Guide To Visiting Manitou Springs in 24 Hours

ManitouSpringsFirstImageAt the front counter of the Poppy Seed, a small gift shop at the foothills of the Colorado Mountains, a tall, lanky man in an oversized t-shirt and baggy jeans leans against the counter, chatting up the woman behind it.

“Like, man, this place is, like, the grooviest,” he says, pausing. He laughs a little. “I’m having a rad day.”

Rad? Groovy? I look around the store at the racks of tie-dye t-shirts and shelves of Indian essence oils. Reggae music drums away. American flags line the wall. But outside, when we walked the streets earlier, the buildings were a pastel-coloured-style of elegant and Swiss-world European.

“Anshula,” you ask, a little confused. “Where have you brought me?”

I smile, sheepishly.

Manitou Springs is a small town, fifteen minutes outside of Colorado Springs, with a neat population of 5,000. Manitou is the essence of a hippie-paradise. Boho vibes. A new age soul. A little recreational marijuana. Ummm, never mind that (don’t worry, I didn’t try any, but it is legal here)…

Manitou is Colorado Springs void of chain stores, sprinkled with a cultivated mystic aura.

So how did we end up in this store next to a real-life Shaggy Rogers? Let’s rewind.

PIKES PEAK

Top Things to Do in Manitou Springs in 24 hours: Little Lakes Formed from Glaciers are so pretty!

Getting There

We wouldn’t miss Pikes Peak for anything.

But right now, we’re 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. We’re prisoners of the road, and while a few vehicles have swerved out and escaped, we breathe perseverance.

All good things come with patience. So they say. So we’ve heard. So we’ve been told. We’ll find out.

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.

PikesPeakLikeAnOldMan'sBeardSome 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.

Know Before You Go

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, it is easy to understand that getting to Pikes Peak is a wait. A long one. An hour rolls by slowly. And another. And another.

Eventually, the entrance booth is within sight, and in a few moments, we are side-by-side with the ticket-seller, a chipper gentleman sporting a Southern lilt. He smiles as we fork over $15 a piece before continuing our journey along the road.

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

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost

Best Stops for Photo-Ops

At the bend of the road, shades of blue start to emerge. The hues grow into a monotone expanse. Crystal Lake, known by fishing enthusiasts for its run of trout, is an easy-to-spot reservoir (one of three) at Pikes Peak.

We snap pictures. We listen to the calm silence of the water. And then, we’re back on the road. 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.

At its highest point, Pikes Peak is 42 degrees. Yes, even in the dead of summer, Pikes Peak begs sweater weather.

“Cause it’s too co-oh-oh-oh-old for you here and now….”  Singing Sweater Weather...cause sometimes, it just gets stuck in my head :)

Is it just me singing? I apologize.

PikesPeakViewFromForestEventually, the trees dissipate and the land is a slate of green. The mountains brood a different kind of enchantment now. As we reach the peak, they mold into a form more vampire-like than fairy-friendly. Slivers of powdered white fang down from wrinkles of ash-gray. The jagged edges of the peaks and the rough-cut mountain sides are iced with thick chunks. Engraved within the ice are names and messages.

“I love you. To my dear. My forever.”

Lovers, they do the darndest things. Personally, my love stops at engraving someone’s name in a chunk of ice thicker than Dudley Dursley when it is 50 degrees outside. Although, I might change my mind if I had a pickaxe (or two).

But I digress. As the ice melts, we see 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.

SpiderWebOfRoadsinPikesPeakRight now, the oxygen is too thin for us 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.

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

Ahh, heights. I love the views. I hate the feeling. Trust me, I’m confident that at 12,000 feet of elevation, I’m undergoing more freak-out moments than the narrator of the Tell-Tale Heart in his literary lifetime.SprawlingCityScapePikesPeakAt the summit, our breathing is short. A steady staccato. But we still get out of the car to see the view. There’s a cafe here. And a gift shop. For once, I feel like we deserve a kitschy treat to celebrate (Hello, world! We made it to the top with our hearts in our mouths!).

The gusts of wind are slaps of ice against our exposed skin. Okay, so Pikes Peak isn’t sweater weather, it’s polar bear jacket weather.

 Down, Down, Down

If the drive up was Dr. Henry Jekyll, then the drive back to the base is Mr. Hyde. For the next eighteen miles, the car pulls downwards.

“Don’t go too fast!” you scream. “Not that fast!”

