By Paige Keyser, Air Force Spouse
Welcome to the ‘Springs’! Colorado Springs is located along the Front Range of the southern Rocky Mountains and is in the shadow of magnificent Pikes Peak. The Colorado Springs metro area has a population of around 670,000, with many of its residents being active or retired military. It is Colorado’s second largest city, behind Denver, which is about an hour drive north. It is home to five military installations, each with its own unique mission. The remarkable beauty of the area and mild climate of Colorado Springs make it a great place to experience a wide variety of outdoor activities throughout the entire year.
Skiing, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and more are all within a short drive. Colorado Springs is not only an outdoor lover’s paradise, but it also offers many art and cultural experiences, as well as fun festivals and events throughout the year.
The Five Military Installations in Colorado Springs
United States Air Force Academy
The United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) is located in northern Colorado Springs. The Academy’s stated mission is “to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become leaders of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.” It is the youngest of the five United States service academies. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in Colorado, with approximately a million visitors each year. Also located on the campus is the USAFA Preparatory School. The Cadet Chapel with its seventeen spires is a National Historic Landmark and a classic example of modernist architecture.
The 18,500-acre campus of USAFA includes the cadet area, the airfield, and other facilities that serve support roles for cadet training and other base functions. Family Housing located at USAFA is made up of seven distinct communities with a variety of floor plans and amenities. Air Academy High School and Douglass Valley Elementary School are both located on the campus of USAFA and are part of the District 20 school district. The base has a commissary, BX, chapel, health clinic, golf course, FamCamp and Outdoor Recreation Center. There are also areas on campus to fish and many trails to hike.
Peterson Air Force Base
Peterson Air Force Base is located on the east side of Colorado Springs, and its runway is collocated with that of the Colorado Springs Airport. It is home to the 21st Space Wing, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Strategic Command and the 302nd Airlift Wing (USAF Reserves).
Privatized housing at Peterson AFB is provided by Tierra Vista Communities. They offer a wide variety of floor plans and provide upscale amenities including parks, playgrounds, and regular resident events. Transportation is provided from Peterson to three Colorado Springs District 11 schools: McAuliffe Elementary, Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy Middle School, and Mitchell High School. The base clinic provides healthcare services, with more extensive care at the USAFA Hospital and Evans Army Community Hospital, Fort Carson. Recreational opportunities at Peterson AFB include a gun club, auto skills center, youth center, officer and enlisted clubs, bowling, golf, aero club, sports and fitness centers, aquatic center, community centers, library and an Outdoor Recreation Center.
Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station
Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station (CMAFS) is located within Cheyenne Mountain in southwest Colorado Springs. The Cheyenne Mountain Complex was first built for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in the 1960’s. Today it serves as NORAD and USNORTHCOM’s Alternate Command Center and as a training site for crew qualification. Other missions within the mountain include U.S. Strategic Command’s Missile Warning Center and the 721st Global Strategic Warning/Space Surveillance System Center of the Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack Assessment system. Housing, services and medical are provided at Peterson Air Force Base or any of the other military installations in the area.
Schriever Air Force Base
Schriever Air Force Base is home to the 50th Space Wing of the Air Force Space Command, the Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center, the Space Innovation and Development Center and the main control point for the Global Positioning System. Tierra Vista Communities also has housing at Schriever that includes amenities such as parks and playgrounds, splash pads, an indoor swimming pool, and a Community Center with resident events. Students who live on base attend school in Ellicott District 22. Commissary services are provided at Peterson AFB which is 10 miles away. Healthcare is provided by the medical clinic at Schriever. The Peterson Clinic provides more comprehensive care but does not have surgical specialists, orthopedic or emergency care. This kind of care can be found at Fort Carson, on the southwest side of Colorado Springs, and USAFA, northwest of Colorado Springs. Schriever has some recreation activities, such as a softball field, fitness centers, tennis court, racquetball court, aerobics room and basketball courts. Schriever also has an Outdoor Recreation Center, ITT, and an Awards, Engraving and Custom Picture Framing Center.
Fort Carson Army Post
Fort Carson known as “The Mountain Post,” is located just south of Colorado Springs. It is home to many military units, the largest being the 4th Infantry Division. Housing is provided by Balfour Beatty Communities. It has units that are move in ready two-, three- and four-bedroom homes in both single family and town home styles. They provide a secure and comfortable hometown environment with the convenience of 24-hour maintenance, lawn care services, and community events.
