The Pikes Peak Highway Experience

A highway with more that a little altitude: The Pikes Peak Highway Experience

The Pikes Peak Highway, an engineering marvel that snakes its way up to the summit of one of America’s most iconic mountains, offers a journey that is as breathtaking as it is inspiring. For travel enthusiasts and car aficionados alike, this road is a testament to human ambition and the pursuit of beauty. Attending the University of Colorado in Boulder, it’s a path I’ve taken many times, driven by a passion for exploring roads less traveled and the stories they hold. Here is your guide to experiencing the Pikes Peak Highway, a journey that promises awe at every turn.

A Road Steeped in History

The story of Pikes Peak begins with Zebulon Pike, the explorer for whom the mountain is named. In 1806, Pike attempted to reach the summit but was thwarted by the mountain’s rugged terrain and harsh conditions. Despite his failure, Pike’s adventures laid the groundwork for the exploration and admiration of this majestic peak. The Pikes Peak Highway itself was completed in 1915, transforming what was once an insurmountable obstacle into a destination for thrill-seekers and nature lovers from around the globe.

The Drive to the Sky

The Pikes Peak Highway stretches 19 miles from the foothills to the summit, offering a driving experience unlike any other. Starting at an elevation of 7,400 feet, the road climbs to 14,115 feet, presenting drivers with challenging curves, steep inclines, and changing weather conditions. Along the way, the landscape transitions from verdant forests to alpine tundra, with each elevation change revealing new wonders.

Timing Your Adventure

The highway is open year-round, weather permitting, but the best time to visit is from late May to early October, when the road is fully accessible to the summit. Morning drives are recommended to avoid afternoon thunderstorms common at high altitudes. Visiting during the week can also help avoid the crowds that flock to this natural wonder on weekends.

Three Must-Visit Stops on the Pikes Peak Highway

  • Crystal Reservoir: A perfect spot for a picnic or a short walk, offering stunning reflections of the mountain.
  • Glen Cove Inn: Rest here and enjoy the view before tackling the final stretch to the summit.
  • Summit of Pikes Peak: No visit is complete without taking in the panoramic views from the top, where you can see the Great Plains to the east and the Continental Divide to the west.

Resting Your Head after a long day

While there are no accommodations on Pikes Peak itself, the surrounding area offers a range of options. In nearby Manitou Springs, the Historic Cliff House at Pikes Peak provides luxurious accommodations with a view of the mountain. For those seeking a more rustic experience, the Rocky Mountain Campground offers camping and RV sites in the heart of nature’s beauty.

Be careful when you drive this road

The journey up Pikes Peak Highway is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. The high altitude and steep grades require drivers to monitor their vehicle’s performance, especially the brakes. Sharing the road with cyclists and hikers, along with respecting wildlife crossings, ensures a safe experience for everyone. Remember, this road is not just a route to the summit but a journey through one of America’s most storied landscapes.

The Pikes Peak Highway is not for the faint of heart

The Pikes Peak Highway offers a unique blend of history, challenge, and beauty. It stands as a monument to human curiosity and the desire to conquer the mountains that once seemed unreachable. For those who take this road, it’s not just a drive but an ascent into the clouds, a journey that echoes the spirit of explorers like Zebulon Pike who first dared to dream of reaching such heights. As the road winds its way to the summit, each curve and vista invites us to reflect on the journey, not just to the top of a mountain, but within ourselves.

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