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Colorado Springs is a Rocky Mountain Winner

You might just discover some untapped Olympic potential in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

This city is home to not only the U.S. Olympic Training center but also extraordinary attractions like the recently opened U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum. The museum allows groups to digitally race previous Olympian athletes to compare their own speed.

The mountain town features other new experiences, too, including the current renovations of the Garden of the Gods Park and the Pikes Peak Summit Complex.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum

Opened in July 2020, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum has a 30-meter racetrack for an interactive virtual race. The digital Olympic athletes usually fly by participants to illustrate the true speed of these events. 

“The whole premise of the museum is to celebrate the legacy of Team USA’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes,” said Alexea Veneracion, communications manager for Visit Colorado Springs. “There are a lot of interactive things you can do. You don’t just read about exhibits; you get to try things out. You can hold the equipment of an event, and it feels like you are really doing the sport.”

Participants can try digital forms of alpine skiing, archery, goalball, skeleton and sled hockey. To feel like a true Olympian, the museum also simulates a 360-degree, shoulder-to-shoulder walk with Team USA members during an opening ceremonies event.

A theater at the entrance of the museum introduces guests to the Olympic Movement. The $91 million museum remains accessible throughout the experience so people of all abilities can fully participate. 

A complete set of Olympic torches from 1936 to the present shows off the tradition’s long history. Stories from past athletes make the experience more personal with artifacts, media and technology.

Garden of the Gods

Construction is underway to make the visitor experience at Garden of the Gods Park even more enjoyable. Once the construction is complete, the National Natural Landmark will have a revamped entrance, a new bathroom facility and other updates.

The Garden of the Gods Park will never need to improve on the essentials: dramatic 300-foot sandstone rocks set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The most-visited attraction in the region has attracted attention since surveyors explored the site in 1859. One of the surveyors suggested the site was fit for the gods, which is how the park first got its name.

To discover how the towering red, pink and white rocks originated, visitors can travel back millennia in less than 15 minutes at the Geo-Trekker Theater. The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center also offers other educational exhibits on the park’s natural history and Native American connections. Two new exhibit halls were added in 2015 to make the experience more interactive.

Groups can choose how to see the ancient rocks. The 1.5-mile Perkins Central Garden Trail is a paved and accessible trail through some of the most impressive formations. Guided tours, such as an electric bike tour, a horseback riding tour, a Segway tour or a jeep tour, can add to the experience. Step-on guides are also available for motorcoaches.

“A lot of groups like to stop at Balance Rock,” said Veneracion. “It’s a great photo op for groups. We also see a lot of groups stop at the gift shop and cafe for some local art and great food.”

Flying W Ranch

In 2012, a fire destroyed most of the Flying W Ranch, a chuck-wagon dinner attraction. After eight years, the ranch reopened in 2020 to re-create the legacy of the original Flying W Ranch with the same home-cooked barbecue, baked beans, biscuits and cowboy singalongs. 

“Groups can eat, explore a beautiful property and listen to some good Western music,” said Veneracion. “They have built an incredible indoor space for groups. They can host private parties or other events there.”

Originally a mountain cattle ranch built in 1947, the ranch became a tourist attraction in 1953. The rebuilt ranch remains true to its Old West past with historic demonstrations in Navajo rug weaving, silversmithing, horseshoeing and hat-making.

The ranch’s Flying W Wranglers are the second-oldest Western singing band in the world. Their harmonies, instrumentation and loud yodels have returned to the ranch for engaging performances. The traveling group has performed for over 7 million people since 1953.

Depending on when groups visit, they can watch Native American traditional dances and other special events. The ranch’s season runs from May to October. The site will soon open a donkey barn, animal activities and garden areas as part of the experience.

Pikes Peak

A timeless view will meet with modern and updated facilities at the Pikes Peak Summit Complex. The facilities will reopen later this year with the same expansive landscapes from the iconic 14,000-foot-tall mountain.

This year will also bring the reopening of the Broadmoor Manitou and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has added new trains, a depot and a track.

The attraction originated when Zalmon G. Simmons had an epiphany at the top of Pikes Peak. The mattress company millionaire reached the summit after an arduous ride on the back of a mule in the 1880s. After declaring the beauty marvelous but the journey terrible, he began making the mountain accessible by rail. Constructing a railway in such high elevation proved challenging, but the railway was completed in 1890.

Guides reveal the history of the railway while passengers are on board. The ride climbs up the steep mountain past canyons, cascading streams and gigantic boulders. The eight-mile-per-hour ride provides plenty of time to take in the magnificent panoramas.

Once at the summit, visitors will walk into a new Summit Visitor Center with permanent indoor and outdoor exhibits on the mountain’s history, geography and conservation. 

“It was such an old attraction that it was time for a refresh,” said Veneracion. “It is a place the community has loved and enjoyed for so many years.”

A new cafe with several food options will also satisfy hungry travelers. The popular Summit Donuts will return for a high-elevation treat.