driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know

Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know

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Welcome, fellow adventurers and bucket list conquerors! If you’re venturing out to Colorado and driving Pikes Peak Highway is on your must-do list, you’ve landed in the right spot. 

I’m a Colorado native, and I’ve been exploring the nooks and crannies of Pikes Peak since I could barely tie my hiking boots. This guide will serve as your personal, all-inclusive manual to driving the stunning Pikes Peak Highway from someone who knows it like the back of their hand.

After years of watching Pikes Peak’s majesty from the cograil, I finally got behind the wheel to tread the highway myself. Let me tell you, the experience was nothing short of exhilarating! Now, I’m here to pass on that excitement and knowledge to you, ensuring your journey is as unforgettable as mine.

From navigating the twists and turns to identifying the best photo ops, I’ve got you covered. Stay tuned and let’s conquer Pikes Peak Highway together!

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driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know

Bucket List Review of Driving Pikes Peak Highway

CategoryOutdoor
Who Should Add This to Their Bucket List?Nature lovers who love
mountain drives
Best Time to GoEnd of September
Traveling DifficultyModerate
Physical DifficultyEasy to Moderate
Popularity Rating7/10
Tour RequiredNo
Budget$$
Wheelchair AccessibleYes
Favorite Place to StayThe Broadmoor – a bit of a drive, but
the best resort in CO Springs
Favorite TourSmall Group Tour of Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods from Denver
Traveler’s InsuranceGet Quote with VisitorsCoverage

What is Pikes Peak and Pikes Peak Highway?

Alright, let’s start with the basics. Pikes Peak, affectionately known as “America’s Mountain”, is one of the most famous summits in the United States. 

It’s not just its height, it’s the sheer beauty and grandeur of the mountain that will leave you breathless (literally!). 

Now, getting to the summit, there are a few options, one being the infamous Pikes Peak Highway.

With 156 curves and turns of mountain road, plus 4 different Colorado life zones, the Pikes Peak Highway is an adventurous ride right from Mile 1. 

You’ll cruise through the alpine wonderland, past gorgeous reservoirs, beyond timberline, and eventually, onto the summit that inspired the words to “America the Beautiful”.

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
Pikes Peak Highway with fall foliage in early October.

Recommended Tours

Before we get started, if you don’t feel comfortable driving up Pikes Peak Highway, there are some options for you.

With a tour, you get to let someone else take care of the logistics while you sit back and enjoy the nature. Some also let you see other natural sites in the area, such as Garden of the Gods.

Here are some ideas, in case you are interested:

Plan Your Trip to Colorado

Step 1

Find a place to stay

Find the best places to stay in Colorado Springs while you prep for your drive.

Step 2

Book Activities

There are many Pikes Peak Highway tours if you don’t feel up to the advanced drive.

Step 3

find a Car to Rent

If you are traveling and don’t have a car, you will need to rent one to drive the Pikes Peak Highway.

Step 4

Traveler’s Insurance

Because this is a high altitude mountain road, it is always better to be safe than sorry!

Packing List for Driving Pikes Peak Highway

The first time I drove up to Pikes Peak in October, I was wildly unprepared. AKA my hands froze off. Don’t be like me. Be smarter. 

Here is what I would recommend bringing from my personal experience:

  1. Warm Clothing: Even in the summer, temperatures at the summit can be chilly. Make sure to pack layers, hats, gloves, and scarves to stay warm and comfortable. As I mentioned before, I drove up Pikes Peak Highway in October. I was in jeans and a t-shirt at the bottom and was a mermaid icicle at the summit. 
  2. Sunscreen and Sunglasses: At higher altitudes, the sun’s rays are stronger and can burn your skin quickly. Protect your skin and eyes from the harsh sun.
  3. Water and Snacks: The altitude can make you feel dehydrated and hungry quicker than you might expect. Stay hydrated, and pack some energy-boosting snacks!
  4. Camera/Phone for Photos: You’ll want to capture the breathtaking views on your journey, trust me! I brought both my camera and my phone during all of my journeys and used them every single time. 
  5. Binoculars: For a closer look at the stunning wildlife and scenery.
  6. Comfortable Shoes: In case you want to explore some of the trails or walk around the summit.
  7. Full Tank of Gas: There are no gas stations along the Pikes Peak Highway. Start your trip with a full tank! They will usually check your gas meter at the tollgate.
  8. Cash/Credit Card: For the tollgate and perhaps a souvenir or two from the gift shop at the summit. Plus, you won’t want to miss out on the donuts!
  9. A Sense of Adventure: This might be the most important one! Be ready for a thrilling ride, folks!
driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
The Bucket List Mermaid posing in front of Crystal Reservoir on the Pikes Peak Highway.

