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Mountain Majesty in Colorado Springs

Striking mountains and scenic natural beauty surround Colorado Springs, Colorado. The city lies near the base of Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains at more than 14,000 feet. It’s the second-most-visited mountain in the world, next to Mount Fuji in Japan.

Outdoor recreation takes place year-round in this so-called alpine desert climate that is relatively mild and dry. Located 70 miles south of Denver and just over an hour from Denver’s International Airport, Colorado Springs averages more than 300 annual days of sunshine with crystal blue skies.

The Springs’ colorful history began when miners came to seek their fortunes in silver and gold. In 1871, the region’s first narrow-gauge railroad was constructed by Gen. William Jackson Palmer. On its heels in 1872, he planned and incorporated Colorado Springs as a rival to any city on the East Coast in elegance and refinement. Today, the city offers more than 55 attractions and is home to the United States Air Force Academy and the United States Olympic Training Center, both of which offer group tours.

Among the numerous urban parks, Garden of the Gods was once considered sacred ground where the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes could meet in peace and bathe in the mineral springs. Today, groups can hike, horseback ride and visit the completely renovated Visitor and Nature Center. Also popular, the Broadmoor’s Pikes Peak Cog Railway will celebrate 125 years this June. The railway ascends several climate zones on its three-and-a-half-hour round trip from the historic Manitou Springs depot to the summit.

Indoor attractions offer a variety of other highlights for groups. Focus on the Family’s Welcome Center offers a glimpse into the heart behind the famous ministry organization. Its theater shows “Welcome Home,” a 12-minute, continuously looping film, as well as “The Last Chance Detectives,” an hourlong drama about four teenagers who solve mysteries. Not to be missed, the enormous bookstore sells inspirational books, music, movies and gifts. Nearby, the Space Foundation Discovery Center displays the its collection of space artifacts, and its Science on a Sphere features a 3-D “globular” movie screen built by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The region also offers whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River, daytime and lantern tours at Cave of the Winds, and the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park in Canon City.

Broadmoor Seven Falls and Soaring Adventure

Seven Falls is the only Colorado waterfall included on National Geographic’s list of international wonders and is recently open again after a two-year renovation project. Groups can climb the 224 steps to a series of waterfalls in the towering box canyon. There are plentiful hiking trails, and the on-site Restaurant 1858 serves regional fare. For thrill seekers, the Broadmoor Soaring Adventure offers 10 zip lines up to 1,800 feet long, rope bridges and a rappelling wall with spectacular canyon views. Two additional courses traverse a natural granite arch, steep drops, rock formations, jagged cliffs and Seven Falls Canyon.

Money Museum

In honor of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, the Money Museum has unveiled its newest exhibit, “Olympic Games — History and Numismatics.” The exhibit showcases objects and memorabilia that honor the Olympic Games from their ancient beginnings to modern times. Notable artifacts include rare Syracusan dekadrachms and a complete set of award medals from the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, plus participation medals, torches and several mascots. In addition, visitors can watch a demonstration of how coins were made with a screw press from the early 1500s to the 1800s and take home a commemorative coin.

Colorado Springs Rodeo and Chuck Wagon Dinner

An authentic Western experience, the new summerlong Colorado Springs Rodeo, will take place at the Norris-Penrose Equestrian Center on Wednesday nights. Admission includes prerodeo activities such as a petting zoo and a climbing wall. A chuck-wagon supper is served before the mutton-busting, calf-scramble and barrel-racing events start. The evening wraps up as clowns and bull riders put on a show and riders compete for nightly prize money. Afterward, groups can watch hot-air balloons inflate for a balloon glow in the starry sky, eat s’mores around a campfire and enjoy live entertainment.

[ Cheyenne Mountain Zoo ]

A trip to America’s only mountain zoo invites groups to connect with nearly 950 animals from around the world. The zoo’s newest exhibit features the Outback, where wallabies, Australian parakeets and alligators live. Always a highlight is the chance to hand-feed the zoo’s giraffe herd, which is the largest herd at any zoo worldwide. A chairlift-style Sky Ride delivers views of the city and surrounding mountains, and a restored carousel delights visitors of all ages. Animal encounters, training demonstrations and feedings are scheduled daily to showcase the zoo’s black rhinos, wolves, grizzlies, gorillas, Nile hippos and more.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.