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4 Ways To Enjoy Uncrowded Hiking at Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs

The main sign of Garden of the Gods.

Garden of the Gods is one of the crown jewels of Colorado Springs. Massive red rock formations jut from the ground for hundreds of feet, competing with Pikes Peak for attention from tourists worldwide.

But as with all good things, there’s a downside. The crowdsColorado Springs City website tells us that an estimated four million people visit this incredible natural landmark annually. So, how can you enjoy the beautiful views without bumping elbows with everyone?

This article will explore uncrowded hiking at Garden of the Gods. We’ll go over the best places to park, the best trails, and how to view this awe-inspiring scenery in peace. The best part? Garden of the Gods is free to enter thanks to the children of Charles Elliott Perkins, who kept his wish of always wanting the Gardens to be free and open to the public.

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The Trails At Garden Of The Gods

View of Pikes Peak behind garden of the gods park.

Garden of the Gods is home to over 1300 acres of beautiful scenery, hiking trails, bike trails, and, of course, the sandstone rocks. Within this Natural National Landmark, there are dozens of trails spanning for miles.

Just to the east is the Air Force Academy, and there are plenty of restaurants and breweries around to celebrate your hike afterward!

The trick to Garden of the Gods is choosing a trail that still offers the park’s beauty without compromising the desired solitude of hiking. Below, we’ll go over the best trails at Garden of the Gods and give you recommendations on uncrowded hiking at Garden of the Gods. 

We won’t include every trail in the park. Instead, we’ll give you the main ones that will provide you with the best views. You can check out this Garden of the Gods hiking trail map for reference!

Central Garden Trail

Many people visiting Garden of the Gods will take the Central Garden Trail. This is a 1.56-mile paved trail that takes you around the central park. It is sometimes referred to as the Perkins Central Garden trail, referring to Charles Perkins, who originally owned the land.

Central Garden Trail map at Garden of the Gods park.

While walking the path, you’ll get to catch a glimpse of some of the main attractions in the park:

  • Kissing Camels
  • North Gateway Rock
  • Sentinal Spires
  • South Gateway Rock
  • Pulpit Rock
  • Cathedral Spires
  • Three Graces

This trail is excellent for those not in hiking shape but still wanting to enjoy the beauty of Colorado’s red rocks. It’s also great for families, and there are plenty of informational signs around this path that will give you an inside look at the history of the rocks and the wildlife and ecosystems within.

This trail is not recommended for uncrowded hiking at Garden of the Gods. It’s by far the most popular trail, and you will share it with hundreds of other people. That said, it’s worth walking if it’s your first time at the park.

Ute Trail

The Ute trail is located on the southeastern side of the park. It is named after the Native American Ute tribe, which called Colorado their home until around the mid-19th Century when they were removed to reservations.

Ute Trail map at Garden of the Gods park.

You can catch a glimpse of a few famous rocks from the Ute Trail, including:

  • Gray Rock
  • Sleeping Giant
  • Keyhole Window

However, the Ute Trail isn’t the best if you’re looking to see the main attractions of the park. Because of this, the trail tends to be secluded and is less popular. The Ute Trail can be made into a 1.1-mile loop, but this trail is best for connecting to other trails around the park (more on that later!).

Susan G. Bretag Trail

Like the Ute Trail, Susan G. Bretag isn’t a great trail if you want to see views of the whole park. However, it’s an excellent connecting trail and still gives you fantastic views of a few of the main rock formations in the park:

  • White Rock
  • Kissing Camels
  • North Gateway Rock
  • Tower of Babel

This trail is located on the northeast side of the park, near the park entrance, and is less than half a mile long. Because it’s near the park entrance, it tends to be a little more crowded than the Ute trail but still less crowded than the Central Gardens trail.

Gateway Trail

The Gateway Trail is a popular trail that takes you from the lower parking lot into the central park. This trail is an excellent way to get to the main part of the park and Central Gardens, but otherwise, it’s an unexciting 0.3-mile trail.

Gateway trail map at Garden of the Gods Park.

At certain times of the year, the wildflowers will bloom to give you a pretty view, and the backdrop of the red rocks inspires you to keep going.

Palmer Trail

The Palmer Trail is one of the best in the park if you’re looking for uncrowded hiking at Garden of the Gods. It’s a 1.89-mile trail that encompasses the northern and western sides of the park.

The Palmer trail map at Garden of the Gods Park.

