Colorado Springs, at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains, is an absolute paradise for an outdoor enthusiast. Check out the photogenic Garden of the Gods with its impressive rock formations, or experience the beauty of the Crystal Creek Reservoir. There are multitudes of hiking trails, rivers, and lakes situated within driving distance of many Colorado Springs vacation rentals. Take a look at the most notable hidden gems in the city of Colorado Springs.

1. Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center

The Visitor Center, housed in a stone builidng that was once home to the Starsmore family, provides a fine introduction to the Cheyenne Canyon with its stunning waterfalls, flowers and wildlife. Open daily in summer and Tuesday through Saturday in Spring and fall, the center offers visitors free maps to the canyon, a bird-watching window, and activities for all ages. Kids enjoy the special nature programs, hands-on nature exhibits, tipi-raising and Ute heritage workshops, and the Junior Ranger Program. There are also guided walks through the many hiking trails that cross the canyon.

2. The Crystal Creek Reservoir

There’s plenty of space for everyone at this peaceful stretch of water in the shadows of Pikes Peak. Boasting nearly 3.5 miles of shoreline and parking for around 100 cars, the Crystal Creek Reservoir is very accessible, and offers a great place for a picnic or a hike. With only non-motorized boating allowed, the lake is a restful place, ideal for kids to venture out in a paddleboat or kayak. Make sure you pack your fishing gear to take to your vacation rental, as the lake’s heavily stocked with more than 17,000 trout each year. The lake opens to the public from May 1 through October. Please be aware that the Recreation Area closes to fishing during the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Race.

3. Ghost Town Museum

Turn back the clock and rediscover the authentic old wild west at this charming museum. Walk through a deserted town painstakingly recreated from buildings salvaged from abandoned towns across the Pikes Peak region. Hands-on activities include cranking a butter churn, testing your aim in the shooting gallery, and playing on the antique arcade games. The museum is open every day, year-round. You can also go panning for gold in the summer season. While you’re in the area, the Michael Garman Museum is well worth a visit. Marvel at this amazing miniature city, complete with its tiny model people strolling around, at work and play.

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4. The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine

For a taste of what mining life was like in the 19th century, make the trip out to Cripple Creek on Highway 67. With its shaft extending 1,000 feet deep inside the Cripple Creek mountains, the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine is as deep as the Empire State Building is high. Ride the underground tram 100 feet into the shaft to see displays of different mining methods, hear air-powered mining equipment, and view the gold in its natural state within the veins. At the end of the tour, visitors are rewarded with a free specimen of gold ore as a fabulous memento of an amazing adventure. The mine opens April through October, weather permitting. Check the website for exact dates and opening hours.

5. The National Museum of WWII Aviation

This museum is unique, in that it’s the only museum in the entire world that focuses solely on the role played by aviation in World War II. Take the kids along for a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see historic aircraft, including bombers, fighters and amphibious planes. Most of the aircraft are fully restored and can even fly. Wander around the collection of more than 3,000 artifacts and photographs that document this important period of American history. The museum opens to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays year-round.

6. Dragon Man’s Military Museum

This vast private military museum is owned by colorful vet Mel “Dragon Man” Bernstein. He has amassed every type of army jeep, along with German belt buckles, land mines, a complete Gulf War field hospital, bombs from the Vietnam War, dynamite sticks and more. Well-behaved children are allowed on the tours, but please be aware that not all of the exhibits are suitable for younger eyes. The museum is only open to the public for private tours. These take place on Saturdays or Sundays from May through October, and normally start promptly at 10 a.m. Call first to verify.

7. The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center

Located just 30 miles from Colorado Springs, the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center is a great way to get to meet these magnificent wild animals close up. The center also features foxes and coyotes, and is one the largest centers of this type in the whole of the United States. Interact with the wolves and enjoy howl sessions and feeding times. You need to make a reservation for special events, so check the Annual Events section of their website, and book well in advance as they fill up quickly.

8. The May Natural History Museum

A massive 10-foot metal beetle stands at the entrance of the May Natural History Museum, home to the biggest collection of bugs in the world. Join local families as they gaze in wonderment at more than 7,000 bugs, including spiders the size of your hand, butterflies as large as birds, and beetles so huge that they’ve been known to knock people over in flight. The museum is open daily from May 1 through September 30.

9. The Space Foundation Discovery Center

The Space Foundation Discovery Center is a heavenly place for kids that love to learn about space and the universe. Fun activities for families include an evening looking at and learning about the stars in the night sky, and a day spent building a rocket launch tower with various materials such as Lego, spaghetti, and marshmallows. Visit the website to check out their calendar and opening times.

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