Three Days In: Pikes Peak Region

Courtney Messenbaugh

My husband and I were set to escape to Los Angeles for a long weekend, but then I got an assignment, in addition to my typical Road Review column, to write about the Pikes Peak region. Since free time is in short supply, our Los Angeles trip quickly morphed into a visit to the land a couple of hours south. My husband was skeptical, but a getaway is a getaway, so he climbed into the 2019 GMC Acadia AWD Denali, provided to us by AAA Colorado AutoSource, with only a hint of reluctance.

The Acadia cocooned us in a quiet and smooth ride down I-25, and the car reminded me to stay in my lane as my husband and I enjoyed the current of conversation that parents, who are away from their children, enjoy. For two hours, we cruised and talked, our bags nestled in the spacious rear cargo space, and our favorite tunes playing via Apple CarPlay over the Bose premium audio system. My husband even took a little time to finish some work on his laptop thanks to the car’s 4G LTE WiFi.

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Manitou Springs
A hidden gem

The skies were blue, the sun was out, and we were determined to do the infamous Manitou Incline, which has become something of a zeitgeist among fitness enthusiasts. In just under a mile, you gain 2,000 vertical feet, and climb 2,744 stairs. After 29 minutes, my husband was at the top (loser) and after 44 minutes, I got there (winner). While folks around me took selfies to post and boast, I took a minute to regain my breath and enjoy the expansive view from the top. A winding 4-mile loop down the piney Barr Trail got us back to the parking lots and into the comfort of the Acadia to let the more leisurely parts of our weekend begin.

We checked into our room at the AAA Four Diamond-rated The Cliff House. Located in the middle of town, The Cliff House is tantamount to being in a Victorian dream, with a warm staff, beautifully preserved antiques, and the proper amount of haunting rumors. We soon left the hotel’s 1880s ambience, and “time traveled” across the street to the 1980s ambience of Arcade Amusements. Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man only skim the surface of what’s available at this remarkable arcade, and they’re all still only a quarter, maybe two.

Radiantly Raw Chocolate offers a variety of hand-crafted, raw chocolate delicacies. Courtesy of Manitou Springs Chamber

Stomachs a-grumbling, we peeled ourselves away from the games of our misspent youth to indulge at Radiantly Raw Chocolate, just down the street. I’m something of a chocolate connoisseur, and Radiantly Raw blew my mind. Not only does this special chocolate taste divine, it’s also has ample health benefits thanks to the usage of unroasted (raw) cacao. Whether or not I could feel its healthy effects, I was refreshed enough to skip on over to the CommonWheel Co-Op and shop with uncharacteristic abandon. The Co-Op showcases the works of more than 35 area artists, and includes everything from bespoke Mardi Gras masks to blown glass. But, it was only the beginning of our immersion into the area’s art scene.

Manitou’s main street sparkles with galleries, and a highlight of our time was the hour we spent at the Mark Day Gallery (formerly the Tracy Miller Studio) and its neighboring gallery, Fare Bella. Mark Day, himself, and Patrice Miller, artist and owner of Fare Bella, literally welcomed us with open arms, even though the gallery was closed, and gave us the gift of their time and insider insights, not to mention a glimpse at their beautiful artwork. That’s just the kind of town this is.

After dinner, we rolled back to The Cliff House for a cozy night’s sleep and reluctantly packed up the Acadia the next morning, making sure to hide some Radiantly Raw Chocolate for later in the ear underfloor cargo area. As bewitched as we were by Manitou, we had to move on, and will certainly return.


Colorado Springs
An urban retreat

Towering granite walls crowned by elaborate embellishment adorn the lobby of The Mining Exchange in Colorado Springs. Courtesy of

As we headed to over Colorado Springs, the inclement weather caused limited visibility, and people were in a weekend rush mode, which made lane changes on the highway challenging. Thankfully, the Side Blind Zone Alert feature gave me a heads-up whenever I was about to get into trouble. After a 40-minute drive, which should have taken 20, we finally made it to The Mining Exchange hotel, another AAA Four Diamond-rated property. Built in 1902, the hotel has a rich history as the former stock exchange for local mining companies. Today, it’s a thoroughly modern hospitality experience, offering everything you might need or want, including pet-friendly rooms, renowned dining, and the MX Spa—which is an escape unto itself. Given the somewhat tense drive we had experienced, we headed straight there for a couple’s massage.