It’s unlikely you’ll be alone on this trail, but it’s the best choice if you’re looking for a hiking trail that’s less crowded but still offers spectacular views of the rocks. From the Palmer Trail, you’ll see almost all of the main rock formations offered at Garden of the Gods:

  • Tower of Babel
  • Kissing Camels
  • North Gateway Rock
  • White Rock
  • Sentinel Spires
  • South Gateway Rock
  • Three Graces
  • Cathedral Spires
  • Pulpit Rock
  • Giant Footprints
  • Gray Rock
  • Keyhole Window
  • Sleeping Giant
  • Scotsman
  • Siamese Twins

In fact, the only rocks you won’t see are Balanced Rock and Steamboat Rock. Palmer Trail can be connected to other trails to make it a loop, but more on that later!

Scotsman Trail

The last trail on our list is the Scotsman Trail. This short, 1-mile loop trail is located at the southwestern end of the park and offers some decent views of the southern rocks at Garden of the Gods.

  • Keyhole Window
  • Sleeping Giant
  • Gray Rock
  • Scotsman
  • Giant Footprints

You may also catch a glimpse of Cathedral Spires and Three Graces. The Scotsman Trail loop is less popular, so it’s a nice path for solitude. However, it offers fewer views than the Palmer Trail.

A quick note on rock climbing:

If you’re like us, you might enjoy hiking and rock climbing! If so, there are a few rocks that allow rock climbing. It is a mix of trad and sport, depending on where you climb:

  • Keyhole Window
  • North Gateway Rock
  • South Gateway Rock
  • Three Graces
  • Twin Spires

Best Uncrowded Hiking At Garden Of The Gods

If you’re visiting Garden of the Gods for the first time, it’s unlikely you’ll realize there are outside trails around the park. You’ll most likely follow the crowd of people leading to the Central Garden Trail. Hey, that’s what I did my first time there!

Crowds of people at Garden of the Gods park during the busy season.

But there’s a better option! Hiking the outside trails at Garden of the Gods gives you great views while still having a sense of solitude on the path.

Whether you want to hike a less-crowded path or not, if it’s your first time visiting Garden of the Gods, I always recommend taking the Central Garden Trail. It’s a short 1.5-mile loop that gives you a close-up view of the awe-inspiring rocks. 

That said, when you’ve had your fill of the paved path, it’s time to take your hiking boots to the road less traveled…

Where To Park

Garden of the Gods is typically accessed via North 30th Street to Gateway Road. However, it can also be accessed from Becker’s Lane past the Garden of the Gods Trading Post or Garden Drive. For our purposes, we’ll walk you through the main entrance from N 30th Street.

First things first, let’s get you to a parking lot! Most folks drive into the park and look for a parking space in one of the many lots along Juniper Way. However, for those who prefer uncrowded hiking, make a left when you pull onto Gateway Road.

Just down the road is a large gravel parking area. This lot is typically not crowded, but it can fill up on holiday weekends or lovely days in the peak of the tourist season. 

Here’s how to find this lot:

Typing in ‘Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site’ will get you to the road off of Gateway Road. If you’re coming from the North, you’ll pass by the nature center and the Garden of the Gods visitor center, which are great places to stop for information about the park and tours.

Now, snag a parking spot, and we’ll keep moving forward!

The Best Uncrowded Hike At Garden Of The Gods

To get the absolute best views of the park without the crowds, you’ll have to take several different trails and connect them. Don’t worry; I’ll walk you through it step-by-step so you can enjoy this park from an angle that not many visitors get to see.

The following steps will take you on a less-crowded path around Garden of the Gods, providing amazing views without all the people around. To start, from the parking lot, walk back towards Gateway Road. 

The main sign of Garden of the Gods.

You can snag a photo with the big Garden of the Gods sign across the road before you start your journey! When ready, take the steps below for the ultimate uncrowded hiking at Garden of the Gods.

