Pikes Peak is one of the most famous mountains in the US. America's mountain offers visitors a combination of cultural significance, an exhilarating drive, and magnificent views that are truly unique. There's more than one way for you to get all the way to the mountain top for the spectacular views.
We visited Pikes Peak a few years ago and I got to drive the entire way up - and then back down again! I have a few tips to share - based on our own experiences - that should help make the most of your visit to America's mountain.
This post has been edited to reflect the addition of a visitors center at the summit.
Colorado is famous for its mountains. The Colorado Rocky Mountains are very high, many of the peaks reaching heights above 14K feet. Avid mountain climbers love these peaks, locally known as "Fourteeners".
Many Colorado climbers go for something called "Fourteener Bagging" which is basically climbing to the top of as many of these mountains as you can.
Pikes Peak provides us, mere mortals, with a rare opportunity to bag a fourteener! With a paved road going all the way up to the peak, this is your chance to breathe in some real - and very thin - mountain air.
There are several things you have to know before you go there, though, to make sure your visit is both enjoyable and safe.
1. Pikes Peak is easy to reach
Pikes Peak is in Colorado, fairly close to one of the state's largest cities, Colorado Springs. There's a lot to do and see in and around Colorado Springs, so if you're planning a trip to Pikes Peak, make sure you include at least a couple of days for some sightseeing around town.
Pikes Peak is really close to town. It will take you about twenty minutes to drive from the center of Colorado Springs to the Pikes Peak Highway toll booth.
2. Pikes Peak is an American Icon
In the late 19th century, Pikes Peak inspired poet Katharine Lee Bates to write a song. At first, she named it "Pikes Peak" and later the title changed to "America The Beautiful". This patriotic song, celebrating the beauty of the United States is considered akin to the national anthem and Pikes Peak thus became known as "America's Mountain".
If like us, you're not an American, take a few minutes to read up on the song or at least listen to it here. It will make your visit to the summit all the more special.
When visiting Pikes Peak stop for a minute to appreciate the poem, engraved on a plaque at the top of the mountain -
3. This is not a National Park
What that means is that you can't use your annual national parks card to save money. Somewhat ironic, considering the card is called "America The Beautiful" but since you're essentially paying for use of the high-maintenance road, I think that's reasonable.
While there is a small ranger's station along the Pikes Peak Highway, these are Forest Service rangers. A ranger will pull you over on your way down and perform a curtsey check of your brakes. That's what they're there for. Don't expect any ranger programs, an educational visitors center with a movie, or any of the services provided in most national parks.
4. There's more than one way to get up to the summit
Pretty much anyone can "bag" this summit! If you can't make it on foot (and most of us can't), you can drive up there. Can't drive? Take the train!
Climbing Pikes Peak on foot
This is no stroll in the park!
Barr trail is the most popular path to the summit of Pikes Peak. Starting at Manitou Springs it's considered a good trail - good enough for running the annual Pikes Peak marathon.
That said, we're talking about a steep hike of more than 13 miles (21 km) with a total elevation gain of 7,800 feet (2,400 m)! While not a technical climb per se, the trail is rated as "advanced".
It would take you six to ten hours to reach the summit and the hike is not devoid of risks (more on the risks of climbing later in this post). The trail is managed by the Forest Service and you can read more about it here.
Driving up the mountain
Obviously, driving is faster and easier than hiking but it can still take a while. The paved toll road may only be 19-mile (31 km) long yet with over a hundred and fifty switchbacks and quite a bit of traffic at times, plan for at least one hour between the toll booth and the summit.
It's a beautiful drive though, so taking it slowly and pulling over occasionally to take in the views is highly recommended.
While the road is supposed to be paved all the way through, some areas may be temporarily scraped off for maintenance, especially during spring. Which means you may come across an unpaved road patch.
Don't worry, it should be entirely passable. This is what it looked like when we traversed a "dirt road" stretch along the road back in June 2011. Not too bad, is it?
The cost of driving up to the summit and back down is determined by the number of passengers and the time of year. Check the website for current rates. There's no need to make reservations, just show up at the tollgate, pay your fee and drive on.
The cog train
The cog train will slowly pull you all the way up, then take you down. The journey lasts a total of three hours and ten minutes and you also get half an hour at the top to enjoy the views.
Check their website for all available rates and timetables.
5. Climbing up Pikes Peak on foot can be dangerous
Some Fourteeners are easier to climb while others are more technical. They are all challenging - and potentially dangerous - for a novice.
This is not simply a "difficult hike". At these altitudes, you really need to know what you're doing. The combination of altitude sickness and mountain weather can be deadly and every year, the Colorado peaks claim the lives of a dozen or so climbers.