An hour later, our bodies were loosened into a state of bliss and we enjoyed some hot tea and light snacks in the golden glow of the spa lounge. Eventually, we coerced ourselves to explore the shops on Tejon Street, just a block north. Like any good modern city, there’s everything from craft breweries to co-working spaces.

As we strolled Tejon, we stumbled upon Pikes Peak Lemonade Company, the only lemonade taproom in the country. Straight from the tap into reusable mason jars, with brightly colored lids and paper straws, Pikes Peak Lemonade packs a punch of flavor (think hibiscus lemonade or jalapeno limeade) and eco-consciousness. Lemonade in hand, we spent the rest of the afternoon popping in and out of the many shops.

As the sun began to set, we noticed tables set out in alleyways and string lights twinkling above, and we heard the cacophony of evening conversations and clink of wine glasses. As working parents of three busy children, the complete idyll of being able to ramble around this accessible town with no agenda was the very panacea my husband and I didn’t even know we craved.

Ivywild School is a place where neighbors, friends, colleagues and visitors can meet and mingle to enjoy great local fare and share ideas. Courtesy of

Still in that languorous mode the next morning, we packed up the Acadia and grabbed brunch at Ivywild Kitchen in the Ivywild School, a bustling marketplace of global handmade goods and artisanal food and drink on the west side of town. It was here we noticed an edgier side of the Springs emerging. The younger crowd was split between the bar at the aptly named The Principal’s Office and the desk-like seating in the wide hallways. As we munched on handmade jalapeno poppers, perfectly crisp and vinegary Brussels sprouts, and a Portobello mushroom sandwich, we eavesdropped on those around us, hearing delightfully strong opinions on current television shows, various methodologies for homebrewing, and the sickest (read: best) mountain bike trail in the area (Hummingbird Trail in Ute Valley Park, according to one fellow). As it turns out, the Ivywild School is still a place where one can learn and seems to still be cultivating the curiosity and exploratory attitude that any good school should.


Old Colorado City
An original marketplace

Old Colorado City’s W. Colorado Avenue is a vibrant hub for art, shopping, and dining. Courtesy of

We spent our final day in Old Colorado City (OCC, to the locals), which is now, technically, a neighborhood that lies between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Back in the late 1850s, it was its own town where miners would come to gear and fuel up during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. In fact, in 1862, Old Colorado City was the capital of the Colorado Territory for five days before elected officials decided they preferred the posher environs of Denver. Lined with historic brick and stone buildings, OCC’s main drag, West Colorado Avenue, is a street that belies the dust and dance halls of times past.

Today, OCC is known for being a vibrant hub for art, shopping, and dining. Since nearly everyone we encountered during our trip suggested we eat at Paravicini’s, it was the first place we headed. You can smell the garlic from down the street, and the mounds of homemade pasta simultaneously stuff you full, yet leave you wanting more. There will be a wait, that’s guaranteed, but it’s well worth it. So, grab a glass of the house Chianti and settle in to converse and observe, like we did.

After lunch, we wandered in and out of what felt like most of the nearly 100 specialty shops and galleries. As an avid art enthusiast without much talent for it, I loved being able to watch many of the artists at work. It’s a more interactive experience than you typically get, making it more memorable.

Of course, there is a First Friday Artwalk running April through December, and a Saturday Farmers’ Market, from June through October, that is allegedly one of the best in the region. Having previously been to Old Colorado City for a Farmers Market, I can tell you that the neighborhood truly shines at these community-centered events. Live music, local food, and an animated crowd are the ideal way for this neighborhood to pay homage to its storied past.

Since nothing lasts forever, my husband and I eventually had to peel ourselves away from the Pikes Peak region and head back home to reality. As we once again settled into the Acadia’s comfortable front seats, we let the pure delight of the weekend settle into us. We’d previously only known the Pikes Peak area in terms of isolated visits to singular places—The Broadmoor, Garden of the Gods—but this long weekend opened our eyes to the depth of experience that the region offers. Whether you’re a foodie, an art enthusiast, an avid outdoors person, a history buff, or all the above, you’ll find something here you like.

More “Three Days In”

Watch your inbox for more things to do in the Pikes Peak Region in the next EnCompass Exclusive e-newsletter—a monthly email that provides exclusive content you won’t find in the print edition. Plus, keep an eye out for the next series of “Three Days In” in the September-October 2019 edition of EnCompass.

Courtney Messenbaugh is a freelance writer in Lafayette who has been writing about cars and life in the car for more than a decade.