Pikes Peak Highway Directions and Address

Pikes Peak Highway is nestled in the vibrant state of Colorado, USA, and getting there is just a little tricky.

If you’re coming from downtown Colorado Springs, its about 15 minutes west on Highway 24. I thought I was lost for a minute, but I was going the right way! If you pass this cheesy North Pole area, you are headed in the right direction for the tollgate.

It is easiest to put the tollgate address into your phone or GPS:

Tollgate and Reservations

Pikes Peak Highway Tollgate

When you get to the Pikes Peak Highway Tollgate, this is the start line of your journey!

The friendly staff at the tollgate will get you sorted with your reservation and any unpaid fees (it’s $10-$15 per adult and $5 per child, but double-check just in case!). These fees may change depending on the time and season.

Please note that different entry times and closing times are depending on the season. 

Make sure to factor this into your travel plans, you don’t want to miss out on this bucket list drive! 

The friendly staff at the tollgate also checked our gas level for at least half. This is because there are no gas stations on the mountain, so come with a full tank of gas just in case. 

Pro Tip: when you are at the tollgate, don’t forget to ask for a map. This will be crucial to seeing where you are and locating any stops that you will want to make on your journey up to the summit.

Do You Need a Reservation to Drive Up Pikes Peak?

Yes, you do need to make a reservation to drive up Pikes Peak Highway. 

If you book online, you can get $2 off by using the code ‘2off’. This is how I got my reservation and everything went off without a hitch. Also note that depending on the season, you might have to select a timed entry.

You can technically also get a reservation at the tollgate on the same day, but this is pending availability.

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
Big foot crossing sign found on the highway up to Pikes Peak.

When to Drive Pikes Peak Highway

The Pikes Peak Highway is open year round, weather permitting. It is up to you to figure out which time works best for you.

Summer

Summer (June through August) is known as the “tourist season” and with good reason. The weather is warm (as it can be for the summit), the skies are clear, and the whole mountain range comes alive with lush greenery.

Plus, the highway is generally free of snow, making it a safer drive. But be warned, summer also means more crowds and potential traffic.

Fall

Now, if you’re a fan of cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, fall (September through November) is your best bet. The changing leaves create a stunning tapestry of colors that’s truly a sight to behold!

But bear in mind that weather can be unpredictable in fall, so be ready for sudden weather changes and closures.

This is my favorite time to go and when I would recommend planning your drive.

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
Fall colors taking over Pikes Peak Highway.

Winter

Winter (December through February) offers a snowy wonderland perfect for those stunning Christmas card shots, but it also brings icy conditions and potential road closures – not ideal for driving.

This would be my least favorite option. There is snow up at the summit even during summer, so you can imagine how it would be during winter.

Although the road is open year round, it is often closed due to snow. And take my word for it, you would not want to be driving the last 8 miles or so with icy roads. That would be quite terrifying.

Spring

Finally, spring (March through May) sees the mountain range slowly waking up from its winter slumber with beautiful blooms dotting the landscape.

But like fall, weather can be unpredictable. So, it all boils down to what kind of adventure you’re up for on your bucket list Pikes Peak Highway drive!

How Many Miles is Pikes Peak Highway?

Alright, let’s talk about the distance. The Pikes Peak Highway is a whopping 19 miles of pure scenic beauty. Well, 19.26 miles to be exact. 

This means that it has miles of winding roads, breathtaking vistas, and awe-inspiring nature. You bet your bottom dollar, it’s a ride worth every mile! 

How Long Does it Take to Drive up Pikes Peak Highway?

The time it takes can vary depending on how many stops you make and how long you spend at each one. 

However, on average, you can expect the drive to the summit to take a minimum of 2-3 hours if you’re going at a medium pace. 

This was actually one of the biggest lessons that I learned when I first drove up Pikes Peak Highway. I budgeted 3 hours total. However, I found that I loved stopping along my journey. I took pictures, enjoyed the view, and even put on my mermaid tail. Then, once I reached the summit, I wandered around, ate donuts, and took even more photos. 

Needless to say, I was rushing down the mountain trying to get through the bottom gate before it closed. 

Because of this, I really would recommend allowing yourself more time than you think for this epic bucket list activity.

What Stops are Along Pikes Peak Highway?

Just because it is a highway doesn’t mean that the summit is the only place that you have to stop when you are driving Pikes Peak Highway.

Once you hit the tollgate, make sure to pick up a map and ask the staff the best places to stop and stretch your legs for a photo. 

Personally, I thought that Crystal Reservoir was a jaw-dropping view with the lake and peaks in the background. Some of the stunning mermaid pictures that I share in this article were taken at Crystal Reservoir.