While Pikes Peak isn't considered a technically challenging Fourteener, you should not attempt to climb it on foot unprepared. You should be very fit, acclimated to heights, and prepared for the weather.
And by weather, we're talking about a potential difference of 40 degrees between the trailhead and the summit. Setting out on a hot summer day doesn't mean you can spend your time at the summit in shorts and a tee. It can even snow on the summit - any time of the year! Dress accordingly and don't forget to carry plenty of water.
Being prepared for the climb can literally mean the difference between life and death. If you're thinking about climbing on foot, do yourself a favor and read up everything you can about climbing the Fourteeners of Colorado, including this particular summit.
Taking the fast route
totally nuts into that sort of thing, you can even race up the mountain...
Two races are held at Pikes Peak every year. The first is the Pikes Peak Ascent in which runners race along the Barr trail all the way to the summit. If you decide to keep running your day down as well (same route) then you'll be running the second event: The Pikes Peak marathon. You can find more information about these events here.
4. Driving up Pikes Peak can also be dangerous
This road has a history of road accidents, many of them fatal. The good news? These mostly happen during races.
Having driven this road myself, I'm amazed that some people are crazy enough to try and race it up to the top, but hey, there was never a shortage of "crazy" on this planet.
The Race to the Clouds is the annual Pikes Peak motorized race. Officially, it's called Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Looks like fun? I spared you the Youtube compilations of accidents...
What about regular driving though?
Assuming you're not racing up the mountain, driving up the road really isn't that bad. The road is wide, paved, and well-maintained.
Dozens and dozens of switchbacks mean the grades are manageable for pretty much any kind of vehicle. Just slow down at the curves and you should be just fine.
Going down, avoid using the brakes by downshifting to the lowest possible gear and letting the engine do the braking for you. If your car has both 1 and 2 marked - choose 1.
Yes, that means driving very slowly.
You have to though because if you use the second gear, the steep grade is going to force you to touch your brakes at each one of the countless switchbacks and your brakes will heat up.
I know that because that's what happened to us. I was sure I was doing fine switching between first and second gear on our way down.
Fortunately, there's a ranger that stops you on the way down, about halfway along the drive, to check your brakes. He put his thermometer under our minivan and let us know that our brakes were heating up and we had to pull over for 15 minutes to let them cool.
We weren't the only ones who had to do that. So, unless you want to take a nice long break in the middle of your drive, use only the first gear.
5. The weather can be challenging
No matter how you get to the top - via car, train or on foot - it can be very cold once you're up there. If you check the weather, you may notice that it usually doesn't go below freezing point in July and August - not even at night time.
That's a bit misleading though because the winds at the summit add a significant chill factor. We visited on a sunny day in late June and still had to wrap up the kids and ourselves, using every layer we could find in the car.
6. It's high enough to get altitude sickness
Unless you're acclimated to this altitude, you're bound to feel the effects. The air is thin at the summit and holds about 60% of the oxygen your body is used to.
Prepare to feel out of breath as soon as you get out of your car. Ten minutes into our stay at the summit, I began to feel dizzy whenever I turned my head.
If you have any medical problem which could affect your breathing, ask your doctor before visiting the Pikes Peak summit. You should also follow these guidelines -
- Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day
- Avoid alcohol.
- Don't start running around. There's no need to and you should conserve your oxygen and avoid unnecessary physical exertion.
7. There is now something to do once you reach the top of the mountain!
Back when we climbed Pike's Peak, all you could do was get to the observation deck where you had the "America The Beautiful" monument. You would take in the views, maybe go around the summit house and take more pictures.
And that was about it.
Thanks to a comment left here on the blog, I learned that as of 2021, there's a Visitors' Center up on the mountain!
The Pikes Peak Visitors Center offers interpretive displays inside the building, and on the outside too. There are also bathrooms, WiFi and even a coffee shop with high-altitude donuts (they say these should be consumed at the summit or they will lose their fluffiness!)
So, should you visit Pikes Peak?
Absolutely! If you love road-tripping this one should definitely be on your Bucket List. An awesome drive that gives you a chance to visit one of the most iconic summits in all of the USA for views from the top of the world. What's not to like? We loved it and I'm sure you will as well!
Have you been to Pikes Peak? Did you drive up there, or did you take the train or maybe hiked all the way up? If you've never visited, I'm curious to know which would be your favorite form of ascent, so leave me a comment and let me know!
My wife and myself will be in Colorado Springs in November of this year the 5th actually. I’m really wanting to go up Pikes Peak (driving) when we are there. Is it a good idea to do so? Not sure if there will be any snow on the road because its late in the year. Would you happen to know what time they open?
