Pikes Peak is Colorado Springs’ most prominent feature. It’s an ever-present beacon on the horizon, inspiring and reminding people of the natural beauty surrounding it. The mountain was once called Tava, or Sun Mountain, by the indigenous Ute people. Today it goes by the nickname America’s Mountain. By any name, the mountain dominates the region’s geography and draws people from near and far.
David Siegel grew up at the base of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs. Now he is the executive director of the Ent Center for the Arts at UCCS (University of Colorado Colorado Springs), as well as an arts advocate and musician who performs with several ensembles in and around town. As the host of this Creative Stay in Colorado Springs, David has curated an itinerary for a relaxing getaway that engages the arts, the outdoors and unique opportunities at their intersection. You’ll experience Pikes Peak close up, far away and on top, and you’ll enjoy a relaxing, artistic retreat in the mountain’s shadow.
With that, we’ll let David guide you in his own words:
Where to Stay: Lodging
The Outlook Lodge and Little Beaver Inn in Green Mountain Falls
Green Mountain Falls is a wonderful enclave at the northern foot of Pikes Peak, about 15-20 minutes west of Colorado Springs up the historic Ute Pass. Green Mountain Falls is a wonderful, small mountain community. It’s what I think of when I think quintessential mountain town. It hasn’t been taken over in the same way that some skiing communities have been taken over. It’s also not a mining community like many other small mountain towns in Colorado. This is a vacation respite, and not much has changed in the last 40 or 50 years. It’s really a wonderful place to get away and connect with nature — and more recently to connect with some wonderful contemporary art.
When I’m in Green Mountain Falls, I like to escape from the outer world. The Outlook Lodge is a wonderful, rustic, intimate inn in Green Mountain Falls, but it’s also very elegant. Located at 6975 Howard St., it’s a concierge-based hotel, so there’s no staff on site. Most of the time, you feel like it’s your private respite to escape the noisy outside world. (You can read more about it in The Outlook Lodge of Green Mountain Falls.)
And just downhill is the sister property Little Beaver Inn, billed as “a dam good spot to rest.” The six-room lodge blends stylish modern-mountain amenities with a retro motel-building arrangement. The Little Beaver is also a really elegant property nestled in the woods of Green Mountain Falls, located at 10645 Ute Pass Rd. It has a hot tub and gorgeous rooms. It’s a great place to escape for a quiet retreat.
What to Do
Start exploring the local arts scene at the Ent Center for the Arts at UCCS, a multidisciplinary state-of-the-art space for creation and performance by both local and nationally touring artists. It’s located at 5225 N. Nevada Avenue. The thing I love about the Ent Center is our opportunity to serve the broader community. We host arts organizations from across the community and state here. There’s always something new to see, and there’s always great variety, whether it’s contemporary art in the Galleries of Contemporary Art (GOCA), public sculpture in the Art Without Limits program, concerts by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, plays by Theatreworks or performances by visiting dancers, musicians or other performers. There is often connection between what’s in the gallery and what’s happening on stage. So the way art comes together always makes me think a little bit differently about what I’m seeing. It’s that juxtaposition and variety that we have here at the Ent Center that I enjoy the most
If there is a play or musical in production at Theatreworks, make sure you see a performance. And if its summer, make sure to catch our tradition of outdoor Shakespeare. Theatreworks is a professional, award-winning Actor’s Equity Association playhouse, so we hire some of the best actors, set and costume designers from the community and across the country to create original productions for each show. Even if you recognize a play that you may have seen years ago, it will be a new production at Theatreworks with a new take and contemporary view.
Even if you don’t see a live show, come visit Art Without Limits, a free, rotating exhibit of sculptures surrounding the outside of the Ent Center. The groundbreaking program is curated by GOCA, and it examines the interaction between art and nature in profound ways. Now we’re showing three gargantuan sculptures by Starr Kempf, a local sculptor. Before his death in 1995, he created these enormous steel sculptures that are incredibly intricate and whimsical. You can see Starr’s love of ornithology and birds in the way the sculptures interact and engage with the wind. They fit right in with the Ent Center building itself, which is wrapped in a steel-like coating that reflects the beauty of the clouds and the adjacent Pulpit Rock Open Space.
Where to Eat and Drink
Just across the street from the Ent Center is the University Village Shopping Center, where you’ll find two great restaurants not to miss: Il Vicino and Cowboy Star.
Il Vicino’s specialty is wood oven pizza, and you can get delicious panini sandwiches and Italian entrees as well. Their pizza dough is perfectly crisp while still being chewy. So you can’t go wrong with any of their pizzas or salads. At Il Vicino, 5214 N. Nevada Avenue, they give kids pizza dough to play with while you wait. I remember being in the restaurant with my parents and getting that little ball of pizza dough to make something with. That small touch was really special for me and one of the reasons I love cooking to this day.
Cowboy Star is a more upscale restaurant and butcher shop at 5198 N. Nevada Avenue. The best dish at Cowboy Star is happy hour — anything happy hour. They have great martinis, great Old-Fashioneds, great charcuterie. There’s an underpass beneath Nevada Avenue, so I love walking over before a show to have a drink and relax before seeing some great theater at the Ent Center.
What to Do
In Green Mountain Falls, you must experience Green Box Arts. Green Box Arts is both a summer festival and a year-round home for contemporary art. These are thoughtfully placed and curated art and performances that match the serenity of the scene. There’s a wonderful outdoor sculpture program, so you’ll find sculptures nestled in corners all around town. During the summer, the Green Box Arts Festival features performances, education, culinary adventures, dance, yoga — just a broad range of interesting arts opportunities.