I also recommend you stop at Devil’s Playground. Don’t let the name scare you away. It’s got incredible views and scenery. Plus, it’s got some amazing trails for the summer months.

Lastly, once you do get to the summit, don’t forget to go into their newly renovated Summit House. I cannot tell you how far my jaw dropped to the ground after walking through those doors and seeing floor to ceiling windows of the view of 14,115 feet high!

Other than the main ones, there was plenty of tiny places to park and side areas to get out. I think total I got out of the car at least 10 times to enjoy the scenic beauty and snap a picture. 

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
View from the inside of Pikes Peak Summit House.

Is Driving Pikes Peak Highway Dangerous?

And now to talk about the thing that is on everyone’s mind but is too scared to ask. 

With that being said, this is a windy mountain road with lots of switchbacks and very few guard rails. Some of my family members refuse to do this drive because they are scared of heights. 

Although this drive isn’t for everybody, it is one of the most amazing scenic drives in Colorado.

If you are careful and are comfortable driving mountain roads, you should be just fine! 

Is Pikes Peak Highway Paved?

Fear not, road trippers! The Pikes Peak Highway is fully paved all the way up. 

From start to finish, you’ll be riding smoothly along a well-maintained road. So you can keep your eyes on the incredible vistas instead of worrying about navigating any rough terrain.

The problems come when the roads get icy and slick. This is why the highway, especially the last bit up to the summit, is prone to closures for your safety. 

Break Checks

Don’t panic, but there are break checks on the mountain where they check the temperature of your breaks for excessive break heat. 

This is when you’re descending, about halfway down around Glen Cove. This is to ensure everyone’s safety and prevent any brake failures. 

When you do descend, try to be in a lower gear if you can and don’t push your breaks. We were paying close attention to smell if they were burning. And honestly, I didn’t notice anything and had pleasant descent after the mandatory break check. 

And although it was a little unsettling (I had never been break checked before), I was ultimately happy to have the safety precaution and it gave me peace of mind when going down the mountain. 

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
Paved roads and gorgeous mountain views of Pikes Peak Highway.

Is the drive scary?

I would separate the drive into two sections. Before and after Glen Cove

Before Glen Cove is stunning. You are driving past lakes, through trees, and you feel submerged in the forest. This part of the drive is easy and not very scary, in my opinion. 

The real test of courage comes after Glen Cove. Here, you go above the treeline and the skinny switchbacks start. There are no guardrails and there are some pretty dramatic cliffs when driving up. 

When I drove the highway, I did not find this scary at all. I felt in control of my vehicle the entire time. However, I could see how it might be a little unnerving to some travelers who are afraid of heights or are not used to driving mountain passes. 

Checking Road Conditions on Pikes Peak Highway

No matter what time of the year you journey up to the summit of Pikes Peak, I would highly recommend calling the hotline for road conditions:

This gets information 30 minutes prior to opening and then is updated throughout the day. This will alert you to any changing weather conditions and closures. 

I can’t imagine how disappointed I would be if I planned this epic bucket list road trip, only to find that it is closed due to weather. 

How to Deal with Altitude Sickness

Let’s talk about something that you might not think about when traveling to Pikes Peak. 

Altitude sickness can be a real party pooper when you’re tackling that bucket list drive up Pikes Peak Highway. In fact, when I used to be an EMT, I would see this kind of thing all the time, even at lower elevation. 

You might experience some symptoms like dizziness, headaches, or even nausea as your body adjusts to the thinner air. 

Prevention is better than cure, right? So, start hydrating a day prior, munch on some carbs (yes, this gives you an excuse to have that extra slice of pizza), and take regular breaks during your drive to acclimate. Remember, this is an adventure, not a race!

But this is what I was taught as a Colorado native

If you do start feeling symptoms of altitude sickness, stop ascedning towards the summit. Have another person drive if applicable and turn around. Going to a lower altitude should ease the symptoms. Once you get access, drink tons of water with some over the counter painkillers. Then rest! 

If you ever feel like your symptoms are unmanageable or you can’t drive, stop and call for help. Again, always talk to your doctor if you are having symptoms of altitude sickness or have any questions and concerns. 

I have asthma and although the air felt thinner, I had no problems. 

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
The Bucket List Mermaid on the top of Pikes Peak.

Will Your Car Make it Up Pikes Peak Highway?

Soooo funny story. The first time I drove up to Pikes Peak, I heard horror stories of the thin roads near the summit. 

Because of this, we actually rented a smaller car to do the drive so that I wasn’t traveling in my Ford F-350. 

Looking back, I think it was exaggerated a bit and I think my truck could have made it. But the parking lot was SMALL so I am ultimately happy we decided to rent. 