Fort Carson is served by Fountain-Fort Carson District 8. There are four elementary and one middle school on the post. The high school students are provided transportation to Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Fountain. Healthcare services are provided by Evans Army Community Hospital which is the key component of the joint services Colorado Springs Military Health System. It includes an inpatient behavioral health ward, inpatient/family care ward, mother/baby birthing center, intensive care unit, internal medicine, and emergency room. There are also various family clinics, a dental clinic, behavioral health clinic and other soldier based medical services offered on the post. Fort Carson offers many recreation and leisure services. They include an Outdoor Recreation Complex, Adventure Programs, fitness centers, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, bowling center, auto, and craft center, library, golf course and the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex.
Housing and Schools
There are many housing options in around the Colorado Springs area. There are apartment and single family home rentals as well as many homes for sale. Besides Colorado Springs proper, new military families often choose to live in Monument, Manitou Springs, Widefield-Security, Fountain and Woodland Park. You can find reviews of base housing and many local neighborhoods at PCSgrades.com
Colorado is a Choice State, which means you can place your child in a school outside the district or zone you are assigned provided that the school has availability. There are many school districts in and around Colorado Springs that offer a variety of options from Charter Schools to specialty schools for the arts and sciences. Doing your research, utilizing all that PCSgrades has to offer and speaking with the school liaison officer at your incoming military installation can be helpful.
Colorado Springs has a mild, semi-arid year-round climate with an average high of 43˚F in January and an average high of 84˚F in August. It averages 37 inches of snow annually. The city has abundant sunshine year round, averaging 243 sunny days per year. Snowfall is usually moderate and knowledge of safe winter driving as well as good all-weather tires or all-wheel drive are a must. Dry weather generally prevails, but brief afternoon thunderstorms are common, especially in July and August when the city receives the majority of its annual rainfall. Hail often occurs during these thunderstorms, and if large enough can be quite damaging. The city’s altitude is 6,035 feet above sea level, and newcomers may experience slight fatigue and symptoms of altitude sickness. New arrivals should allow time for their bodies to adjust to the elevation. Be sure to prepare for the low humidity by using lots of lip balm and skin moisturizer.
The Great Outdoors!
The unparalleled beauty and mild climate of Colorado Springs make it a gateway to a wide variety of outdoor activities. Many internationally known ski areas and some of the nation’s most scenic parks and finest hunting and fishing areas are located within a short drive.
Ice climbing, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing to include fly fishing, rock climbing, white water rafting, ATVing, 4×4 off road adventures, and visits to hot springs are all within an easy drive of Colorado Springs. Tour information and rental equipment are often available for these activities at the Outdoor Recreation Centers at USAFA, Peterson, Schriever and Fort Carson.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Colorado is ‘THE’ destination for skiing and snowboarding in the country. With its blue-bird skies and abundant fresh, dry powder, it is a destination for not only families but also adventurous skiers and boarders looking for expert only terrain. Colorado’s 25 ski resorts open earlier and stay open later (October to late April) than any others in the nation. Colorado has not only some of the largest resorts in the nation but also smaller, family-friendly slopes. Equipment to buy and rent, season passes, and daily lift tickets can be purchased at the Outdoor Recreation Centers at Peterson, Schriever, USAFA and Fort Carson.
Hiking and Camping
There is no better way to enjoy the mild climate and beautiful scenery of the Pikes Peak Region than to enjoy a hike on the many surrounding trails. From short hikes, to day long back country hikes, the area has something to offer the beginner and the seasoned hiker. There are many campgrounds, those with facilities or those with primitive campsites, throughout the area and within several hours drive. Equipment for hiking and camping is available to buy or rent at the Outdoor Recreation Centers.
Culture and the Arts
Colorado Springs is not only for those that like to enjoy the outdoors, but it also offers many cultural and art experiences. From mystery dinner shows and comedy clubs, to orchestras and fine art displays, Colorado Springs has a great selection of art and performances to keep you entertained. A visit to the Pikes Peak Center to see the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, a Broadway show or a comedian, is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening. Or take a stroll through one of the galleries at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center or Cottonwood Center for the Arts downtown to enjoy the visual arts the city has to offer.
Things to do in the Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Area
- Cave of the Winds
- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo – Home to the largest herd of reticulated giraffes in North America!
- Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Anasazi Museum
- Olympic Training Center – The headquarters for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Offers tours daily.
- Pikes Peak Cog Railway – Take a ride on the cog railway to the top of Pikes Peak.
- Pikes Peak Highway – Or take the 19-mile drive to the top in your own vehicle.
