PIKES PEAK TOLL HIGHWAY

 

DRIVE TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD

 

.

 

Pikes Peak is nowhere near the top of the list of Colorado’s tallest peaks, but it is undoubtedly the state’s most famous mountain... for several reasons. First of all, Colorado has dozens of peaks over 14.000 feet. The tallest is Mt. Elbert with a height of 14,433 feet, so there’s not much disparity between the tallest Colorado peaks... and at 14,110 feet, Pikes Peak is not far from the top. Secondly, Pikes Peak stands alone... a lone sentinel at the edge of eastern Colorado’s prairie... visible from many miles away. Finally, because it is so huge and massive, you can actually DRIVE to the SUMMIT of Pikes Peak.

The Pikes Peak Highway starts out high and climbs 6710 feet from the toll gate to the summit. It is a 60 mile round trip to the summit from Colorado Springs. On the way you will encounter lots of tremendous scenery. You’ll roll right along for the first few miles... perhaps you’ll begin to believe that the whole drive will be a piece of cake. Then you’ll climb above the tree line and the situation changes dramatically. The final 11 miles are unpaved. Carved into the side of the mountain, the final stretch has numerous hairpin curves, no guard rails and long, steep drops off the side of the road. The drive is definitely not for the faint of heart. Admittedly, I was a touch nervous, but my 11-year old refused to look out the car window and laid down on the seat. You will creep along at about 15 mph... you will not wish to drive any faster. As you climb ever-higher above the tree line, the air becomes increasingly thin and the view becomes more dramatic. Upon reaching the 14,110-foot summit, you’ll likely experience a sense of accomplishment. Spend a few minutes in the Summit House, which contains lots of info about Pikes Peak, the obligatory gift shop, and a snack bar with hot food. Most adults will notice the scarcity of oxygen at the summit. According to a gift shop employee, visitors pass out from oxygen deprivation regularly. They have oxygen on hand and paramedics stationed at the summit. We did not witness any such episodes, but we were told that a kid had passed out cold earlier in the day. One of their most popular t-shirts is a spoof of the famous "Got Milk?" advertising campaign. The shirt reads "Got Oxygen?". Although I did feel a tad light-headed, none of us experienced any ill-effects from the altitude, including Mom. If you’re in decent health and you don’t overexert yourself, you should be fine.

Of course, the view from the Pikes Peak summit is incredible. On a clear day, visitors can see for great distances. Since you are at the summit, no matter where you look, you are looking down upon the horizon... inspiring a feeling of being "on top of the world". There are some dangerous steep drops at the summit, so keep an eye on adventurous kids.

Certainly, you want to be sure that your brakes are in good shape and you have plenty of gas before attempting this drive. I had thought the drive back down the Pikes Peak Highway would be more difficult because of the extensive braking, but that really wasn’t the case. However, a few miles down the road, motorists must stop at a brake checkpoint. A ranger checks the brake temperature of each vehicle passing through. Those with hot brakes are asked to pull over into a parking lot to allow the brakes to cool. We were asked to pull over and wait ½ hour. Roughly one out of three vehicles was pulled over, although it didn’t appear that many stayed for more than 10 minutes or so. "Coincidently", the brake checkpoint is located right in front of a small gift shop, so tourists may shop as they allow their brakes to cool.

The Pikes Peak Highway is a toll road and is very heavily traveled despite the fact that a big chunk of it is unpaved. The toll is $10 per person. Kids under 16 are free. The maximum charge per private vehicle is $35. The entrance to the road is about 10 miles west of Colorado Springs just off US 24. Directions are clearly marked from the highway. The road is open daily from 7-7 from May 1 to mid-September, 9-3 the rest of the year when weather permits. Don’t be deceived by what appears to be a relatively short drive. Considering the very slow moving traffic, crowds, roadside stops and possible time to let your brakes cool, allow at least 3 ½ hours for your round trip... possibly 4 or more hours. We visited between about 1 and 5 PM on a Sunday in August, 2002. The weather was partly sunny with clouds and occasional light shower. Of course, the temperature in considerable cooler at the summit. You may even need long pants and a jacket. Whether your kids (or you for that matter) enjoy the drive really depends on everyone’s personality, likes and dislikes. I loved it. Mom loved it. My younger daughter was OK with it and my older daughter whined about the perilous drops just outside the car windows (which I found mildly amusing... call me sadistic). Bus tours are available from Colorado Springs for those who prefer not to drive. The summit is also accessible via the Pikes Peak Cog Railway which embarks in Manitou Springs. It is expensive. The fare is $25.50 for adults and $13.50 for kids 5-11 (2002). Reservations are required for the Cog Railway. (719) 685-5401

 

Read my Colorado reviews on epinions.com:

Rocky Mountain National Park

Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs

The Mason Jar Restaurant - Colorado Springs

Denver Museum of Natural History

A LIST OF ALL OF MY EPINIONS.COM REVIEWS

 

 

 

.

 

PIKES PEAK HIGHWAY PHOTOS (Click on thumbnails for larger image):

 

.

 

 

AT THE SUMMIT

THE DESCENT - NOT FAR FROM THE TOP

THE DESCENT - ALMOST TO THE BOTTOM

 

.

 

 

COG RAILWAY ARRIVES AT THE SUMMIT

BRAKE CHECKPOINT

VIEW FROM THE SUMMIT

 

.

 

 
 

AT THE SUMMIT

VIEW FROM THE SUMMIT

 
 

..

 

.

 

 

.