If you are wondering if you’re car is good enough for the drive I would ask myself:

  • Am I comfortable driving my car on windy mountain roads?
  • How good are my breaks?
  • Do I have four or all wheel drive just in case I run into snow? 
  • Am I comfortable parking in smaller spaces at the summit? 

If you can confidently ask all of those questions, then I would say you are good to go! It is not as bad as it seems. 

Driving Pikes Peak Highway vs The Cograil

Driving isn’t the only way to get to the summit. Okay, I guess you could hike it, but that would take 6-10 of some challenging hiking. 

No, I’m talking about the other popular route: The Cograil.

The Pikes Peak Cograil is a cogwheel railway that chugs its way up to the summit, offering you stunning panoramic views and a unique experience that’s hard to match.

I would recommend this if you relate to one or more of the following:

  • You love trains.
  • You want panoramic views of the mountains. 
  • Driving Pikes Peak Highway seems like too much work or scares you. 
  • You want to learn about the area.
  • You don’t mind not having very much time at the summit. 

I have taken the cograil time and time again when visiting Pikes Peak. It is truly an amazing experience and it is totally different than if you were to take the highway and drive. It is nice to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. 

The only thing I don’t like is there is no option to stop for the views like the highway. And you are on a schedule for when you need to be back on the cog. This can make your time at the summit feel rushed. 

When I went, I noticed that they did offer separate views as you take different routes. I don’t think one is prettier than the other, they are just different. 

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
The end of the Cograil looking over the summit of Pikes Peak.

What to do at the Summit of Pikes Peak

So you’ve reached the summit! Congratulations! Now what?

Here are my favorite things to do once you reach the summit of Pikes Peak.

Eat a Donut

Do not leave the summit without eating the the world-famous donuts that are made at this elevation! 

Make sure to grab one (or five) – it’s a tradition for all those who conquer the Pikes Peak Summit. 

Also, eat them at the summit because if you take them to go, the altitude will change the texture of the donut. This also means that this is one of the only places in the world to do this and you have to be there! How cool is that?

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
Donuts and a view at the Pikes Peak Summit House.

Explore the Visitor’s Center

When I was a kid, this consisted of a small gift shop, the donuts, and crowded bathrooms. Now, it is a newly renovated summit house with views galore

You can explore educational exhibits about the history, geology, and ecology of Pikes Peak.

They also have a new gift shop and a cafeteria with a seating area. 

Wander Around the Summit

Around the visitor’s center you can wander outside and see those gorgeous mountain views from all sides at over 14,000 feet!

If you are going to do this, make sure that you have warm clothes and good sturdy shoes. There is almost always snow up there and it is windy! 

But I would highly recommend at least going outside for a minute to breathe that thin and fresh mountain air–there is truly nothing that compares to it! 

Meditate or Journal

I have to say this one because I am a yoga instructor. If you go all the way up to the place that inspired “America the Beautiful”, you can bet that it will be a great opportunity to meditate, clear your mind, or journal about where you are in the world (literally on top of it). 

driving pikes peak highway, Driving Pikes Peak Highway: All You Need to Know
Yellow leaves on Aspens spotted all along the Pikes Peak Highway in October.

Final Word on Driving the Pikes Peak Highway

So, there you have it, fellow explorers – an adventure that’s sure to leave an indelible mark on your memory. 

The Pikes Peak Highway is just not a road trip, it’s a journey with natural beauty, topped off with a sense of accomplishment that only comes from reaching the summit of such an iconic peak. 

Whether it’s the unbeatable views, the incredible flora and wildlife, or the delicious high-altitude donuts, the Pikes Peak Highway is a bucket list experience that delivers on all fronts.

It’s time to hit the road and make those unforgettable memories. See you at the summit!

Adventure Bucket List Resources

I am here to help your travel adventures go as smoothly as possible! That way you can check off that bucket list with minimal complications and spending!

AIRFARE – It is no surprise that like many travelers, I have found that Hopper is one of the best resources to use when finding cheap flights. 

ACCOMMODATION – My two favorites are Booking.Com for hotels and VRBO for rentals. 

GUIDED TOURS –  If you are looking for quick and easy tours, check out GetYourGuide and Viator

MULTI-DAY TOURS –  For more in-depth tours that span several days, TourHub has many great options with reputable travel companies. Use my code (ALEXANDRA1GURU) for up to 5% off your next bucket list adventure. 

TRANSPORTATION –  You can either rent a car yourself with Discover Cars or do a guided bus tours like Big Bus Tours

CREDIT CARD –  I always use my Chase Freedom Unlimited card for all of my purchases. There is no annual fee and you get 1.5% cash back and 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel. 

SIM CARDS –  Avoid expensive roaming charges with an eSim card with Airalo.

TRAVELER’S INSURANCE –  Check out VisitorsCoverage for affordable insurance plans.

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