One of our last stops before heading home was Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, just outside of Cañon City, Colorado. The Royal Gorge itself is one of those places you see with your eyes but can’t truly comprehend. The magnitude of the chasm and the beauty of the mountains are enough to make the trip worthwhile. But then to walk across this immense suspension bridge spanning the gap is an experience like no other. They are absolutely right when they say Royal Gorge Bridge and Park combines God’s splendor with man’s ingenuity.
It had been a long time since I’d visited, and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to bring my kids to experience the wonder of one of the highest suspension bridges in the world. We are so grateful to Royal Gorge Bridge and Park for hosting us. Though we did receive complimentary tickets, please remember that our opinions are always our own.
When we first got there, before we set foot on the bridge, I had to just look at it for a while. This thing was completed in 1929. Read that again and let it sink in. They are currently celebrating their 90th anniversary! I can only imagine what it was like building a bridge like this in 1929. Then to see it stand today, just as tall, and sturdy, and proud as ever is pretty awe-inspiring. Let me also point out that it was built by a Texan. Can’t leave that fact out!
Looking straight out, walking across the bridge is no big deal. Sure, it creaks and sways a little in the wind, but it still looks and feels sturdy. Looking straight, it feels like any other pedestrian bridge, just with, you know, incredible views.
But if you happen to look down, it is a completely different story. The walkway of the bridge is made of thick wooden planks. Some of them touch, but many of them have gaps between that allow you to look down… down… down into the gorge where you can often get a great view of the Arkansas River below. Nine-hundred and fifty-six feet below, to be exact. Looking down can be dizzying, and terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. A word to my wise, acrophobic friends: Just don’t look down. You’ll be fine.
Maybe it was built by a Texan, but spread across the bridge are flags to represent every state in the US. When you go, make sure to find your state flag. Hint: They’re in alphabetical order.
Once you’ve crossed the bridge or gondola and made it to the south rim, more family fun awaits. There are the Royal Rush Skycoaster, a free-fall over the gorge, and the Cloudscraper Zip Line, the highest zip line in the US. We would have also loved to do the Royal Gorge Via Ferrata tour, to do some climbing and see the gorge from another perspective. Our kids were too little so this time we had to skip those attractions, but Harper, our little adrenaline junkie, can’t wait until she is big enough.
We did, however, get to thoroughly enjoy Tommy Knocker Playland. The 3 story playhouse, complete with nets, slides and most importantly, shade, was quite a hit with all the families that day.
I’m surprised the bell on the kid-sized trains were still working after Hudson figured them out!
But I think our family favorite at Tommy Knocker Playland was the carousel. The kids loved the ride itself, but Dustin and I marveled at the view.
There is also the Plaza Theater where you can catch a little bit of the history of the bridge and park, as well as Elk Park Amphitheater with live music every day, all summer long. There are multiple places to grab food and refreshments throughout the park, as well as unique gift shops with souvenirs ranging from the traditional t-shirts to wax casts of your hands.
But one of the main reasons to visit Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is simply for the scenery. They have multiple lookout areas, each with a different view to offer. I wish we’d had more time to see the bridge from every angle, but my children were way more interested in the carousel than the scenery. Kids these days…
At the end of our visit, we took the gondola back across to the Visitor Center. They had suggested we take the gondola across first, enjoy the south rim, and then work our way back across the bridge, but there was a decent-sized line for the gondola at the Visitors Center. We thought we were being smart by working in the opposite direction, because surely the lines would be shorter on the other side. We were right about the lines being shorter, but what we didn’t realize was that the hills to get to the gondola were absolutely killer. Had we listened and taken the gondola first, we would have only had to walk downhill. You live and you learn. Luckily, the views made the hike worthwhile.
Because I am no longer a Colorado resident, and because it had been such a long time since our last visit, I had no idea there had ever been a fire in the gorge. To read that in 2013, 90% of the park had burned, but the bridge still stood is phenomenal to me. They have done a great job of rebuilding, but I love that they used the charred planks on portions of the Visitor Center as a reminder of their legacy.
Our tips for an enjoyable visit:
~Purchase your admission and attraction tickets online to receive a discount. They will also validate your tickets for free admission the following day!
~Go early or late in the day. Avoid the crowds, avoid the heat, enjoy your visit.
~Take the gondola first. Don’t be like us. The bridge will still be there. We remembered there were lots of hills, but had forgotten that they were practically vertical. Taking them downhill would have been much much easier.
~Wear good walking shoes. Even if you’re smart and work your way downhill, the trails can be steep.
~Drink lots of water and wear lots of sunscreen. Altitude sickness is real and it sucks, and water can help prevent it. Being a fairly arid region, there isn’t a ton of shade and that sun is intense.
~Do it all. The gondola, the Cloudscraper Zip Line, the Royal Rush Skycoaster, the Via Ferrata tour… You only live once!
~Find your state flag on the bridge. You know you want to!
~Stay at the lodge. This trip was too last-minute for us, but could you imagine enjoying your morning coffee with that view?!
~See the gorge from every vantage point. There are so many different lookout points and you need to see them all!
Planning a Colorado trip? Here’s a few other family-friendly activities we enjoyed in the area.