  1. Gateway Trail: From the Garden of the Gods sign, jump on the Gateway Trail and head towards the park entrance. Just before the main intersection (about 0.3 miles), hang a right onto the Susan G. Bretag Trail.
  2. Susan G. Bretag Trail: Follow the Susan G. Bretag Trail for 0.3 miles until you come to a Y. Take a left to jump on the Palmer Trail.
  3. Palmer Trail: Continue on the Palmer Trail, snaking your way around the northern side of the park. You’ll eventually turn south, exploring the western edges of Garden of the Gods. As you hike, you’ll be standing at a higher elevation than the Central Gardens, giving you a fantastic bird’s eye view of the entire landscape below you.
  4. Palmer Trail (cont’d): As you continue south, you’ll pass a few parking lots and two off-shoots on your left. Ignore these until you reach the third off-shoot (about 1.4 miles after turning on the Palmer trail). There will be two parking lots and a picnic area, as well as Scotsman Rock. Turn left here, cross the road, and continue to the Scotsman Trail. If you miss the turn, you’ll run into the Siamese Twins trail and know you’ve gone too far.
  5. Scotsman Trail (Cont’d): At the first intersection on the Scotsman Trail, take a left to head back towards the park’s center. At the next intersection (0.4 miles), hook a sharp right, heading south again. At the next intersection, make a left onto Buckskin Charlie Trail.
  6. Buckskin Charlie Trail: Follow the Buckskin Charlie Trail for 0.46 miles until you reach a T-intersection. Make a left onto Niobrara Trail.
  7. Niobrara Trail: Follow the Niobrara Trail towards the road, cross it, and continue on the path briefly until the next intersection (after about 0.2 miles). Hang a left to head towards the Ute Trail.
  8. Ute Trail: At the next intersection, continue straight to stay on the Ute Trail. You’ll hit a parking lot that you’ll have to cross to reconnect to the trail. Eventually, you’ll reach a small bouldering area called the Snake Pit. Continue past this, staying straight until you hit the main Gateway Road again. 
  9. Gateway Trail: From Gateway Road, jump back on the Gateway Trail and head back to the parking lot!
Uncrowded hiking trail map linking multiple trails at Garden of the Gods.

This is the ultimate uncrowded hiking at Garden of the Gods and spans about 4.5 miles. You get the views, the solitude, and a bit more of a challenge compared to the paved Central Garden trail. That said, there are plenty of side paths and off-shoots you can take to make the trail shorter or longer, depending on your preferences.

Hiking with Pets at Garden of the Gods

As always, we must write a section about pets on this hike! We dirtbags almost always bring our pup along for hikes, so pet information is super important.

Colorado is well known for its dog-friendliness, and Garden of the Gods is no different. Dogs are allowed on all the trails at the park, so go ahead and bring your furry pal with you! Just be aware that all dogs must be kept on a leash, and Garden of the Gods has a 6-foot leash policy.

However, the 6-foot leash policy is not strictly enforced if you are on the outer trails. We have an excellent guide on essential gear for hiking with your dog right here!

Other Ways To Achieve Uncrowded Hiking At Garden Of The Gods

You know where to park, and you know the best trail, but there are other ways you can enjoy Garden of the Gods without the crowds.

Go In The Off Season

Colorado has a few different touristy seasons, with the highest crowds being in summer for hiking and winter for skiing and snowboarding. If you’d like to avoid big crowds at Garden of the Gods, consider going during the off-season in winter.

Winter weather is finicky in this area, so you could have a lovely 60-degree day in the middle of January, followed by a cyclone bomb that drops three feet of snow. 

Check the weather and try to head there on a day that won’t be a blizzard but won’t be a blissful day either. Chilly weather keeps people inside, so aim for a cold day in winter to avoid crowds.

Hiking at Garden of the Gods with snow on the ground during sunrise.

Go Early Or Late

Garden of the Gods opens at 5 a.m. every day of the year. Most natives know about getting to a hike early, but not many people think about Garden of the Gods the same way they do a 14er in the National Forest.

Get to the park early, before 8 a.m., and you’re likely to avoid the majority of the crowds. On the other hand, going later in the evening is another way to prevent shuffling through groups of people. The park typically closes at sunset, so aim to get there an hour before sunset to enjoy a more peaceful hike.

A Garden Fit For The Gods

Garden of the Gods is a popular park and tourist attraction in Colorado Springs. The massive sandstone rocks can be seen from miles away and remind us of the geological history that occurred in the area long before we humans were around!

While it may not be a United States National Park, it is registered as a National Natural Landmark. Because of its popularity, Garden of the Gods can get quite crowded. If you’re anything like me, you might try to avoid the crowds at all costs! But this shouldn’t stop you from seeing the magnificent rock formations. 

Here’s a recap of 4 ways to enjoy uncrowded hiking at Garden of the Gods:

  1. Hike the outer trails
  2. Go in the off-season
  3. Get there early
  4. Go later in the evening

If you enjoy hiking at Garden of the Gods, you can check out our other guides on Colorado hiking

Have you hiked Garden of the Gods? Did you take a different path and enjoy it? Let us know in the comments below! Your stories inspire us to hike more and keep the adventure going!

For more hiking articles, head over to our hiking blog.

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