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4 epic outdoor adventures around Olympic City USA

A bridge and an aerial tram traverse the gorge at Royal Gorge Bridge & Park in Cañon City, Colorado. Photo by Fox Run Art

You can’t spend any time in Colorado Springs, the headquarters for all things Team USA, and not be inspired by greatness, or at least boldness. Or so I told myself before I visited this outdoorsy playground on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, where many Olympic and Paralympic athletes live, train, and recreate.

Sure enough, surrounded by such grandeur, I was motivated to push my own limits of “faster, higher, and stronger” on these 4 adrenalin-fueled adventures in and around Olympic City USA.    

1. Via Ferrata at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park

Via ferrata climbers ascending a canyon wall.

Climbers use affixed rings and cables to scale the canyon’s granite walls on the via ferrata course at the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. Photo by RetroSpec Films

Scaling the granite walls of the Royal Gorge, hundreds of feet above the tumbling Arkansas River, I had to remind myself that it was okay to look down.

Securely harnessed and clipped to a galvanized steel guiding cable affixed to the rock wall on this via ferrata climbing route, I settled into a rhythm of clipping one carabiner at a time into the rungs and cables. After a while, the course’s riskiest part for me was avoiding the bighorn sheep scat that littered the trails. “They like these paths, too,” my guide, Michael Marquette, noted dryly.

Via ferratas, or “iron ways,” became prominent during World War I when, out of necessity, Italian soldiers carved out mountainous passages in the Dolomites. These and similar routes were later used for recreational purposes throughout the Alps, and in recent years several courses have been built in the U.S., allowing easy access to thrills that previously required special skills.

“You get to experience what makes rock climbing awesome—that conquering aspect, that view,” Marquette said. The gorge is in Cañon City, about 45 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. Guided via ferrata tours, $150–$180; includes park admission and all equipment.

Easy does it: All park visitors can admire the gorge’s beauty by soaring above it in the aerial tram or by strolling across a suspension bridge—the highest in the country. Park admission: adults, $30.

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2. Hiking at Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods rock formations.

Garden of the Gods is a free city-operated park in Colorado Springs that was designated a National Natural Landmark because of its biodiversity and the remarkable character of its sedimentary rock formations. Photo by Sean Pavone/

While it’s possible to tour the Garden of the Gods by Jeep, Segway, or e-bike, I wanted to explore it on foot, the way I imagine that the gods intended. Nature itself provides the adrenalin rush here. Garden of the Gods is a city-operated park that feels like a national park, with giant sandstone formations bestowed with fanciful names like Three Graces, Tower of Babel, and Kissing Camels. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are frequently spotted here, too.

“This is a similar experience to Arches [National Park] but more condensed,” park guide Bowen Gillings told me as we set out from the visitors center on the Gateway Trail. Hiking is the best way to explore the park, noted Gillings, who paused to point out Douglas firs, Gambel oaks, and ponderosa and piñon pines.

With 23 interconnecting trails totaling 22½ miles, the park makes it easy to design a 5- or 10-mile loop or a full day of trekking. Later that afternoon, I was hiking alone on the Siamese Twins Trail as the setting sun slowly turned the red rocks a golden amber. I rested on a log, intoxicated by the silence. Sometimes, I realized, there’s no greater thrill than just being still. Park entrance is free.

Easy does it: The pedestrian-only Central Garden Trail is paved and ADA-compliant. Motorists can explore the park on the 6.5-mile, 20-mph road system that has 17 parking areas. Narrated trolley tours are also available ($21).

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3. Cog up and bike down Pikes Peak

The winding Pikes Peak highway.

The scenic Pikes Peak Highway winds above the tree line near the summit of “America’s Mountain.” Photo by berg_bcn/

When the 135-year-old cog railway rolled up to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak, many of my fellow passengers bolted straight for the famous high-altitude doughnuts at the visitors center. But I was focused on meeting my cycling guides, who set me up with a bike and safety gear (full-face helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, high-visibility vest, and gloves).

“Once you get around those first few corners, you’re gonna realize, ‘Wow, this is something else,’ ” said my guide, Michael Burke. “It’s like being on another planet. And you feel like you’re flying.”

