In 1901, a two-cylinder Locomobile Steamer was the first car to make its way to the 14,115-ft (4,302-m) summit of Pike’s Peak, one of the highest points in the continental United States. People have been making road trips here ever since. Opened as a toll road in 1915, the Pikes Peak Highway ($10 per person, $35 per carload toll) now winds its way to the top—climbing nearly 7,000 vertical ft (2,134 m) in under 20 mi (32 km), 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), which has a penny arcade that 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 at Pikes Peak (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, $105 and up), arrayed around 4 ac (1.6 ha) of pine trees, with fireplaces, a pool, and a horseshoe pit.
North of Manitou Springs, the 1,350-ac (546-ha) Garden of the Gods (daily, free) is a photogenic geological outcropping of red sandstone spires, some rising to heights of 300 ft (91 m).