“Fortune favors the bold,” the proverb says. At Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, the bold can find high-flying adventure without spending a fortune. The 1,050-foot deep Royal Gorge, 12 miles west of Canon City, Colorado, is spanned by one of the world’s highest bridges. And a park full of bold adventures has grown up around it. Plan to stay all day, and build your itinerary around our Royal Gorge suggestions.
Get A Taste Of Royal Gorge
Start your Royal Gorge day at the Elkhorn Loop Picnic Area and overlook. The free Overlook Trail enables visitors to see the gorge and get a taste of what they are about to experience. The trail is easy and offers beautiful views of the gorge and bridge. To reach the trail, turn left at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park turnoff and follow County Road 3A until you reach the trailhead. The overlooks offer good photo and selfie opportunities with the gorge and/or bridge as a backdrop. Stretch your legs in preparation for the adventure to come.
Enter The Royal Gorge Bridge And Park
Once you’ve taken some pictures, head into the park proper. The park offers free parking on the north side of the bridge. Oversized vehicles may park in Upper Parking Lot B. Accessible parking is on the visitor center’s north side.
During warm weather, visit the park’s fascinating Water Clock behind the visitor center. Cascading water drives the clock’s gears.
Glide Through The Sky On The Aerial Gondola
Begin your tour on the Aerial Gondola behind the visitor center. Enjoy the gondola’s serene gliding as it rolls 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River. The ride spans 2,200 feet and only lasts a few minutes. On your ride, you’ll be entranced by the gorgeous 360-degree view of the river, gorge, park, and surrounding mountains. For the best photos, place your camera lens directly onto the gondola’s glass to avoid reflections.
The gondola has six eight-person cars and lines can be long. While waiting, watch the cables pull the gondolas across the gorge. Their propulsion mechanisms, called bullwheels, are exposed below the towers.
Check Off The Top Colorado Bucket-List Item: Royal Gorge’s Zip Line
Travel Channel named the “heart-racing” Cloudscraper Zip Line the number one thing travelers must do in Colorado. You’re guaranteed an adrenaline kick when you fly 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River. The ride provides a jolt of exhilaration you’ll always remember.
The cost is $45 per rider. Save 10 percent when you buy online. Weight, height, and age limits apply. High winds can change the weight requirements.
Especially in summer, mornings are the best time to ride, climb the Via Ferrata, or experience the park’s trails. The weather is cooler and fewer thunderstorms arrive in the morning.
Boldly Free Fall On The World’s Scariest Skycoaster
If you are a true adrenaline junkie, you’ll also want to ride the Royal Rush Skycoaster. Bon Voyage called it the world’s scariest skycoaster.
Note: Skycoasters combine skydiving and hang-gliding, and Skycoaster’s manufacturer says that the ride, which involves flying 70 miles per hour over 1,200-foot Royal Gorge means “a one-of-a-kind thrill ride experience.”
Up to three people can ride together. Height requirements apply. Small children must try on flight suits to determine what type of ride they’re eligible for. Cost is $30 for one rider, $55 for two, and $75 for three.
Climb The Royal Gorge On The Via Ferrata
Channel Spiderman during a bold adventure along Royal Gorge’s Via Ferrata. A via ferrata (Italian for “Iron Path”) is a protected climbing route where relatively inexperienced climbers can safely climb. Royal Gorge offers two levels of Via Ferrata tours. The easier Revelation Tour lasts 2.5 to 3 hours. The more strenuous Royal Tours last all day. The Revelation Tour costs $135 per person and the Royal Tour costs $165. All tours require a short training session and familiarization run.
Hike Royal Gorge’s Park Trails
If you prefer hiking, hit the trails in Royal Gorge Park. The Canyon Rim Trail parallels the Overlook Loop for part of its route, but it offers a more expansive view of Royal Gorge. The trail is rated intermediate. The trail system includes 10 more trails, which are rated from beginner to advanced.
Grab Some Lunch
When lunchtime arrives, the park offers plenty of options. The park offers one year-round restaurant, Cafe 1230, and three seasonal ones.
Cafe 1230 in the visitor center is named for the restaurant’s height above the Arkansas River. Enjoy great views while you try a pizza or a bacon burger.
Cliff Side Patio looks across the gorge from the visitor center. Take some pictures while you’re eating a twisted ice cream cone.
On the south side of the bridge, follow your nose to Bridge View BBQ. Try ribs with a stuffed potato and baked beans, washed down with a root beer float. Or drink a beer from Colorado Springs’ Bristol Brewing Company.
When a band is playing in the Elk Park Amphitheater, listen to the musicians while you eat Italian sausage at Grill on the Hill.
Learn The Park’s Story At The Plaza Theater
Royal Gorge’s history ranges from dinosaurs to the Royal Gorge Railroad War to a devastating fire in 2013. The Plaza Theater tells that history. Watch the mini-documentary and see park artifacts. The theater also has restrooms and a concession stand. Allow for about 45 minutes here.