November is late in the season and looking at their website, it looks like the road closes by September 30th, so I’m not sure this can happen… Fortunately, lots to do in Colorado Springs, including indoors, so I’m sure you’re going to have a great time!
You might update your website if you can as they have a visitor center that they built last year.
Thanks for the update, Angela! That’s great to hear! I Googled it and added the information in the post.
Are you able to just pull over and look. Or sight see
Visited Pikes Peak with my family last week. Due to the ongoing construction at the summit.. parking is limited. So, they have you park your car approx 2 miles before the summit and have free shuttle service to take the visitors to the top. Indeed the most breathtaking experience of all while at the summit.
Thanks for the update, Shuja! I’m sure it’ll help other people reading this page. And I’m so glad you had a great experience!
I was there in the very early 70;s with my family. I got real yucky feeling after a while but if I remember right there was a gift shop of sorts where you could get air if you weren’t feeling well. Am I remembering right? Yellow brick and rock, nice size gift shop. I also remember getting car sick on the way down, of course with me that was a common issue. Still loved every minute off it and would love to get up there again and soon.
There was a nice gift shop at the summit, where you could get coffee and such. I can’t remember the color though, you have a great memory!
Hi Robin, we are planning on going to Pike’s Peak today. Are you available today to take a group of 5?
Twenty years ago took the cog train for an unforgettable experience with my teenage son. Excellent clear day in July, also recommend the 4th of July celebration at the Air Force academy.
Sounds like you had a great day, making wonderful memories! We visited the Air Force base in Colorado Springs – there’s a wonderful air force museum there.
It took me 2days to climbed to the summit at times I asked myself ‘why are you doing this? And the answers always” because it is there.
Glad I have been there done that bc I will not be able to climb it now on my 60 .I was in my 40 back theni got caught in lighting Storm take this seriou bc many people died from lightning strike, there was no place to hide I ran all the way to base camp and stayed there overnight. Wake and continue the journey that was the hardest climb I had done in my life.
Wow, sounds like quite the ordeal and adventure! Thanks for sharing your story!
I actually work for a company called E-9 Enterprises that runs a shuttle service to take people that prefer not to drive themselves, whether because they’re uncomfortable with it or just because they’d rather take in the scenery than concentrate on the road. It’s a free service that’s complimentary after you purchase your visitors pass. We transport visitors to the summit in shuttles as well as passenger vans that seat up to 12 (7 now, due to social distancing and we sanitize after EVERY group!) from any of the three separate parking lots (7, 13 & 16) they choose to drive themselves to. It’s such a fun job because I get to meet so many great people from all over the world! I’m a Colorado native, born and raised so I am able to educate newcomers about almost every one of the beauties that the eye can see. If you’re planning to come to America’s mountain and want to ride the shuttle, ask which parking lot Rocking Robin is driving from that day and I’ll be happy to give you my personal tour!
That’s great to know, Robin! Thank you!
This is good to know! We will be there in July and the last time we tried to drive up on our own there was snow and I made my husband turn around at Devils Playground.
Enjoyed your article which was very informative! We have been several times, always driving. Fantastic views, especially if you love the mountains!
The James D Connolly Family
Thanks for your comment, the Connolly family! Always good to hear from locals that the guide was thorough.
Robin, my wife and I will be there October 1. Will the shuttle service still be operating that late?
According to their website here, I think the shuttle won’t be in operation by October 1st. They say they’re only open until late September, alas.
Do you all make stops so passengers can take pictures? I’m coming tomorrow and prefer to take the shuttle.
My husband and I, along with 2 other couples will be in Manitou Springs June 3, 4, and 5 and are interested in a tour up to Pikes Peak. Do you have any info you can provide. We are traveling in our Motorhomes and will be staying at Mountaindale RV Resort.
I drove this in 1966. It was not paved all the way back then. I an planning on returning soon.