“I’m only going twenty miles an hour,” I reply, hands shaking on the wheel. But I understand your sentiment. We wouldn’t want to ruin the brakes (or…ummm…run off the side of a mountain).

You twist and turn the giant brochure in your hands. The ticket-seller had given it to us earlier. But now, a little notice amongst a list of warnings catches your eyes.

“Wait, shift into low gear!” you yell.

“What?”

“Just do it.”

Low-Gear. Two words that will prevent us from landing in a personalized live-action version of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

At the halfway point, between mile markers 9 and 10, our car halts, stopped by a line of vehicles. A park ranger scans the car and motions for us to move to the campground.

Sigh. Our brakes overheated. Lesson learned: pay attention to the warnings.

 Coming Round the Mountain

Next up in Anshula’s life lessons, there is no such thing as boredom if you explore. Instead of waiting in the car for twenty minutes, we decide to climb up a small flight of stairs intersecting at the parking lot. We enter an open wooded pass. It’s empty here. Quiet. Just you and me and the trees.  AnshulaOnARockinPikesPeakWhile I could continue sitting quietly on a rock, contemplating the meaning of life, I instead decide to frolic amongst trees and become one with nature. #totallyunashamed

If I embarrassed you, I duly apologize. But sadly, you can’t run away from this crazy blogger because a) we have so much left to explore and b) I have the car keys Winking Face on Apple iOS 10.3.

At this point, you’re probably considering taking the Cog Railway, the “highest train in the USA”, back to the entrance. I understand. Driving up 14, 114 feet of elevation for over an hour, without Internet Connection (for the most part), has been tiring. The Cog Railway, on the other hand, is almost like a small group tour (not so much maneuvering on our part). But tickets do have to be purchased for a round trip.

Tip: If you decide to take the Cog Railway, be sure to book online or call well in advance because tickets run out about as fast as any new book published by J.K. Rowling.

Pikes Peak: 1-800-525-2250, Website, 9AM – 5PM (timings vary by season), max $15/adult

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK?

We’re heading to Manitou Springs’ historic district for the rest of the day. I know. I know. We’re hungry. We’re tired. But this is where we will eat, shop, and ultimately fall asleep with our heads face flat on a pillow.

Actually, let’s grab a light meal now. Manitou Springs’ Historic District is a breeding ground for innovative and upscale dining. And while most are high-end titles, there do exist a few budget options.

A Little Coffee Run

GoodKarmaI’m starting off by bringing you to a visitor favourite: the Sahara Cafe, a Mediterranean eatery less than a two minute walk from the ticket booth for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Based on its faded exterior and easy-to-miss sign, the Sahara Cafe doesn’t look like much. But inside, it’s all a hit: stunning service, fab food, delicious dessert. Must-tries include the kabobs and home-made ice-cream.

Good Karma is a local favourite, a coffee shop marked by its relaxing ambience. Imagine you are in an upscale rustic cabin. You’re sitting at a wooden table surrounded by stone walls. Look up, and your eyes are welcomed by a charming chandelier. You have a cup of roasted coffee resting in your hand and you’re reading your favourite book. Now, imagine the feeling that scenario gives you. Good Karma oozes just that feeling and it’s best described as…well, good karma. The coffee “lounge” (as they call it) certainly lives up to its name.

RedDogCafe Red Dog Coffee is Manitou’s cool, contemporary hangout. The food is decent. So is the price. So is the service. But what draws us to Red Dog is the logo. Red Dog Coffee’s logo is surprisingly not a red dog. In fact, it’s a black cat (wait…what???). We’re naturally confused at first, but our confusion eventually transforms into an Alice in Wonderland curiosity.

As we walk in, we realize that Red Dog is a pooch-obsessed person’s paradise. Locally drawn dog-art. A dog-mural. Dog-books. Yes, all things dog (I’m still curious about the cat logo). CM Coolidge’s Dogs Playing Poker series would completely fit here. And I’ll be honest, I was half-expecting to see those oil paintings somewhere on the walls. 

Sahara Cafe:  Website, 10AM – 9PM ,  954 Manitou Ave, Manitou Springs, CO 80829

Good Karma:  Website, 7AM – 3PM, 110 Canon Ave, Manitou Springs, CO 80829

Red Dog CoffeeWebsite, 7AM – 9PM, 739 Manitou Ave, Manitou Springs, CO 80829

Be Our Guest

MonaLisaFondueRestaurantManitou Springs is all about refined food. We’re not going to find a run-of-the-mill grab-and-go shop here. After all, this is a town that thrives on taking grub to an artisan level. The culmination of experience and taste is part of a deeply rooted package.

