Visiting Colorado Springs? Make sure to drive up Pikes Peak, a road that goes all the way to the mountain summit!
Last fall, I discovered that you could drive to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
More recently, while reading Conor Knighton's book Leave Only Footprints, I learned that there's another peak you can drive up — Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Driving up mountains is a whole thing, and I love it!
If you want to drive up Pikes Peak, here's what you should know.
How Tall is Pikes Peak?
Pikes Peak rises 14,115 feet into the air.
It's pretty impressive.
If you're still adjusting to the Colorado altitude, you'll definitely feel it. Although we had plans for a high-altitude backpacking trip a little later on, we weren't quite ready for that yet.
That's why we opted to experience the peak as tourists rather than adventurers. More on that below.
Other Ways to Get to the Top
Of course, driving isn't the only option.
There's also a cog railway to the top.
We opted for the cheapest of the easy options – a drive up Pikes Peak.
Do I Need A Reservation? Is There a Fee?
To drive the road all the way to the summit of Pikes Peak during the busy summer season, you'll need to pay both a timed-entry reservation and a fee per vehicle.
The timed-entry fee (as of September 2022) was only $2 per time slot, allowing you to book a few different time slots if you're worried about bad weather.
The road does close for inclement weather. There are no refunds for weather, but technically you can request to reschedule (if there are other time slots still available).
Timed-entry spots for each month open for booking the month prior.
While you can purchase the vehicle pass ahead of time, it's also fine to just pay for the timed-entry first, and then wait until you arrive to pay the vehicle fee. We opted to wait until we arrived to pay the vehicle fee.
What If I Can't Get a Timed-Entry Reservation?
Without the timed-entry reservation, you can still drive the first 16 miles of the road. The total drive (one-way) was 19 miles, so without a reservation you can still get pretty close to the top!
The 16-mile marker had some pretty amazing views, so don't skip the whole experience just because you couldn't get a reservation.
During 2022, a complimentary shuttle would take passengers the rest of the way to the summit, but only during June and July.
Whether or not you have a timed entry pass, you’ll need to pay to enter the park road.
Looking for a good home base to set up camp while you explore Colorado Springs? The nearby Cheyenne Mountain State Park was a good spot for us.
Tips for Driving Up Pikes Peak
Before arriving at the Pikes Peak Highway, make sure that you've got a full tank of gas.
It took us about an hour to drive the road one-way. Note that you'll be getting fewer miles per gallon than usual because of the incline.
Also, it's cold at the top! Bring warm clothes.
The day we visited in August, temperatures in Colorado Springs were in the 80s (Fahrenheit), but at the summit it was about 40 degrees. There were still some patches of snow in the summit parking lot (which had lasted the entire summer).
The Road Up Pikes Peak
When you arrive at the Pikes Peak Highway, you'll start by checking in with a ranger and paying your vehicle fee (if you haven't already). Then you'll start driving up!
Along the road, you’ll enter Pike National Forest.
Keep an eye out for Big Foot sightings.
As you drive, you'll pass a few overlook turnout areas, as well as some picnic spots and trailheads.
You'll have to drive slowly, so enjoy the (constantly impressive!) views.
When you reach the 16-mile marker, a ranger will check to see if you've got the timed-entry permit.
If so, you can pass. If not, you can enjoy the overlooks at this point on the mountain. There's even a gift shop here.
When you reach the summit parking lot three miles further on, take some time to explore!
During the summer season, visitors to the summit are encouraged to keep their stay under two hours, since demand for parking spaces is high.
The overlooks were absolutely incredible.
When we drove to top of Mount Washington, we took some time to hike along one of the trails at the top. But on Pikes Peak (which is considerably higher in elevation), we were having a little more trouble catching our breath, so we simply wandered around the new Visitor Center area.
I did make sure to find the summit marker though!
The visitor center has restrooms, a gift shop and a Bigfoot.
Oh, and apparently there are special, secret-recipe, high-altitude donuts made and sold at the summit. We didn't hear about them till later, but they seem to be quite legendary! Next time.
You can also check out the original summit house, which is still partially standing.
The cog railway parks near the visitor center, and it's fun to watch it come and go at such a steep angle.
It's quite impressive!
When you're ready, drive (carefully) back down the road.
The day we went, a park ranger was doing a brake temperature test partway down the mountain. If your brakes are too hot, you'll need to wait a few minutes and let them cool down.
As you drive, continue to enjoy the views! But that goes without saying — a drive up and down Pikes Peak is just awe-inspiring.