One of the highest points you can drive to in the continental United States, Pike’s Peak has been a road trip destination since 1901 when the first car (a two-cylinder Locomobile Steamer) made its way to the 14,110-foot summit. Opened as a toll road in 1915, the Pike’s Peak Highway ($10-15 toll per person, depending on the season) now winds its way to the top—climbing nearly 7,000 vertical feet in under 20 miles, with no guardrails to comfort you or block the amazing 360-degree Rocky Mountain panorama. The road is now owned and operated by the city of Colorado Springs; go early, before the clouds and haze build up, for the best long-distance views.
And if the views aren’t enough, another good reason to climb Pike’s Peak is that to get there you pass through the delightful old resort town of Manitou Springs. A national historic district, Manitou Springs has all the grand hotels, hot springs, tourist traps, and cave tours you could want, plus what may be my favorite pinball arcade in the entire world: The barely advertised Arcade Amusement Inc. (930 Manitou Ave., 719/685-9815, free) whose penny arcade houses dozens of ancient machines in perfect working order, some still charging the same penny, nickel, or dime that they did in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. The nearby Sahara Café (954 Manitou Ave., 719/685-2303) is a great Middle Eastern place, open more than 20 years, and the Cliff House Hotel (306 Canon Ave., 719/785-1000) is a gorgeous Victorian-era landmark, one of the nation’s classic old hotels.
Besides the Victoriana, Manitou Springs is also the home of the classic “car culture” motor courts cabins of the El Colorado Lodge (23 Manitou Ave., 719/685-5485, $60 and up), arrayed around four acres of pine trees, with fireplaces, a pool, and a horseshoe pit.
North of Manitou Springs, the 1,350-acre Garden of the Gods (daily, free) is a photogenic geological outcropping of red sandstone spires, some rising to heights of 300 feet.