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Tour one of our favorite Colorado towns, Manitou Springs! It’s a fun little town right in our backyard in Colorado Springs.
Manitou Springs is a little town 6 miles east of Colorado Springs. It sits at 6,414 feet in elevation at the foothills of the Rockies, and has lots of history and fun attractions.
When you visit, you’ll notice the historic, Old West feel of the town. Many of the old 1900s buildings and homes are still standing. In the 1960s, Manitou Springs was known as a “hippie haven,” so there is a very spiritual and artsy feel to the town as well.
What to expect when visiting Manitou Springs
Best known for its small mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, pubs, and parks, Manitou Springs offers plenty to do in a relatively small area. Leave your car behind and enjoy this quirky town on foot.
While Manitou Springs has a booming tourist season from summer through Christmas, you won’t feel crammed. And it’s a great place to visit all year round!
The history of Manitou Springs
Long before the town was founded, the Ute Indians who once inhabited much of Colorado, would visit the Manitou Springs area to rest and heal by the natural springs.
Fun fact: Manitou is an Algonquin Indian word meaning “spirit.” The city of Manitou Springs was founded in 1871 as a “scenic health resort” (to attract those seeking “The Cure” for diseases like tuberculosis, and other ailments).
What makes the natural springs so special?
Naturally occurring mineral springs have been a popular tourist attraction for centuries. Here’s a bit more about how a mineral spring actually works!
Groundwater sits in underwater caverns, where it erodes the limestone. This creates carbonic acid (better known as CO2), which actually carbonates the water. It makes it bubbly!
The bubbles force the water up through the earth and out through cracks in the ground, and along the way, the water absorbs all the healthy minerals that make springs so special for healing.
This whole process takes 1000s of years, so the water is actually very free of any modern contaminates. You can drink this water fresh from the spring. And yes, it is naturally bubbly.
Top attractions in Manitou Springs
1. Mineral Springs Walking Tour
There are a total of 8 different natural springs in the Manitou Springs area, and you can see them all on this mineral spring walking map. These springs are NOT hot (unlike the hot springs at Glenwood Springs!).
Grab your map and take a stroll — and a sip! — at every spring in Manitou. Each spring has a different mineral content and natural carbonation, so each has a slightly different taste.
Fun Fact: Due to their various different mineral contents, doctors in the area once prescribed spring waters to their patience for ailments such as liver and kidney disease, and digestive disorders.
2. Garden of the Gods
The town sits in a canyon at the foot of the mountains making it an amazing scenic place. It’s an awesome gateway to explore nature and the rugged Rocky Mountains.
Plus, it’s super close to the Garden of the Gods, which is a must-visit place here in the state!
3. Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum
Visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum to explore realistic cliff dwellings like those found in Cortez, Colorado.
This authentic replica archaeological site was shipped to Manitou Springs in the early 1900s, and reassembled with all the same likeness and style as the original in southwest Colorado. Visitors can walk through the cliff dwellings and learn more about the native history of Colorado.
4. Manitou Penny Arcade
Play hundreds of old arcade games at the Manitou Penny Arcade! This arcade features rides, prizes, new and old games, pinball, skeeball, pool, and air hockey.
This is a bit of Manitou Springs nostalgia for long-time residents of Colorado, and anyone who still loves to hear those pinball flappers clacking!
5. The Manitou Incline
This super steep hike ascends 2,000 feet in less than a mile. Whew!
If you’re up for more than just a stroll around town, grab your hiking boots and follow this former tourist funicular to the summit of Rocky Mountain.
What’s a funicular? It’s a double railcar system that uses two cars — one going up, and one coming down — to pull riders up the mountainside by cable. The cars counterbalance each other along the ride up and down.
The funicular was officially closed in 1958, and the railways were washed out by a 1990 rock slide. The incredible incline remains — up to 68% — and is one of the most challenging athletic hikes in Colorado.
6. The Emma Crawford Coffin Race
It’s exactly what you think it is!
The story goes that Emma was a musical prodigy that lived in Manitou Springs. Before she died, she requested to be buried on top of a nearby mountain.
For some reason, she was not placed at the top of the mountain, but on the slope. And over time, due to erosion, poor old Emma came loose and slid down into the canyon in her coffin.
Nowadays, around Halloween, you too can race around in your coffin! At the Emma Crawford Festival each October, 1 Emma and 4 mourners prepare their costumes and their coffins for a race to the finish line. Winners can also take home prizes for “Best Entourage,” “Best Emma” and “Best Coffin!”
7. Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Since the first train reached the top of Pikes Peak from Manitou Springs in 1891, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway has been a popular tourist destination.
Though it has been closed for repairs since late 2017, the railway will reopen in 2021 with all new equipment. As you drive into Manitou Springs, you can see one of the original steam engines on display, just east of the downtown area.
Other local favorites in Manitou Springs
Manitou Springs is a wonderful place to shop, eat, and hunt ghosts (yes really!). Check out some of these favorites that even locals love to visit.
SALUS is a natural bath and body care company that specializes in bath and shower bombs, and lots of other amazing, all-organic products for your skin.
If you have sensitive skin, or just love supporting a local family company with amazing products, you’ll enjoy creating your own custom bath products at their first retail store right here in Manitou Springs.
9. The Loop
Built in 1903, The Loop became popular as a place to barbeque the wild game that patrons harvested from the surrounding mountains! Hunters would bring their elk, deer, and other kinds of game to be barbequed out back and served right back to them.
While the barbeque remains behind the restaurant, today you’ll see why The Loop won the Gold award in 2014 and 2015 for the best Margarita in the Pikes Peak area!
Fun Fact: The Loop was coined because the trolley from Colorado Springs to Manitou Springs looped around the building!
10. Patsy’s Chocolates and Gift Shop
This open air concession stand is the only permanent open air stand in all of Colorado!
Famous since 1903, you’ll love the gourmet popcorn and the best salt-water taffy you’ll find anywhere. Find lots of old fashioned candies and gifts at Patsy’s Chocolates and Gift Shop!
11. Colorado Custard Company
The Colorado Custard Company is the perfect stop on a hot summer day! Only open when the weather is above 40 degrees, this frozen custard shop serves up cones, cups, sundaes, and avalanches — a frozen custard with your favorite toppings mixed in!
How is frozen custard different from ice cream? Frozen custard contains more egg yolk than regular ice cream, which gives it that signature creaminess. There is much less air in custard because it is churned much more slowly. It’s smooth, dense, and not as cold as regular ice cream, so it tastes much better!
Try a Front Range split, a Volcano avalanche, or keep it simple with a classic sundae.
12. Miramont Castle and Cliff House
Since Manitou Springs is a historical town, it has its fair share of ghost stories and haunted houses! These incredible castles were built in the 1890s and have collected plenty of spooky stories over the years.
We hope you enjoy your next visit to this historic, off-beat little town nestled at the foot of the Colorado Rockies!