A lot of people vacay in big cities or by the beach. Not me. I’ve lived near both all my life, so when I plan a getaway, I want to pack it with come-as-you-are, in-the-wild adventure. Real Davy Crockett-like. You know — if he was gay.
Recently, my boyfriend and I traveled to Colorado Springs for what we hoped would be a fast few days of getting active, reconnecting with one another, and making new memories. We did all that and more.
From hiking frozen waterfalls and practicing yoga fireside to dangling 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River on a zip line, this trip was one of the most romantic we’ve ever taken. Here are six unforgettable reasons why.
1. There are at least nine waterfalls in Colorado Springs to which you can hike (and get all grabby on the way up)
We arrived in Colorado Springs well before check-in at the Wyndham’s New Orleans-inspired Mining Exchange Grand Hotel and Spa (certainly the nicest joint in the area, notwithstanding the pricier Broadmoor resort). We made the most of our time by driving the rental car straight to the base of Helen Hunt Falls (named in honor of the 19th-century writer and Native American activist — not the Academy Award-winning actress we assumed; we’ll take one for the team on this one), located in North Cheyenne Cañon Park.
Despite milder temps than on the East Coast — we narrowly escaped the “bomb cyclone” to get to Colorado — much of the falls was frozen, though not solid enough that we couldn’t fill our bottles with the ice-cold spring water beneath the cracked surface. Tastiest we’ve ever drunk.
Then we were off. The hike, though steep, was only .1 miles of escalating, winding trail, which took about 20 minutes to climb. We stopped at a few points to catch our breath and snap photos while admiring nature’s handiwork. It was the first time either one of us had ventured into a legitimate mountain range, so we were keen to soak up the surroundings.
At the top, pure magnificence! Normally falls that flow freely (as it probably does again now), Helen Hunt was solid and stark white. Ice. Frozen in time. A real sight to see.
If you want even more of a workout, there are other falls in the area to hike, including Silver Cascade Falls, about two-thirds of a mile above Helen Hunt Falls, and Seven Falls, a series of cascading drop-offs, one more photographic than the other.
2. Ristorante Del Lago at the Broadmoor is the perfect place to get cozy over a carafe of wine
Despite that the Broadmoor resort wasn’t on our initial itinerary, we decided to pop in on our way back from Helen Hunt Falls (GPS will take you directly through the expansive property) because of all the recommendations from friends who had spent time in the area. Glad we did. It was an ideal spot to relax after the hike (it’s a meticulously kept five-star resort with attentive, friendly staff; everybody said hello to us!), particularly Ristorante Del Lago — just across the lake bridge on the backside of the main entrance where we plopped on an inviting couch, ordered a carafe of wine, and cuddled up in front of the fireplace until warm and toasty.
3. Mineral-water soaks and fireside yoga will eliminate your collective aches and pains
Just down the road in Manitou Springs (a 10-minute drive from downtown Colorado Springs) is SunWater Spa, which features heated cedar tubs with bubbling, body-healing mineral water — an excellent place to strip down to your swimwear (yes, you have to wear something) and relax in the bath. We detoxed in the infrared sauna, took a load off in the indoor therapy pools, then joined our yogi Georgiy for a fireside class where we focused on our breathing and overall consciousness while occasionally holding outstretched hands.
4. You’ll be in awe of the scenery up to Pikes Peak while taking photos you’ll cherish forever
Our scenic drive up to Pikes Peak — the highest in the area at 14,115 feet (and actively climbing) was the activity we most looked forward to because neither of us had ever been that high in the sky. We didn’t know quite what to expect from the 19-mile paved spiral to the top, though we were hopeful for a few magnificent lookouts and wandering wildlife. It didn’t disappoint.
There were plenty of pull-offs with jaw-dropping vistas of snowcapped mountains; large Instagram-ready lakes frozen six-inches thick; never-before-seen-by-us animals, like bighorn sheep clinging to near vertical rises; and, of course, the reward of satisfying chicken soup and fresh, hot doughnuts inside the visitor’s center to commemorate our voyage and this exploratory milestone in our relationship.
5. A Jeep tour of Royal Gorge will make daredevils out of you
About an hour southwest of Colorado Springs lies Cañon City, where we hopped in one of Colorado Jeep Tours’ all-terrain vehicles for a half-day tour of the Royal Gorge region (our tour guide Steve could teach a master class on the area’s history and geology). He took us through rocky peaks and valleys, sometimes teetering on the edge, and culminating in crossing America’s highest suspension bridge.
Instead of driving across the bridge, however, we ramped up the oh-crap! factor by flinging ourselves across the canyon on a 1,200-foot high zip line. Although we survived the harrowing-slash-exhilarating experience, it did give our hearts a workout on the don’t-look-down journey. To acknowledge our survival, we spent the rest of the afternoon giving thanks for our wills to live (and each other) over a VIP wine and cheese tasting at the award-winning Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, set against the spectacular backdrop of the Wet Mountains.
6. Sunrise in Garden of the Gods will take your breath away
Before our early afternoon flight home, we made one last stop at can’t-miss Garden of the Gods, a registered National Natural Landmark, to watch the sunrise. Entering the park before daylight was out of our comfort zone (what kind of animals are lurking in the dark? Just bunnies and bats as it turned out), but that’s what this trip was all about — trying new things together, and clinging to one another for reassurance and safety. And as the sky filled with the fiery pink-orange glow of another day dawning, our romantic getaway was whole with the reveal of 300-foot towering sandstone rock formations in a park with a rich past that dates back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Perfect place to leave our footprints in Colorado Springs — side by side.
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He splits his time between homes in New York City and the Jersey Shore with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.
Photo Credit: Helen Hunt Falls, by Bijan Pirnia