Indeed, my head was in the clouds—almost literally—as I began my 13-mile descent down the highway, inhaling the thin mountain air and taking in the same sweeping views that inspired poet Katharine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful.”

Because we shared the road with cars, we followed the speed limit—15, then 20, then 30 mph. Aside from a couple of short uphill portions, I spent most of the ride lightly hugging the brakes, gliding in a peaceful rhythm under those beautiful for spacious skies. $230 through Broadmoor Outfitters.

Easy does it: Ride the scenic, narrated cog railway round-trip (adult tickets start at $58.50) or simply drive to the peak. The Summit Visitors Center houses a worthwhile museum, a restaurant, and a gift shop.

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4. Zip line at Seven Falls

Brad Wright and Abigail Evans relaxing on a rope bridge, part of a zip line course.

The author, foreground, and Broadmoor Outfitters guide Abigail Evans rest on a high-altitude suspended rope bridge between zips on the Broadmoor Soaring Adventure’s Fins Course. Photo courtesy Broadmoor Outfitters

Billed as the “grandest mile of scenery in Colorado,” Seven Falls is breathtaking to behold from any vantage point. Zip-lining over the canyon on Broadmoor Soaring Adventure’s Fins Course combines sublime forest bathing with an exhilarating rush. “This is our bucket list course,” guide Abigail Evans said as we suited up before the first of 5 progressively longer zips, ranging from 215 to 1,800 feet. “It’s exciting. It’s thrilling. It’s adrenaline-filling.”

Between zips, the guides talked about the area’s history (Ramona author Helen Hunt Jackson was once buried here) and wildlife (bear sightings are possible). But who are we kidding: Most people are here to launch themselves into the air and soar at speeds up to 45 mph.

Between zips 3 and 4, I walked across a pair of suspended rope bridges and at one point sat and dangled my feet over the edge while taking in the “millionaire’s view” of Colorado Springs and the sprawling Broadmoor Resort. On zip 4, I literally flew from one mountain (Mount Cutler) to another (Cheyenne Mountain).

The tour ended with a guide-assisted 180-foot rappel to the canyon floor near Seven Falls, a series of connected waterfalls tumbling over a box canyon. Broadmoor Outfitters; $277 for Fins Course.

Easy does it: Non-zip-lining visitors can climb the 224 stairs to the top of the falls or take an elevator to the Eagle’s Nest viewing platform. Entrance fee for Seven Falls Park is $18 for adults.

Olympic ties

U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum exterior.

The 60,000-square-foot U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs opened in 2020. Photo courtesy U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum

Colorado Springs is known as Olympic City USA because it’s home to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and 2 dozen National Governing Bodies of Sports. Visitors can experience the past, present, and future of Team USA’s glory at a pair of sites.

The 60,000-square-foot U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, which opened in 2020, has 12 galleries with exhibits on everything from track star Jesse Owens to Olympic-themed Wheaties boxes and the art of LeRoy Neiman, who was the official painter of 5 Olympic Games.

Among the artifacts on display are sprinter Michael Johnson’s custom-made golden Nikes, gymnast Shannon Miller’s trendsetting scrunchie, the scoreboard from the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey game, and complete collections of Olympic torches and medals. Interactive areas allow guests to simulate competing in 6 Olympic events (including sprinting against Owens). Adults, $19.95; guided tour, $39.95 (includes admission).

Visitors inside the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum.

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs is a must-stop on a visit to Olympic City USA. Photo courtesy U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum

While the museum has the medals, the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center has the athletes, tour ambassador Ryan Wilson told me during our 75-minute tour of the 36-acre campus. Qualifying athletes live and train at the center, and it’s common for visitors to see Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls practicing sports such as basketball, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, tae kwon do, fencing, and shooting.

I was impressed with the facility’s cutting-edge technology. For example, sensors on the indoor 50-meter track allow physiologists to work with sprinters to understand how they distribute their weight, and a high-altitude training center can simulate any elevation up to 24,000 feet by controlling oxygen, temperature, and humidity levels. Tours are offered every hour on the hour; adults, $15.

AAA copy editor Brad Wright looks forward to watching the 2024 Olympics from his living room sofa.

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