To start our fine dining experience, we head to The Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant. Don’t worry, we made reservations in advance. And yes, I know it is expensive, but tonight is the night to splurge (also, you can typically score a Groupon discount).

Now, I’ve never been fondue-ing (as Steve Rogers would call it), but the Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant exceeds all expectations. It is more of an experience than a meal. The wait staff is enthusiastic and the whole fondue process is explained to us with poised fervor. If you can get over the fact that “fondue is just cheese and bread, my friend” (seriously though, The First Avenger never failed to make me crave fondue), then the Mona Lisa is a must. 

Up next, Border Burger Bar. I’ve always thought burgers were bread, meat, a slab of veggies, and more bread. But Border Burger Bar plays with the craft of burger-making by toying with cultural immersions. There’s the All-American, The Japanese, The Cuban, and the K-town Dog. Barbecued buns. A smother of internationally-style sauce. A balance of fresh-cut vegetables, spiced and zested. Border Burger Bar borders brilliance.

Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant:  Website, 5 – 8:30PM ,  733 Manitou Ave, Manitou Springs, CO 80829

Border Burger Bar:  Website, 11AM – 10PM ,  819 Manitou Ave, Manitou Springs, CO 80829

THINGS TO DO IN MANITOU SPRINGS IN 24 HOURS

PrettyBuildingsI get it, you’re full. At this point, you feel like a balloon ready to pop. I know, I definitely do. But there are still quite a few hours left before we hit the haystack (or Spring Stack or Manitou Stack…never mind).

Option One: The cliff dwellings in Manitou Springs. These Anasazi ruins date back to 1200.

“But Anshula,” you say. “There were no Anasazi in Manitou Springs.”

And you would be absolutely right. Yes, the Anasazi did live in the four corners region of USA (this knowledge may or may not be the product of watching too much Scooby Doo as a child), but Manitou Springs does have a museum that features actual collapsed stones, shipped to the region, and used for reconstructing history.

And while museums are up my alley, I’m a little too full to walk (or much less drive) all the way there. Instead, let’s make the most of the Historic District. After all, we’re here now. We’ve gotten to know the area a little through food. Let’s see what else the district has to offer.MemorialParkA cute gazebo. Statues all around. A winding creek. Memorial Park is the fantasy neighborhood-style park we’ve been looking for. It’s cute. It’s small. But it still has charm (and is perhaps the best place for us to lose a few pounds gained from an all-too large lunch). We walk around for a bit…sit down on a bench and stare at the mountains peeking out from the trees.

MountainPeekWhew! What a view!

Then, we just stroll around the area. We walk into every store we can. There’s one that sells clothing from the Far East: silk and cotton saris, Buddhist statues, and small figurines. There’s another that has a unique showcase of hand-crafted local art, a hodgepodge of heavy-stroked paintings and smooth pottery. There’s even an apothecary (aptly title Apothecary).

Guide to Manitou Springs in 24 hours: Green Horse Gallery in Manitou SpringsJust walking in this district is other-wordly. Hidden street art. Busy canals. Pastel coloured buildings offset with uniform white highlights. The grunge-European-meets-Eastern vibe starts to build up.

StreetArtAnd of course, there are the springs. Yes, there are actual springs in Manitou Springs. Eight to be exact. You can drink from them (they are rumoured to have magical healing properties). Personally, I find the idea of sharing a faucet with a million other tourists a little revolting, but searching for the mini fountains, tucked away behind statues and against shrubbery is a satisfying scavenger hunt in itself.

At the end of the street, at the foothills of the Colorado Mountains, is a small gift shop. We can see the sun begin to set from the window. The sky is ablaze.

The shop is called The Poppy Seed. And at the front counter, a tall, lanky man in an oversized t-shirt and baggy jeans leans against the counter, chatting up the woman behind it. 

“Like, man, this place is, like, the grooviest,” he says, pausing. He laughs a little. “I’m having a rad day.”

Rad? Groovy? We smile. Our day in Manitou Springs has definitely been “rad” and “groovy”. In fact, there are no better words to describe this small town.

Did you enjoy this guide to Manitou Springs? Have you ever been to Manitou Springs? Let me know in the comments below! As always, I love hearing from you!

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Nuraini
    August 2, 2017 at 2:37 PM

    Wow, what a beautifully narrated story… your writing draws into the moment so well.

