Garden of the Gods Park: Colorado Springs, Colorado


In 1859 surveyor Rufus Cable came upon the inspiring landscape that is now the crown jewel of Colorado Springs's park system and proclaimed it "a fit place for the gods to assemble." Twenty-seven years later legislation was introduced in Congress proposing that the area be made the nation's second national park. The bill would have been approved had the land not been privately owned at the time, making it ineligible.

Designated Area

Visitor center entrance to the 1,323-acre park is located at 1805 North 30th St.

Fifteen miles of trails, including a 1.5-mile wheelchair-accessible loop, provide recreational opportunities for 2 million visitors a year. Photo credit: Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center.

Planning Excellence

Garden of the Gods attracts visitors from all 50 states and 60 countries who come to hike, bike, climb, and ride horses. Located on the western edge of Colorado Springs, the park was a gift to the city in 1909 from the family of railroad executive and Colorado Springs resident Charles Elliot Perkins. The only restrictions were that the land be used as a free public park, that no buildings or structures be added except those necessary for maintenance, that alcohol not be permitted in the park, and that the name not be changed.

A designated Department of the Interior National Natural Landmark for its illustrative geology, the park sits at the junction of three ecosystems: Great Plains grasslands, Southwestern piƱon-juniper woodlands, and mountain forests. Dramatic-looking rock formations in the park show the majestic formation of the Front Range Mountains from the Great Plains and offer views of Pikes Peak less than 10 miles away.

In 1995 Lyda Hill, a philanthropist and businesswoman who owned the land east of the park, proposed a public-private partnership that resulted in a new visitor center being located just outside the park on her land. Since it opened, the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center has contributed more than $1.6 million for park maintenance and educational activities.

Between Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak, the area has 300 million years of geologic history. Photo credit: Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Ecological and cultural history

  • Retired biology professor Richard Beidleman notes that the park is "the most striking contrast between plains and mountains in North America" with respect to biology, geology, climate, and scenery
  • Between Garden of the Gods and neighboring Pikes Peak, the area has 300 million years of geologic history; red sandstone formations most striking
  • Dinosaur species Theiophytalia kerri found in the park in 1878; studies of the skull in 2006 reveal it to be a new species; named for the park and discoverer
  • A honey ant never before recorded discovered in 1879 and named for the park
  • Mule deer, bighorn sheep, and fox abound; park home to more than 130 species of birds including white-throated swifts, swallows, canyon wrens
  • Historic rock inscriptions, called the "Register of the Rockies," document visitors to the park from the early 1800s; park was a "cultural crossroads" of explorers, gold-seekers, railroad builders, tourists

Master plan, citizen participation

  • 1994 park master plan emphasizes conservation, preservation and restoration; park used open, public process to develop plan, which incorporates Ian McHarg's "design with nature" principles and guidelines
  • Plan implementation included removing man-made structures and concessions from inside the park, and redeveloping a network of unmarked trails into several core trails to reduce erosion and manage overuse
  • Public-private partnership among for-profit Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, the Garden of the Gods Foundation, and the City of Colorado Springs ensures sustained funds and support for maintenance
  • Volunteers with Friends of the Garden of the Gods and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute provide thousands of hours of park maintenance each year
  • Local mountain biking group helps keep unauthorized trails from being created and used

Recreational hotspot

  • City's most visited park; attracts more than 2 million visitors a year
  • More than 15 miles of trails; popular for hiking, technical rock climbing, road and mountain biking, horseback riding
  • A 1.5-mile trail through the heart of the park is paved and wheelchair accessible
  • Annual events include two summer running races, recreational bike rides; inaugural U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge Prologue held in park (2011)
  • Park includes Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site (admission charge), a living history farm and museum recounting life and times of pioneers, early settlers
  • 20 minutes from downtown Colorado Springs; accessible by car, bicycle, and bus (with bicycle racks); two bus stops located 1.5 and 1.8 miles from park entrance

Garden of the Gods is popular among rock climbers and cyclists. The 1994 park master plan called for provisions to conserve and restore the park and manage overuse. Photo credit: Flickr user iagoarchangel, Creative Commons license.