My grandparents and parents, along with my brother and I would camp in Co. for the summer. One time we drove all the way to the top, I’m scared of heights, but the views from the windows as we climbed higher and higher, until we reached the peak we’re breathtaking, not just because of thin air. While we shivered in our jackets and munched on donuts and coffee, hot chocolate for myself and my brother, that my grandmother had brought along, we got to experience the awe inspiring view from the top of the world. I’ll never forget my grandfather driving up and down the mountain, with me whiteknuckled holding on to the seatrests or whatever, crawling along especially down the mountain, there was when we were there, no other traffic either way, and it was in June we were there. I can’t see for the life of me just what would make those idiots race up to the peak in cars trucks etc. But yes to those who have not experienced those heights, be very careful and if you have medical problems you should consult with your doctor b4 making the trip. But yessssss, the experience is one you’ll never forget. We also made trips around Co. to other places as well, like Telluride, and driving up the mountain as we left there was a drive I’ll never in a million years make again, hanging on the side of a mountain thousands of feet above the ground below, I was ready to grab rock and not move, digging my fingers as deeply as possible into the mountainside, and staying there. But then rational thought kicked in and figured that to get to the top and never return was a better idea. But the views of Telluride and the Silverton train tracks are fond memories now that I’m quite a bit older and wiser, I think anyway, and getting to experience the ghost town that Telluride was at that time, with my own eyes and hands, getting to walk into the buildings and see how they had lived there, was totally surreal. The drive up the mountainside was up a very steep and dangerous road they had cut to take teams of mules or horses and wagons up out of the valley. B4 and after construction of the Silverton rail lines. I wouldn’t have missed those trips for anything even though I was totally terrified during the drives to and from the places we visited. If you ever get a chance to listen to C.W McCALLs rendition of Black Bear road, you can get an idea of what we went through going up that mountainside. On the driver’s side the door was scraping the rock, and the tires on the passenger side we’re on the very lip of the dirt track, I wouldn’t ever call it a road, then you hit a switch back and the passenger side is scraping the rock face, and the driver’s tires are right on the edge. We had to stop at one point somewhere up the mountainside, because approximately 6 feet of track was cut out in a steep very pattern, like someone had cut out a chunk with a giant knife. My dad was driving, in four wheel drive of course, but he made mom, brother and I get out, from the passenger side hanging off the cliff, climb around on the side of our Chevy Blazer, and go up further ahead to where my grandparents were in their vehicle, while he carefully tried to negotiate this cut out of the track, because by then we were so far up, there was no way of backing down and going a different way. He didn’t want to risk it if we were in there with him if the worst were to happen, thankfully he made it with no problem and we continued or ascent up the track, till we finally made it to the top, and had donuts and coffee, and chocolate, and enjoyed being alive to experience the rush of accomplishment after that harrowing, nerve wracking, feat we had just made, I think I aged about a century or probably more during that journey, because I was always moving side to side to stay as far as I possibly could from the edge, because I made the mistake of looking down, and saw that there were rocks bigger than our Blazer lying at the bottom, and just fearing of what would happen if we went over the edge, I was totally beside myself with fear, but I kept under control, barely I don’t know how, but finally the ordeal was over, and I would never have to do it again. My relief was palpable, my dad was sweating bullets the entire traverse, his shirt was sopping wet when he got out at the top, we all thought he was gonna freeze to death in the cold wind at that altitude, but he put on his coat and drank a thermos of coffee and warmed up before we continued on with our trip. Colorado is such beautiful country, and we spent many summers there travelling around to different places we had read about and wanted to visit. One thing about the weather there, even in summertime, June, July when we were there, several times it would rain, and even hail, with a clear blue sky, sun shining, not a cloud in site anywhere. This one hailstorm on a cloudless sunny day, dropped hailstones the size of golf balls down on us, and my dad was running to get inside my grandparents camper to escape, as he was climbing in the doorway, a hailstones hit him in the back of the head and sent him summersaulting into the camper dazedly trying to figure out what had happened. Luckily for him and us, in the middle of nowhere Co. and no doctor for god only knows how many miles, he was okay,but with a banging headache. I wonder why? LOL. Luckily he has a hard head, and luckily I follow in his footsteps there. But that’s a tale for another time. LOVE COLORADO, the entire state.
Wow, what a story. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us!
What great stories/memories!!
Hi! Just finished a beautiful spring break trip to Colorado Springs, CO. Wow! What a memorable trip! We called the Summit info line each day of our vacation and were continually disappointed that the summit was closed for winds and snow drifts. But TODAY we got to go up to the summit and it was amazing, exhilarating, and anxiety ridden!!! I get car sick so I drove my husband, son, daughter, Mother in Law, and Father in Law up and down this challenging mountain road. I found myself praying out loud to my Lord Jesus on many of the hairpin curves. My family was so sweet to cheer me on and have faith in my driving skills even when I did not feel totally confident. It’s truly not a trip for the faint of heart BUT so worth it when it’s all thru. Eating high altitude donuts, shopping in the gift shop, and playing in the deep snow was the cream on the top! Go, pray, and enjoy! 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Melissa! Much appreciated!
So traumatic! We never can know when tragedy will occur. I hope you can press forward emotionally. 💕💕💕
I was in Colorado Springs 1.5 years ago and read signs the Cog was down for its first ever repairs. I was told it would be up and running by 2020…now 2021? What’s up with that? I would love to take the Cog but it looks like planning the trip is dependent upon timing. Any ideas as to when it will be running up Pikes peak again?