- Broadmoor Hotel – Enjoy a stroll around the grounds and hotel, golf, enjoy one of the restaurants or have a drink at the Golden Bee.
- Seven Falls – Take the 224 steps up a series of waterfalls.
- Cheyenne Mountain State Park – Enjoy the hiking trails or camp overnight.
- Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum – Learn the cultural history of Colorado Springs.
- Money Museum – A museum all about money!
- North Pole – Santa’s Workshop – Visit a Christmas-themed amusement park.
- ProRodeo Hall of Fame – The only heritage center in the world devoted to professional rodeo.
- Western Museum of Mining and Industry
- Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center – Voted TripAdvisor’s Best Park in the country!
- America the Beautiful Park
- Bear Creek Regional Park – Has a great dog park and nature center.
- Fountain Creek Nature Center and Regional Park
- Manitou Incline – Located in Manitou Springs, it is a challenging hike up an old cog railway line gaining almost 2000 ft of elevation in about one mile.
- North Cheyenne Canon Park – Visit the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center, hike one of the many hiking trails or visit Helen Hunt Falls.
- Red Rock Canyon Open Space – Tons of hiking trails with views of Garden of the Gods Park.
- Enjoy a Sky Sox baseball game or Switchbacks soccer game, Colorado Springs hometown teams.
Places to visit around Colorado Springs
- Woodland Park (30 min) – Visit the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center or have some food and beer along Main Street.
- Denver (1 hr) – Colorado’s capital has lots to offer within an easy hour drive. Enjoy great restaurants, shopping, the Denver Zoo, a Broncos or Rockies game, the Denver Botanical Gardens, Denver Museum of Art & Science or the Denver Art Museum.
- Royal Gorge Bridge and Park (1 hr) – Visit one of the world’s highest suspension bridges.
- Cripple Creek (1 hr) – For those that want to do some gambling, Cripple Creek has more than 15 casinos. Cripple Creek is a historic gambling and mining town where you can visit the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine or take a ride on the Cripple Creek & Narrow Gauge Railroad.
- Red Rocks Amphitheatre (1.25 hr) – Take in a concert at this world famous outdoor venue.
- Golden (1.25 hr drive) – Visit the Coors Brewery, the largest single-site brewery in the world, offering free tours daily or the Colorado Railroad Museum.
- Rocky Mountain National Park (2.75 hr drive) – Enjoy one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S. and take in the views of the majestic peaks, wildlife, and experience some of the most incredible outdoor adventures anywhere.
- Great Sand Dunes National Park (2.75 hr) – The tallest sand dunes in North America are found in this National Park in southcentral Colorado. Surf the dunes, camp, and hike or wade in Medano Creek in late May when the snow melt increases the stream flow.
Festivals and Traditions
- Territory Days – (Memorial Day weekend) – Celebrate the Old West in Old Colorado City.
- USAFA Graduation – (May) -Watch the cadets toss their mortar boards in celebration.
- Pikes Peak Hill International Climb – (Last weekend in June) – Grab a spot along the Pike Peaks Highway and watch the world’s highest auto race and one of the most grueling events in all of motor racing.
- Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo and Parade – (Mid-July) – Watch rodeo action and enjoy lots of family fun, all while paying tribute to the local military and their families.
- El Paso County Fair – (End of July) – Enjoy this traditional county fair in eastern El Paso County.
- Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off – View the ascension of over 50 hot air balloons in the mornings and balloon glows in the evening at Memorial Park.
- Oktoberfest – (September) – Enjoy traditional German food and beverages at the many Oktoberfests celebrated across Colorado.
- All Colorado Beer Festival – (First weekend in November) – Over 80 Colorado brewers participate in this awesome beer festival. The Pikes Peak Region is home to over 30 microbreweries, and Colorado has 284 craft breweries. If you like beer, you are going to love Colorado!
- Emma Crawford Coffin Race – (October) – Watch this wacky race in downtown Manitou Springs.
- Christmas and Holiday Events – (December) – There are many festive events and happenings in Colorado Springs to enjoy!
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Author: Paige Keyser is a proud Air Force spouse who lives in northern Virginia with her husband and their two boys. After living in the same small town in southern Virginia her entire childhood, the last 20 years she has spent exploring the world and United States courtesy of the U.S. Air Force. She has lived in Japan and nine different states on this crazy journey and wouldn’t give up the experiences she’s had, friends she’s made or memories of the places she’s visited for anything. She enjoys drinking coffee, wine, and good beer, loves flowers and plants, and spends way too much time surfing the web ‘researching’ topics she finds interesting.