By Paige Keyser, Air Force Spouse
Welcome to the ‘Springs’! Not only an outdoor lover’s paradise, Colorado Springs also offers many art and cultural experiences throughout the year.
Things to know about living in Colorado
Colorado’s second largest city, Colorado Springs is located along the Front Range of the southern Rocky Mountains. In the shadow of magnificent Pikes Peak, the metro area has a population of around 670,000, with many of its residents being active or retired military. 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.
Skiing, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and more are all within a short drive.
Military Bases in Colorado
United States Air Force Academy
The United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) is located in northern Colorado Springs. It is the youngest of the five United States service academies and one of the largest tourist attractions in Colorado, with approximately a million visitors each year.
The 18,500-acre campus of USAFA includes the cadet area, the airfield, and a number of facilities that serve support roles for cadet training. USAFA Family Housing 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 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 sits on the east side of Colorado Springs. Its runway is co-located 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).
Peterson AFB Housing
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.
Peterson AFB Schools and Amenities
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, More extensive care is available at the USAFA Hospital and Evans Army Community Hospital on Fort Carson.
Recreational opportunities include a gun club, auto skills center, youth center, bowling, golf, sports and fitness centers, aquatic center, library and an Outdoor Recreation Center.
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.
Schriever AFB Housing and Amenities
Tierra Vista Communities has housing at Schriever that includes amenities such as parks and playgrounds, splash pads, an indoor swimming pool, and a Community Center. Students living on base attend school in Ellicott District 22. Commissary services are 10 miles away at Peterson AFB.
Healthcare is provided by the medical clinic at Schriever. The Peterson AFB Clinic provides more comprehensive care. And surgical specialists, orthopedic or emergency care can be found at Fort Carson and USAFA.
Schriever has 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.
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.
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.
Fort Carson Family Housing
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 Schools and Amenities
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. 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 through the Outdoor Recreation Complex, Adventure Programs, fitness centers, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, craft center, and the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex.
Off Post Housing
There are many housing options in around the Colorado Springs area. 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. Several school districts 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 Weather and Altitude
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. 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 thunderstorms, and if large enough can be quite damaging.
The city’s altitude is 6,035 feet above sea level. 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.
Culture and Customs
Colorado Springs offers many cultural and art experiences. From mystery dinner shows and comedy clubs, to orchestras and fine art displays, Colorado Springs has a lot 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 take a stroll through one of the galleries at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center or Cottonwood Center for the Arts downtown.
Things to know about living in Colorado
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, rock climbing, white water rafting, ATVing, 4x4 off road adventures, and visits to hot springs are all within an easy drive. Tour information and rental equipment are available 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 not only for families but also adventurous skiers 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. Equipment to buy and rent, season passes, and daily lift tickets can be purchased at the Outdoor Recreation Centers at any of the military installations.
Hiking and Camping
There is no better way to enjoy the mild climate and beautiful scenery of the Pikes Peak Region than a hike. 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.
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.
- 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
- Cave of the Winds
- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo – Home to the largest herd of reticulated giraffes in North America!
- Olympic Training Center – Headquarters for the U.S. Olympic Committee – offering tours daily.
- Pikes Peak Cog Railway – Ride to the top of Pikes Peak.
- Pikes Peak Highway – Or take the 19-mile drive in your own vehicle.
- Seven Falls – 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!
- Bear Creek Regional Park – Great dog park and nature center.
- Manitou Incline – Located in Manitou Springs, 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 or Helen Hunt Falls.
- Red Rock Canyon Open Space – Tons of hiking trails with views of Garden of the Gods Park.
Places to visit around Colorado Springs
- Woodland Park (30 min) – Visit the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center or enjoy food and beer along Main Street.
- Denver (1 hr) – Colorado’s capital – 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) – Cripple Creek is an 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, as well as more than 15 casinos.
- Red Rocks Amphitheatre (1.25 hr) – Take in a concert at this world famous outdoor venue.
- Golden (1.25 hr drive) – Visit the largest single-site brewery in the world, Coors Brewery offering free tours daily. Check out 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 and wildlife.
- 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.
Author: Paige Keyser is a proud Air Force spouse who lives in northern Virginia with her husband and their two boys. 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.Paige Keyser