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A stereotype describes two defining elements to winter in Colorado: snow-covered mountains and skiing.  Now that our family has lived in Colorado Springs, I’ve learned the Pikes Peak area offers more activities than skiing, many of which are accessible, inexpensive winter activities suited to families. Take time to explore family recreation options in the Pikes Peak region—indoor, outdoor, and options that are a little of both.

Money Museum of the American Numismatic Association

The Money Museum of the American Numismatic Association was a pleasant surprise to our family; it’s much more engaging than it sounds.  “Numismatists” are coin collectors whose Association and Museum are located in Colorado Springs. Visitors to the Money Museum learn history, geography, metallurgy, and economic principles as they see
ancient coins, coins recovered from shipwrecks, and international currency.  Downstairs in the Kids Zone, displays teach children about money the way they learn best: by doing and playing. Through hands-on activities, interactive exhibits, and free classes, children can pick up basic and advanced concepts—from how to make change to understanding monetary systems and conversion rates.  Children 12 and under are free, while adults and older children are admitted for just $5. Discounts are available for military, seniors, students with a school ID card, and groups of eight or more.  The Money Museum is closed Sundays and Mondays.  It’s easy to find on the campus of Colorado College in central Colorado Springs.

Cripple Creek Heritage Center 

Cripple Creek is a picturesque little town southwest of Pikes Peak, about an hour and 15-minute drive from Colorado Springs.  The Heritage Center’s boasts a visitor center with very high ratings.  Its museum has displays and exhibits on the history of the mining and railroad industries, Native Americans, and animals that are indigenous to this beautiful mountain area. Children will enjoy the interactive exhibits at the Heritage Center.  A restored three-story building, the Heritage Center offers incredible views of Cripple Creek and the Sangre de Cristos mountains.  Admission is free.

Open Spaces and Parks

As the locals joke, residents in Southern Colorado often shovel a path to their grills for dinner.  In other words, while the area may receive snow overnight, any accumulation usually melts to slush by noon thanks to daytime warming and sunny skies. That means outdoor options are diverse.  Parks in Colorado are public spaces that have been
“improved” with playgrounds, ball fields, and bark parks. Open spaces are public green spaces that are largely undeveloped other than the creation of hiking and biking trails.  Because most snowfalls don’t linger, winter is a great time to get outdoors to hike trails in the many Open Spaces, city and state parks in southern Colorado.  With a snow-covered Pikes Peak as a constant backdrop, you’ll encounter other hikers, dog walkers, and even cyclists on “fat” bikes as you hike.  If you hike an area with an incline, it’s a good idea to strap a pair of ice cleats onto your shoes or boots.  They provide added traction in any shaded spots that are not fully melted. Ice cleats can be purchased at sporting goods stores for about $20 per pair and are sold according to shoe size.

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Located about 40 minutes northeast of Colorado Springs, this free, 750-acre park in Calhan, Colorado has been called a hidden gem.  Hike any of the trails (0.5 – 5 miles), and you’ll be amazed by the prismatic colors of this small canyon. When we hiked the Park, our children enjoyed the interesting geological features like overhangs and spires, but especially the formations called “hoodoos.” The park is named “Paint Mines” because it’s thought that Native Americans used the mineral deposits to color their pottery shades of red, orange, yellow, purple, and gray.  Paint Mines has three parking lots around the perimeter, all of which provide similar access to trailheads leading to the rock formations.  Restrooms are sparse.  While the colorful rock formations in Utah and Arizona parks are larger and more impressive, the Paint Mines are much more accessible.
Ice skating

Thanks to the overall winter sports enthusiasm in Colorado, ice skating rinks are numerous.  Figure skating, ice hockey, speed skating, and curling all drive the need for plenty of ice rinks. Rinks open to the public for recreational figure skating include Sertich Ice Center, the Air Force Academy, Honnen Ice Arena at Colorado College, Broadmoor World Arena Ice Hall, and Monument Ice Rinks.  Seasonal, outdoor rinks are located in Woodland Park and in Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs. These rinks are usually open mid-November through mid-January and often have themed nights with food vendors. To ice skate, indoors or out, fees are usually $8-$10 per person, which includes rental skates.

The United States Air Force Academy

Free, self-guided tours of the United States Air Force Academy begin in the Visitor Center. There you’ll see a short film on the life of a cadet, a comprehensive museum with the Academy’s “pillars of excellence” displays, a sample cadet dorm room, and explanations of the rigorous entrance qualifications required of students at the Academy. Not surprisingly, the Visitor Center also houses a large gift shop. Next, you’ll have a chance to head outside to walk parts of the expansive campus which overlook several cadet areas. On select days at 11:30 a.m., guests can view the Noon Meal Formation, a military ceremony that’s quite impressive to watch.  The walking tour ends at the noted U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel. Controversial when it was built in 1962 due to its modernist design, but now listed on the National Historic Register, the Chapel’s soaring glass walls and aluminum spires call to mind the heights to which pilots soar.  To enter the Academy, an active military installment, guests must use the North Gate entrance, provide a
government-issued ID for all adult occupants of the vehicle, and be willing to have their vehicle searched.

Manitou Springs Penny Arcade

For the cost of a roll of quarters, enjoy a good ole fashioned arcade setting.  The Penny Arcade is located in a quirky mix of indoor and outdoor buildings, with some games situated outdoors on sidewalks and under covered awnings. There, you’ll find building after building, room after room, of pinball, skeeball, classic games like Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Donkey Kong, juke boxes, and kiddie rides for the younger crowd.  Of course, there’s a prize counter where you can redeem your tickets for penny candy, trinkets, and stuffed animals.  Situated way in the back is one building full of older games that still accept dimes, nickels, and even pennies–so the arcade really is true to its name. All the games require exact change, so stop by a bank for rolls of coins on your way to the arcade.  Once the coins are gone, the kids realize it’s time to be done. Parking for the Penny Arcade is available on the street, so you may need to park a few blocks away if it’s a busy time in Manitou Springs.  Check their facebook page for specific hours, but the Arcade usually stays open 12 hours a day.

In the year our family has called the Pikes Peak region home, my “ski first” misconception has been busted. Recreational activities are available on a shoestring budget.  Extend a hearty welcome to winter in southern Colorado!