Play At Tommy Knocker Playland
Let the kids and grandkids burn off energy at Tommy Knocker Playland near the theater. Ropes, slides, nets, tunnels, and towers are always ready at this kid-centric dream destination. The playland is home to a seasonal splash pad and carousel, which adults can ride with the children.
Find Bold Thrills On The Highest Suspension Bridge In The United States
The park’s central attraction is the bridge. When it opened in 1929, it was the world’s highest suspension bridge, and it kept the title for 75 years. It is still America’s highest bridge.
CBS Denver called it one of the world’s most-frightening bridges, but that designation is misleading. Yes, the lack of stiffening trusses makes the bridge shake and jiggle in high winds, but don’t worry. The builders made sure the bridge would be safe.
As you walk the bridge, find signatures on the planks. People signed them during the bridge’s 90th birthday celebration in 2019. Look down at the Arkansas River running 956 feet below. Imagine the Empire State Building standing below with enough room for a 3-foot-tall flagpole. Appreciate the various colors and forms in the gorge walls. State flags are attached to bridge cables all along the bridge span.
Make sure to examine the bridge’s structure above and below the bridge deck. The structure’s sculptural forms are fascinating.
Away from the bridge, examine some of its cable anchors. The ascending cables make for interesting images for those feeling creative and wanting to document their visit in photographs.
Enjoy Sunset On Skyline Drive
On your way out of the park, watch the sun set along Canon City’s Skyline Drive. Skyline Drive is a 2.6-mile one-way paved road west of Canon City. The route starts with a steep hill headed to a narrow road flanked by sheer cliffs on both sides — and no guardrails. Skyline Drive will reward your boldness with thrilling views. Allow about 20 minutes to drive from Royal Gorge.
Make sure to arrive well before sunset, especially on summer weekends. Traffic can be bumper-to-bumper with nowhere to turn around. Drive only small cars, trucks, or vans. The route is not fit for motorhomes. Hike up to the trail on top of the ridge for even better views. Make sure to bring a flashlight. Allow at least an hour to explore, more if traffic is heavy.
Get A Bite To Eat In Canon City
Skyline Drive ends in Canon City’s Downtown Historic District. While exploring downtown, try hand-tossed Colorado pizza or The Big One at Pizza Madness, open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Enjoy Royal Gorge From The Bottom Up
If you have an extra day, reserve 2.5 hours to ride the Royal Gorge Route Railroad from Canon City. The train leaves daily at 12:30 p.m. from the Santa Fe Depot a block south of the intersection at Highway 50 and 3rd Street in Canon City. The railroad adds additional departure times to its schedule from April to October. Check the schedule for departure times. Ticket prices begin at $49 for adults and $44 for children. If you ride coach, make sure to bring a blanket and wear a jacket.
Where To Stay
For a unique experience, stay at Royal Gorge Cabins. Rent luxury vacation cabins or glamping tents with 21st-century comforts. The tents even include electrical outlets and in-floor radiant heat. Tents start at $179 per night. Cabins start at $355 per night.
Stay at Bighorn Mountaintop Lodge and you’ll get a ticket discount and not even have to leave the park at night. Prices range from $175 per night during off-peak season and $250 per night during peak season.
Canon City has many other lodging options available, from budget to luxury.
Royal Gorge Pro Tips
Before you leave, visit the Tasting Room at The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. The Canon City winery has won numerous awards, including 2018 Colorado Winery of the Year. The winery is open 10 a.m to 5 p.m. daily, except for Sundays. Sunday hours are noon to 5 p.m. Most wines are free to taste, but reserve wines cost $1 each. Book VIP tastings from May to September with 24 hours’ advance notice.
An entire day at the park costs $25 per adult and $20 for children from 6 to 12 years old. Prices are $2 less per person during off-peak season, October 1 to April 31. However, since peak season’s hours are longer, peak prices offer the most time and options to enjoy the park. Tickets include a second day. Save an additional $2 by purchasing tickets online.
More To Know
- Park closing times vary. The park always opens at 10 a.m. but may close as early as 4 p.m. depending on the time of year. Check the schedule before making your plans.
- Afternoon thunderstorms are common, especially in the summer. To avoid them, arrive in the morning and plan your activities accordingly.
- Wear flat, sturdy shoes, since the park has stairs and some rough surfaces.
- Leashed dogs may walk around the park but bring a water dish. Dogs are not permitted in buildings or on rides, but the park does have five kennels.
- Visitors may bring their own food and water.
- While you are at altitude, drink plenty of fluids to avoid altitude sickness. Limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Wear plenty of sunscreen and use lots of lip balm.
Want to stay somewhere nearby? Consider how to spend 48 hours in Colorado Springs.