Pikes Peak

It’s no surprise that when Katherine Lee Bates first stood atop the summit of Pikes Peak in 1893 she wrote what became the first lines of “America the Beautiful”. Dubbed “America’s Mountain”, Pikes Peak is an icon of Colorado and of the Rocky Mountains as a whole. Standing an imposing 14,115 feet high, the mountain is unique in its accessibility. Visitors can opt to drive the 19-mile winding paved Pikes Peak Highway to the summit, relax and enjoy the view via a ride on the historic Pikes Peak Cog Railway, or hike the Barr Trail to truly experience spacious skies on purple mountain’s majesty.

Seasonal Info

Pikes Peak Highway, trails and the cog railway are open year-round, weather permitting.

Pikes Peak as seen from Garden of the Gods

Pikes Peak Highway

Pikes Peak hairpin turn

The 19-mile paved toll road and National Scenic Byway twists and turns to the 14,115 ft summit of Pikes Peak. Constructed in 1915, it is one of just two paved roads that summit a 14er in Colorado, and has continually been one of the most popular attractions in the state.

Timed-entry reservations are required to drive to the summit of Pikes Peak from approx May – September.

They can be acquired up to a month in advance and you can enter the road anytime within the allotted 2-hour window.

Hiking Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak Aerial Photo

You have two options if you decide to hike to the summit of Pikes Peak – Crags Trail or the Barr Trail. While Crags Trail is the shorter option, Barr Trail is the most popular way to the summit on foot.

Barr Trail:

At 13 miles one way, Barr Trail can be done in a day, although many hikers will spend two days, with one night spent at Barr Camp. You will need an advance reservation to stay overnight at Barr Camp – around 6.5 miles into your hike – which includes breakfast. Rates for Barr Camp vary from $15 for a tent site to $40 for a spot in the main cabin (with a mattress) to $100 + $20 per person to reserve the upper cabin.

Crags Trail:

While not as popular as Barr Trail, the journey up Pikes Peak via Crags Trail is shorter and has less elevation gain overall. At 13.6 miles roundtrip, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Continental Divide on your journey to 14,115 ft.

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Also known as “The Race to the Clouds”, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb claims the title of the second-oldest auto race in America. Professional drivers race up a 12.42-mile section of the toll road with 156 turns climbing 4,720 ft — sometimes quite literally through the clouds — to reach the 14,115 ft summit. 

Hill Climb FAQ

The first race took place in 1916.

The race is always held on the last Sunday of June.

The race spans 12.42 miles of the 19 mile highway.

French driver Romain Dumas set the current race record in 2018 at 07:57.148, in a prototype electric Volkswagen.

Pike's Peak Highway Road

A Brief History of Pikes Peak

11,000 BC – Clovis people inhabited the area, followed more recently by Arapahos, Utes, Cheyennes, and Comanches.

1806 – Lt. Zebulon Pike, commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to explore the Great Plains, first laid eyes on Pikes Peak from a distance and later said that it would be impossible for man to scale. It was given the name “Highest Peak” at the time.

1820 – The first recorded summit of Pikes Peak was completed by Dr. Edwin James. 

1858 – Prospectors began traveling to the area during the Colorado gold rush. The phrase, “Pikes Peak or Bust” was painted on some, as the first sight of the mountain meant they were nearing the end of their journey to the Rockies.

1873 – Original Summit House was constructed atop Pikes Peak.

1888 – The Pikes Peak Carriage Road was built, allowing private vehicles access for $1 or $5 for a ride on the carriage line. 

1891 – The first train on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway reached the summit.

1893 – Poet and Professor Katherine Lee Bates composed the poem that would become the song “America the Beautiful” after summiting and being inspired by Pikes Peak.

1915 – Pikes Peak Highway was completed at a cost of half a million dollars, aided by Spencer Penrose and other investors. 

Pikes Peak Highway toll road entrance with toll house and press car

1916 – The first Pikes Peak International Hill Climb takes place to promote the newly paved road and bring tourism to Spencer Penrose’s Broadmoor Hotel at the base of the mountain. 

1961 – The portion of Pikes Peak above 14,000 ft was declared a National Historic Landmark.

2021 – New Summit House and visitors center opens to the public, continuing to serve their famous high-altitude donuts. 

Pikes Peak Cog Railway

The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway (usually just known as the Pikes Peak Cog Railway) is the world’s highest cog railway – and one of just three that are left in operation in the United States. After being completed in 1891, the railway has been a busy tourist attraction for over 100 years. Operating continually until 2017 when it closed for extensive renovations and refurbishment, the cog railway is back open, bringing passengers through many different landscapes on a ride they won’t soon forget.

Pikes Peak Railway Train Ascending Mountain
view following train up cog railway on Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak Cog Railway FAQ

The ride to the summit takes approximately one hour. There is a stop at the summit visitor center for an hour, followed by a 40-minute ride back down the mountain.

Reserved in advance, standard admission is $58.50 per person and $48.50 for children 12 and under. Reserved seat admission is $71 for adults and $61 for children, while engineer view admission is $81 for adults and $71 for children. Prices last updated spring 2023.

The cog railway operates year-round, weather permitting. There are several departures per day.

The railway uses a cog system, which allows the train to climb steep inclines by engaging a cogwheel that runs along a central track. This system allows the train to climb the steep grades of the mountain without slipping or losing traction. The train is also equipped with powerful brakes to ensure passenger safety during the descent.

Pikes Peak seen through hole in the rocks at Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs

References & Credits

Images Credits: Denver Public Library Special Collections/Harry Mellon Rhoads [Rh-726], Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division/Carol M. Highsmith | More info