And most recently, Green Box opened a James Turrell Skyspace. James Turrell is one of the most significant influential contemporary artists in America, and this is the first public Skyspace in Colorado — and one of the few Skyspaces in the world with a retractable roof. So you can enjoy it during the day, but also see sunrise and sunset shows throughout the year.
In his Skyspaces, James Turrell plays with light to make the viewer think differently about color and light. The space is remarkably elegant, and its craftsmanship is impressive. The Skyspace in Green Mountain Falls uses beetle kill pine, stone and rock from Colorado. When the roof is open, you look out through a hole called the Oculus that narrows to the size of a ballpoint pen. The craftsmanship is remarkably exacting. And that too is part of the experience of being in a James Turrell Skyspace.
In Green Mountain Falls, you hike through the woods to arrive at the Skyspace itself, and that journey is as much a part of the art as sitting in the Skyspace experiencing a show. The first time I experienced the Skyspace was meditative. I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen videos of other Skyspaces, but being there was just an incredible, emotional experience. It’s a gift to our entire community to have the Skyspace available for residents and visitors.
Green Mountain Falls is tucked into a valley so close to Pikes Peak that you can’t see the summit from town. But make sure you go to the top. Pikes Peak may not be the highest peak in Colorado, but it is the most famous — and the most accessible. At 14,115 feet, Pikes Peak is the 30th highest mountain in the state. While you can hike it like all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers, you can also drive up the Pikes Peak Highway or take the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Its station is located at 515 Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs. At the top, you’ll find the brand new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, opened in June 2021. There you can grab a fresh-made donut, take in the views, learn more about the indigenous people who first called the Pikes Peak region home and enjoy a hot cup of coffee sheltered from the elements.
Pikes Peak is a wonderful place to experience the beauty of Colorado. From the top, you see mountains to the north, west and south and also plains to the east. And as the sun rises or sets, it turns the mountains purple. From the Summit House, you can walk out and explore amazing views from the universally accessible overlooks. You can also take a short hike down Barr Trail to experience what it’s like for runners as they finish the annual Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent.
The Ascent and Marathon happen in September, but you find a fitness challenge any time of year on the Manitou Incline, located near the bottom of the cog railway depot. The Incline used to be a funicular railroad up Mount Manitou. There’s a scar on the mountain where the railroad used to run, carrying visitors up and down the steep slope. Now it’s a series of railroad ties that has become a recreational hot spot for the Pikes Peak region. There are 2,744 steps that gain 2,020 vertical feet in only 0.9 miles, so it’s extremely difficult. Some super fit people run up the Incline. It’s a wonderful hike to test your fitness and endurance, but it’s not for the faint of heart, literally. The hike is free, but you do have to make a reservation.
Where to Eat and Drink
La Baguette is a Colorado Springs institution. The bakery, cafe and wine bar is located at 2417 W. Colorado Avenue in the historic Old Colorado City. I recommend French onion soup and an almond croissant. June through October, you can visit the Old Colorado City Farmers Market in Bancroft Park across the street from La Baguette. Don’t miss Palisade peaches from C&R Farm and Rocky Ford cantaloupe and roasted Pueblo chilis from Hanagan Farms.
Another excellent restaurant in Old Colorado Springs is Uchenna Ethiopian Restaurant at 2501 W. Colorado Avenue. The exterior is unassuming, but Chef Maya, the host and owner, is one of the kindest, gentlest souls around. She welcomes you in, and you are like family from the minute you arrive. The Ethiopian food is delicious, and the meal is an experience. You eat it with your hands by dipping spongy injera bread into the various dishes. The restaurant is a hidden gem and one of Springs 30 Best Restaurants in Colorado Springs.
What to Do
Before you leave town, stop by the Penrose Heritage Museum at The Broadmoor, 11 Lake Circle. The free museum showcases the history and heritage of the Pikes Peak region through the personal artifact collection of Spencer and Julie Penrose, who were among the founders of Colorado Springs and leading local philanthropists. Spencer Penrose founded The Broadmoor and cared about entertainment and bringing people to experience the joys of his hometown.
The Penrose’s Heritage Museum is home to an amazing collection of carriages, mostly 19th century, but also race cars that raced up the Pikes Peak Highway in the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Some of the cars there are more than 100 years old. The museum is a wonderful way to look back into the region’s history and into some of what makes Colorado Springs unique: that idea of entertainment, excitement, exploration of the American West.
Where to Eat and Drink
Front Range Barbecue is a musician’s hangout. It’s the spot to be on Wednesday night and Sunday night for live music. And it’s the stage that got my bluegrass band, Grass It Up, started. We played at Front Range Barbecue almost every Wednesday for years. Since then, Front Range has grown into one of the most important hubs for live music in Colorado Springs. It’s a place where musicians come together to collaborate in a low-pressure setting, so you’re always going to hear different musicians sitting in, performing with each other. If you want to capture the music scene here in Colorado Springs, go to Front Range Barbecue.
They also book some amazing national acts before they break out. For example, Billy Strings is having a moment right now, but Billy Strings played for 50 people at Front Range Barbecue years ago. Another is Greensky Bluegrass, one of Colorado’s most influential newgrass bands. The week before Greensky Bluegrass won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival competition, they were playing at Front Range Barbecue. You never know who you’re going to see at Front Range, whether it’s a stellar, local act or somebody that will be at Red Rocks Amphitheater in a few years. It’s a great place to see live music, drink a local Colorado of beer, eat some barbecue and have a good time.
Map Your Itinerary
Want to build your custom Colorado Springs itinerary? Use the Visit Colorado Springs Trip Planner tool to enter your destinations and create your maps and schedules in one spot.
For up-to-date event information when you’re in town, be sure to visit PeakRadar.com, the cultural calendar for the Pikes Peak region.