I’m starting to feel a little dizzy). Pikes Peak is not for the faint of heart. The road clings to the edge of the mountain.

And at each turn, the view shifts. A sprawling cityscape. A plunging drop into a breadth of trees. A spider-web of lanes snake downward.

Seeing a different green, lush perspective of Pikes Peak

“Close your eyes, Anshula,” I tell myself. “We’re almost there.”

Ahh, heights. I love the views. I hate the feeling.

At the summit, my breathing is short. A steady staccato. But I still get out of the car to see the view.

For once, I feel like I deserve a kitschy treat to celebrate (Hello, world! I made it to the top with my heart in my mouth).

Now about that donut…

Did you enjoy these driving Pikes Peak tips? Have you ever driven up Pikes Peak? Let me know in the comments below!

24 Comments

  • Avatar
    Katherine
    August 2, 2017 at 5:05 PM

    Great, comprehensive post! The view from Pikes Peak must have been spectacular and I love the description of some of the mountains looking like an old man’s beard. You’ve got a knack for story-telling!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      August 6, 2017 at 3:45 PM

      Awww…thank you so much, Katherine! Pikes Peak has some of the most gorgeous views I’ve ever seen (albeit it was freezing)! Happy travels! ? xx – Anshula

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Rosemary
    August 4, 2017 at 12:33 PM

    Loved your entertaining writing style…Absolutely worth the wait, the scenery is gorgeous. Wow!! The longest I’ve waited for an attraction is about 3 hours..this was getting to the entrance of Machu Picchu on the 1st of the year. Long wait but it opened up and was not too crowded. Looks like you were able to get amazing shots without people.
    Good to know about Pikes Peak and going off season!! Great article.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Natalia
    August 4, 2017 at 11:53 PM

    Very thrilling and beautiful story. Pictures are great too.I liked your comparison of a mountain with an old man’s beard as well as many other descriptions. I enjoyed reading your story.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jenna Colgrove
    November 20, 2017 at 1:49 PM

    this is genius!! i always struggle with this!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 4:47 AM

      Thanks, Jenna!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Melissa | Bubby and Bean
    November 20, 2017 at 3:46 PM

    These are great tips! I used to live at 10,000+ feet in Colorado and was fine; now whenever I go back I can feel the altitude. Drinking water helps me the most.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 4:50 AM

      Thanks, Melissa! Drinking water absolutely helps! I couldn’t imagine living at 10,000 feet above sea-level though (I’m a beach-girl but I guess after a while, you get used to the altitude). Hope you have a fabulous day! xx – Anshula

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Ashley DTKAustin
    November 20, 2017 at 4:33 PM

    This is such a great and informative post. Definitely saving this for later! I used to go to Colorado a few times a year and never had this issue until I got older!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 4:51 AM

      Thank you so much, Ashley! I hope these tips help when you revisit. Happy travels! xx – Anshula

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Sabrina Tan
    November 20, 2017 at 6:15 PM

    Love these tips!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 4:51 AM

      Thanks, Sabrina!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Patty
    November 20, 2017 at 7:53 PM

    Thank you for these tips because I struggle with these!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 4:52 AM

      I truly hope they help, Patty! Wishing you a fantastic day! xx – Anshula

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Nicky
    November 20, 2017 at 9:05 PM

    Thanks for sharing all the tips! Will bear it in mind!
    Nicky x

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 4:53 AM

      Hope they help, Nicky! xx – Anshula

      Reply
  • Avatar
    KatWalkSF
    November 20, 2017 at 9:20 PM

    Using this for my trip to Tahoe!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 4:56 AM

      Thank you! Lake Tahoe is 6,000 feet above ground so just be sure to drink loads of water ? I’m sure your trip will be absolutely fabulous! Happy travels! xx – Anshula

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Brittney
    November 20, 2017 at 10:19 PM

    Yess! I always load up on vitamins before traveling!


    Brittney
    Missxbo.com

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 4:59 AM

      Yes! That is one of my favourite tips! Happy travels! xx – Anshula

      Reply
  • Avatar
    cocorosa
    November 21, 2017 at 12:11 AM

    This is such a great list with tips, I had no idea about the foods! xoxo

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 5:01 AM

      Thank you so much! Oxygen-rich foods are super helpful for dealing with AMS! xx – Anshula

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Karlee
    November 21, 2017 at 4:52 AM

    I feel like I was having trouble breathing while reading about this haha! I really like the idea of starting off slow and gradually working into especially the first day and with the sleeping arrangements I wouldn’t have thought to look for hotels within a certain sea level of where I came from!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      anshula.varma
      November 22, 2017 at 5:04 AM

      Oh, dear (I’ll work on hazier descriptions next time ?) . Going about it gradually is perfect for first-time high-altitude travelers (I sincerely wish I had done that on my first mountain escapade but I guess we all learn from our mistakes). I’m so glad that you liked the tips, Karlee! Happy travels! xx – Anshula

      Reply

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