    • Reply
      anshula.varma
      August 2, 2017 at 4:21 PM

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate your comment! 🙂 xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    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
      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
    Clare
    August 2, 2017 at 5:28 PM

    Great post! Makes me want to go back to Colorado!

    • Reply
      anshula.varma
      August 6, 2017 at 3:46 PM

      Thanks, Clare! I want to go back to Colorado too! It is such a pretty state! ☺️ xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    This Epic World
    August 2, 2017 at 6:07 PM

    Haha! I loved your article! Its so entertaining! I absolutely love your humourous tone. And the photos? They are oh-so-gorgeous! To be honest, I’d never even heard about Manitou. But after reading this article, you have sold me the place!

    • Reply
      anshula.varma
      August 6, 2017 at 3:48 PM

      You are so sweet! ☺️ Infinite thank-yous! I’m so glad you liked my writing and photography! I really hope you get a chance to visit Manitou Springs someday! Best of luck with your travels! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Jennifer Lund
    August 2, 2017 at 9:57 PM

    The fondue restaurant looked interesting! I also love a good cafe where you can get freshly roasted coffee beans. I stumbled across a cafe in Thailand called Chum Coffee. I wrote a piece on it here if you want to check it out- https://antipodeanjen.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/antipodean-tastes-thailand/
    This coffee shop reminded me of the cafe you were talking about called Good Karma.

  • Reply
    Alice ford
    August 3, 2017 at 2:41 AM

    Colorado is full of hippies and I love that you found one at your first stop. I also really enjoyed your writing style, like we were right there with you.

    • Reply
      anshula.varma
      August 6, 2017 at 3:52 PM

      Thank you so much, Alice! Colorado is absolutely full of hippies and I’m glad I got to discover that culture within the state during the visit! I don’t get to see true hippie culture very often and it was very interesting to see the crossroads of Far East meets West. ? xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Jen
    August 3, 2017 at 3:37 AM

    Gorgeous views! And I love the Anasazi aspect, it’s always enlightening to delve into the region’s culture and history. Thanks for the tips!

    • Reply
      anshula.varma
      August 6, 2017 at 3:55 PM

      The views are indeed stunning! I like that although the Anasazi aren’t traditionally from Manitou, the museum brings to life a different regional culture (Anasazi are from the four corners region so it was nice to see the museum a little up north) ! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Aarti Kamath
    August 3, 2017 at 6:10 AM

    Yeah, those mountains do have a look of an old man’s beard!! Haha! .. Beautiful views no doubt! .. Did you have a good time at the fondue restaurant? 🙂

    • Reply
      anshula.varma
      August 6, 2017 at 3:57 PM

      It was absolutely beautiful. The fondue restaurant is exquisite. I love the idea of experience integrated with good food. ? xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Ada
    August 3, 2017 at 4:00 PM

    Manitou Springs seems like a lovely place! I ve been in Colorado ones, well not really been, I just drove though and at night so I couldn’t see anything! I hope I can go back there one day and explore beautiful places like this way! Your photos are amazing !

  • Reply
    Dominique
    August 3, 2017 at 6:17 PM

    Wow what a view!! I’d love to visit and these photos make me so excited!

  • Reply
    Delphine
    August 3, 2017 at 11:03 PM

    Some great views in this post, thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    Annie @ Annie's Noms
    August 4, 2017 at 10:18 AM

    A Fondue restaurant?!?! I need to go there!! Pikes Peak looks absolutely beautiful! Visiting the US has been on my bucket list for years and the list of places to visit is just getting longer and longer!

  • Reply
    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
    Danielle
    August 4, 2017 at 2:05 PM

    This looks like it would be a fun day. The views, the quaint restaurants, and the groovy store, would all make for a day of reflection, plus fun and adventure.

  • Reply
    yukti AGRAWAL
    August 4, 2017 at 9:28 PM

    Gorgeous views from top. Your photos of Manitou springs are stunning. Very detailed description about what to do and how to reach this place.

  • Reply
    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
    Mike
    August 7, 2017 at 2:08 PM

    Nice writeup. Great pics.

  • Reply
    Danielle @ Follow My Gut
    August 15, 2017 at 2:56 AM

    Your photos are so awesome and you make me want to take a trip. Aaahhhh how do you do it?!?!?!?

    • Reply
      anshula.varma
      November 18, 2017 at 10:51 PM

      Thank you so much, lovely! I hope you get a chance to visit someday!

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