According to the website, it’s indeed 2021 and even that is TBD… I wouldn’t count on a cog train ride in 2021 but you may want to call them directly and ask – 1-800-525-2250
Is there a limit to the number of people in a vehicle; I mean can I go with seven people ( the full capacity of my van) ?
A 7-seater isn’t considered an exceptionally large vehicle in the US so I doubt there’s any issue with that.
Did your friend have heart or lung problems?
I’m not sure, Elizabeth. He was a lovely elderly gentleman, so it’s possible.
Is there any time of the year when the summit is less likely to be clouded over?
Great question, Ross! According to this, the driest months in Colorado are in winter. The summit may be less likely to be clouded over at that time but it’s going to be super cold and I’m not sure the road will be open. It does look like June and September are better than July and August.
Back in 1953 General James Doolittle dedicated a small monument to a Mr. Moss who conducted supercharger experiments on Pikes Peak. Is the monument still there? Is there a picture available of the monument? Thanks, Anne.
That’s a fascinating question! I really don’t remember seeing there myself but I may have just not noticed it at the time. I couldn’t find any online picture but I will try and contact their visitor center to see if they can provide an answer (and maybe a photo too!)
I am planning to take a visiting flat lander up to the summit this Saturday, Nov 18. I am a Colorado resident so I am aware about driving up to high altitude and such. I am a bit nervouse though. The forecast is 15 degrees at the summit however, I cannot find road conditions and if there is snow on the road up. Is it adviseable to try driving up this late in the year?
Since I’m from Israel, you probably know a whole lot more than me about mountain driving. I’ve seen poor road conditions in Rocky Mountain NP in June, to the point that we had to turn around because of falling snow. We also had snow while driving in Utah in October. Personally, I would avoid mountain driving in Colorado in November but that’s partly because we’re very inexperienced with winter driving conditions. Maybe try and call the local rangers and ask for their opinion?
We are planning for a 5-6 days trip to CO state. Colorado Springs & Pikes Peak are in bucket list, the travel is planned anywhere b/w week of 10/10 or week after. The challenge we pose is my little kido will be little over 6 months at the time and should/can we take him. I read the air will be thin and difficult to breath. Appreciate your help. Thanks Deepak
Hi Deepak, October is fairly cold too. It will be very cold up on the peak. I’m not a pediatrician so this is only my opinion but as a Mom, I think I would avoid taking a baby up to the peak especially given that it’s almost winter time. At the very least, consult with your pediatrician and see what he/she says. Enjoy and safe travels!
Hey Anne – We’re planning on doing Pike’s Peak next week on motorcycles, is there snow up there now? Any concerns we should have? Thanks! Vicki
Hi Vicki! Sorry about the late reply. We’re currently traveling in Alaska so I don’t always have internet access here. I don’t know what the conditions are right now in Pike’s Peak but I found this link which may be helpful. From what I see, it can snow during the night this week. It’s not certain but it’s something to watch out for before you go on your ride. I would definitely aim for a late morning or early afternoon drive is possible and talk to the people at the gate to see what they think. Have a safe and enjoyable visit!
When I was a child my family visited CO Springs in July taking the cog train up Pikes Peak to the summit. In those days there wasn’t a road only the train. Even though it was summer as you said – you can’t depend on the weather below. It was cold enough and was snowing. I only had a thin jacket being too cold to stand outside. It seemed to me at the time to be depressing seeing mostly rocks. Now I would probably revel in the trip! I don’t remember standing looking out at the summit but I do remember seeing New Mexico somewhere, likely on the train. This was before the current structure. There was a stove heating the interior and it smelled of kerosene. It seemed somewhat depressing and dimly lit inside with florescent lighting. There was no restaurant of course. I remember cellophane wrapped honey buns, candy and the like only available to tourists.
Thank you for sharing your experience of Pike’s Peak, Suzanne!
I’m a flat land girl. Cornfields and cows. I traveled out there for Father’s Day with a good friend of mine. Even made it to the summit. I couldn’t look, too afraid of heights. Got some nice pictures. Then 2 miles down the summit my friend goes into cardiac arrest. He just died right next to me I couldn’t get help, I couldn’t save him. At Glen cove the ambulance took me down to the toll entrance. And my friend was taken to a funeral home. I never will go back, I discourage others from going. I’m now seeking counseling from this traumatic event. I cannot seem to get past it. I can’t even leave my home town without freaking out. Not a good experience for me, I’m sorry
I am so sorry for your loss, Bonni.