One of the big things I wanted to do in Colorado with my kids was to ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad to the summit of Pikes Peak. Luckily I happened to look it up online because they are currently closed for refurbishment until 2021! I know my kids (and I) would have loved the train, but this time we were driving the Pikes Peak Highway!
To be completely honest, I was kind of dreading this drive. Switchbacks tend to make me car sick and I was certain there would be a ton. Plus we were heading up to 14,115 feet! Surely that was going to take us forever! I was worried about one of us getting altitude sickness, I was worried about there being traffic or bad weather, I was worried about the car going off a cliff… you know, normal mom stuff. But when we got to this sign just a few miles in I realized I needed to lighten up.
This man gets me. I went to take a picture of the sign and he posed without any prompting.
The drive from the gateway to the summit is about 20 miles. It’s amazing how drastically the scenery changes in such a short drive.
I always think it’s so cool to see the timberline. Every time I think, “If trees can’t grow here, then what the heck am I doing up this high?!”
Trees on one side of the road… No trees on the other.
See the snow?! I’ve obviously been living in Texas long enough that snow is really exciting. Especially in the summer!
About 45 minutes later, we made it to the top! They have shuttles at different points along the road that can take you the rest of the way up, but my chauffeur was pretty comfortable doing the entire drive himself. I knew about the cog railway renovation, but when we pulled into the summit house parking lot I thought we’d made a wrong turn into a construction site. Apparently, they are building a whole new complex up there. Click here to see more about the highest ongoing construction site on the continent! Pretty interesting stuff if you ask me.
The views are absolutely incredible up there. As a matter of fact, this scenery inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful,” well over 120 years ago. My children, however, did not care. Hudson just wanted to play on the cogwheel train tracks and Harper just wanted to visit the gift shop. Ask me if I was surprised…
I was so excited to get a picture of this rainbow! If only I’d known what was in store later on…
Pikes Peak Summit House is known for the amazingly delicious donuts and their secret high altitude recipe. Supposedly, if you take them any further down the mountain they won’t taste as good because the change in air pressure changes their composition. We wouldn’t know. Hudson ate them all.
We were getting ready to head back down when we noticed some clouds rolling in. We went outside to take a few more pictures and to watch them for a minute when a park ranger came out and told everyone we needed to get going. He said the weather could get dangerous. It just looked like some white, wispy clouds to me, but we hit the road anyway.
Probably less than a mile later, the hail started.
Luckily my husband is pretty good at driving on mountain roads (where did this flatlander pick up such skills?!), but we were also thankful for this brake check on the road back down the mountain. They check the temperature of your brakes and if they’re too hot they have you pull off and let them cool down before you can continue. Dustin just got a “good job” from the ranger.
We saw a marmot in the distance (the rodent variety, not the outerwear) when we were still near the summit but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera. But I was ready(ish) when we saw this deer!
We saw another rainbow and had to stop and get a few pics with the unicorn princess.
Then we realized it was a double rainbow!
The further down the mountain we went, the brighter and brighter the rainbow got. People were stopping all over the place, even in the middle of the road to stare at it. This was probably the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen in person and it was the perfect way to end our day driving the Pikes Peak Highway.
Tips for driving the Pikes Peak Highway:
~Fill up before you start. There are no gas stations along the Pikes Peak highway but the trip can be pretty grueling on your car.
~Drink lots of water. Again, this is a great way to try to prevent altitude sickness. There are restrooms at the summit.
~Bring a light jacket (even in the summer). Remember, you’re at 14, 115 feet. Or you can just try to admire the view from the summit house.
~Allow 3-4 hours round trip. If you allow yourself enough time there’s no need to rush. You could do it much faster then we did, but what’s the point in going if you’re not going to enjoy the view?
~The speed limit is 25mph. Hence the time allotment.
~Get the donuts but skip the hot chocolate. Just trust me.
~Use low gear on the way down so you don’t wear out your brakes. This would be a bad place for brake failure.
Planning a Colorado trip? Here’s a few other family-friendly activities we enjoyed in the area.