Updated June 11, 2018
On June 4, officials broke ground on the brand-new Pikes Peak Summit Complex, a new visitor center that will replace the original Summit House that has greeted millions of visitors since 1963. The new complex will clock in at a whopping 38,000 square feet and include new amenities, more educational experiences and greater accessibility. The project is scheduled to reach completion sometime in the fall of 2020, weather permitting (of course). We are all excited about this amazing new addition to the region’s most accessible 14er! In the meantime, we’ve decided to take a look back at the history of Pikes Peak and its famous highway which is now in its 70th year under the operation of the city of Colorado Springs.
Pikes Peak — The Early Years
Using the phrase “discover” to describe seeing an enormous mountain in plain view is pretty silly. So, we’ll just say that the first folks to notice Pikes Peak that weren’t native to the region were the Spanish in the 1700s. Pioneers would come across it again sometime later, with the first recorded attempt to summit it credited to Zebulon Pike, for whom the mountain is named today (the mountain went through a few name changes over time). Mr. Pike didn’t quite make it up in that first climb in 1806, likely because he decided to make the trip in November, which is notably cold, snowy, windy and super not fun. Much like the occasional visitors who try to climb Barr Trail in flip-flops without water, he wasn’t prepared for the peak’s harsh terrain and unpredictable weather. It was Edwin James who would finally ascend the mountain, traveling in the much more pleasant summer season in 1820. He came this close to being the mountain’s namesake, but Pikes Peak eventually won out as the official moniker, sans an apostrophe that would typically denote ownership.
Pikes Peak — The Early Roads to the Summit
Long before the easy-breezy paved highway that exists today, travelers got to the summit of the peak on foot or by burro or horse. In the late 1880s a road was created that allowed wagons to make the climb, too. While it was certainly preferable to ride in a wagon versus on the back of a live animal, it still wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys. A better ride awaited when the Cog Railway began construction in 1890 and began delivering people to the summit in style. Meanwhile, in the early 1900s, Fred Barr (yes, the namesake of Barr Trail) repurposed a prospector trail to make it an additional burro-friendly route to the summit. Needless to say, the mountain was quite popular, no matter how one chose to ascend it … much like it remains today.
The Official Pikes Peak Highway is Born
As noted above, the existing road was getting visitors to the summit, but it wasn’t the most comfortable ride. In 1915, Spencer Penrose decided to spiff it up for all the tourists and locals who wanted to see the view from the top of the world. A better road would be safer for the cars and busses that were becoming more and more popular during the time period. It cost a hefty (for the time) $500,000. In 1948, the city of Colorado Springs took over the management of the highway and does so to this day with the help of the PPAM Rangers who protect the mountain and roads for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who get to the top each year.
The New Pikes Peak Summit Complex
The new Pikes Peak Summit Complex stands to be as fascinating and unique as the history of the mountain it will stand on. As noted above, there are dozens of new features that will inspire and educate visitors.
- Interactive Digital Displays: Learn about the history of the mountain through cool and engaging displays (we haven’t covered even half the history that makes this mountain special). You can also learn about the geology of the mountain and its flora and fauna.
- Extensive Viewing Areas: You can’t travel to the top of 14er and not enjoy the jaw-dropping views. The new Pikes Peak Summit Complex will offer multiple areas to enjoy the expansive panorama, including sheltered areas and rooftop terraces.
- Shopping and Dining: Those hot donuts you love won’t disappear with the old Summit House. They’ll still be ready, available and world famous. You’ll also still be able to find souvenirs, t-shirts, homemade fudge and more — just in a fabulous new space.
- Sustainability: The plans have taken into account the best in energy, water and material conservation available with today’s technology, AND left room for adaptability in the future. The native flora and fauna have also been taken into account, with detailed plans to restore alpine tundra and create habits throughout the site.
Excited? You should be! And the best part is, the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex will be here before you know it. Until it’s finished, however, don’t forget that you can still drive up America’s Mountain, hike its amazing trails, fish in the crystal-clear lakes and enjoy the stunning views from the summit. The mountain experience isn’t going away — it’s just getting even better.
Written May 7, 2018
You’ve probably heard the news that the Pikes Peak Highway will soon be using shuttles to get visitors to the summit. But do you know why? (The reason is good news, we promise!) The new rule has been implemented because Pikes Peak is breaking ground on a brand-new Summit House this summer! That means that half of the parking lot is about to be filled with all sorts of construction equipment, tools and workers, which means way less room for visitors. Given the enormous number of folks who drive the Pikes Peak Highway all year (and the summer in particular), something had to change! The solution was to create a shuttle system that would allow everyone who wants to visit to make the trip without circling the parking lot for long periods of time, hoping for a spot. Let’s dispel some other worries we’ve heard about the new rules.
1. You Can Still Drive (Almost All) of the Pikes Peak Highway
Lots of people have been concerned that the entire highways is closed to drivers. Nope! Just the last three miles. That means you have all of the freedom you want to explore the mountain, stop on your own time and do what you like. The stopping point is at Mile 16 (of 19), where you’ll park at Devil’s Playground and take the shuttle the rest of the way to the top.
2. Certain Groups Can Still Drive to the Summit
Of course, not everyone can travel via the shuttle. Don’t worry! Certain individuals will be allowed to utilize the limited parking at the top, like those with ADA needs, vehicles with 10+ people (seatbelts required for every person in the vehicle) and those needing child restraint systems.
3. The Pikes Peak Shuttle is Free—and Frequent
The shuttles to the Pikes Peak Summit depart from Devil’s Playground every five minutes. They are roomy, safe and completely free. You’ll be dropped off right next to the Summit House, so you don’t have to wait to capture the incredible views. No pets will be allowed on the shuttle (service dogs are welcome), so you may need to switch off who goes up to the top if you bring your pup on the drive.
4. The Pikes Peak Summit House is Open
We know your real concern: Will there still be fresh, hot donuts? Yes! The Pikes Peak Summit House is still open while the new Summit House is being built. You can still enjoy a cup of cocoa, the world-famous hot donuts and pick up Pikes Peak souvenirs. And when the new Summit House is complete, you’ll want to come back and see why it was totally worth a little extra work to get to the top.
5. All the Trails, Lakes and Other Fun Areas Can Be Visited
Because it’s only the last three miles of the Pikes Peak Highway that are restricted, you’ll still have access to every other cool feature of the mountain. Fish, hike and mountain bike at North Slope Recreation Area, visit the Glen Cove Inn and stop off at any of the parking areas to explore.
6. Barr Trail is Open
Even with the highway changes and the closure of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, hikers are able to climb the famous 14er … with a few small changes. Instead of taking the Cog down, hikers will need to arrange for a ride to meet them at Devil’s Playground (fees apply). They can use the shuttle to get from the summit to the parking area without any issue. Read here for more tips on getting back down after hiking Pikes Peak.
7. Challenge Unlimited Will Run Downhill Bike Rides
One of the favorite activities for visitors is the downhill bike ride run by Challenge Unlimited. Since their vans hold 10+ people for the ride to the summit, they won’t have to utilize the shuttle and can go right to the top. And since the highway itself isn’t closed for any other reason than to help with parking during the building of the new Summit House, riders will be able to zip right down the mountain as usual.
There you have it, all the details you need to know about the new Pikes Peak Highway rules. As you can see, there’s not a whole lot that’s different about cruising up America’s Mountain and the minor changes that have happened are going to be worth it in the end, when the brand-new Summit House is complete!
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