The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway has been closed for the majority of the time we’ve lived in southern Colorado. After beginning operation way back in 1890, the railway was shut down in 2017 for a complete overhaul. It re-opened in May 2021, in the second year of the pandemic. The timing was not auspicious, but their business—at least in October 2021–seems to be doing just fine. I haven’t ridden a train (except for some NYC subway trains) since the pandemic began, so I decided the Cog Railway would be a great birthday weekend excursion. (Normally, there would be a bigger trip on a semi-milestone birthday, but a new job with a rigid academic schedule—and the continuing pandemic—made that nearly impossible.)
We did a little research, reading the Cog Railway web site thoroughly as well as some TripAdvisor reviews, and selected seats in the 2nd car on the 3-seat side. My brother and cousin joined us, sitting next to and across from us, leaving two seats for strangers in our little pod. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Since I had to work in the morning, we stopped at Garden of the Gods Catering and Events to check out their to-go lunch options. We chose a tub of Curry Chicken Salad to share and a bag of Pretzel Thins for Maureen. Fortunately, I had a bag of Milton’s gluten-free crackers in the car. We headed to Manitou Springs towards the railway depot. Sadly, both offer dire parking situations. If you can find a space in town (we did, and ate our lunch in the car), you can only park for 4 hours. Since you then need to find a shuttle—we discovered after paying for parking that we had already missed the one we needed—ride to the depot, ride the train (a three-hour round trip including time at the top), and ride the shuttle back, it is unlikely that you’ll be within that four-hour window. You can park at the depot, but not until 30 minutes before departure time. You are warned to “plan ahead” for parking, but as far as I can tell the only workable “plan” is to arrive at the depot exactly 30 minutes before departure.
Parking accomplished, we entered the depot and headed for the restrooms, since there are no facilities on the train. Word to the wise—the restrooms at the end of the depot have far more stalls than those closest to the entrance and gift shop. We boarded our train car using the barcodes provided as tickets (a screenshot worked just fine) and found our seats. They were as described—pretty much knee-to-knee with the person across from you. But otherwise, the seats were reasonably comfortable.
We had a spectacular day—especially considering it was late October, and that trips on the two days prior had not reached the summit due to high winds. The conductor gave a running commentary most of the way up. It was generally informative and amusing, with the occasional groaner.
The new Summit Visitor Center is beautiful. Apparently it was “built around” the famous donut machine, which had to be brought in before the doors were framed. Donuts are still the main draw in the dining area. Half of our group indulged; the other half bemoaned (ever-so-slightly) the lack of gluten-free treats. The verdict: decent, especially for 14,000+ feet.
Railway passengers only get about 45 minutes at the top, so there’s not time to explore both the indoor exhibits and the outdoor walkway. After donuts (and the obligatory restroom stop) we chose the outdoor option and a birthday toast.
The return ride was a little quieter—the commentary was not as constant. Since the train doesn’t turn around, the view is the same. We had seen mountain goats on the way up, but couldn’t spot them on the way back. We saw some crows, but no other wildlife, despite the late afternoon hour.
Upon our return, we took a few minutes to check out the gift shop. My cousin tried on some fun hats (sorry, no pictures), but the rest of the merchandise was pretty standard tourist-attraction stuff. And it was crowded, so we didn’t spend much time, or any money.
The depot parking lot has a “pay when you leave” system. This means that it’s much like leaving a concert or sporting event, with the added bonus of everyone stopping at a kiosk—not really reachable from most vehicles—to pay the exit fee. Fortunately, most visitors sent a passenger out to pay, speeding the process quite a bit.
Despite the parking hassles, this was a fun trip on a well-run system. I don’t need to do it again anytime soon, but I’m really glad we went and would definitely recommend it to visitors to the Pikes Peak region.
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