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Pikes Peak Cog Railroad in Manitou Springs
Pikes Peak Cog Railroad
The Pikes Peak Cog Railroad offers a scenic, relaxing trip to the top of Pikes Peak, the world’s second most visited mountain (Mt. Fuji in Japan is first). Pikes Peak is the 31st highest mountain in Colorado and it is unique because it has no obstructions in front of it. The trip starts in Manitou Springs (6,571 ft) and ends 9 miles later at the summit of Pikes Peak (14, 110 ft). Round trip will take just over 3 hours with a 30-40 stop at the summit. The cog railroad is open year round but may only climb part of the way due to weather conditions.
What is a Cog Railroad?
Cog railways are different than your typical railroad. A cog railway uses special track with a rack up the middle. The cog trains have a cog in the middle that fits into the rack and helps the train climb steep inclines. A typical railroad can only climb grades of 4% - 6%. The Pikes Peak Cog Railroad uses the Abt system, which is limited to maximum grades of 25%. The Pikes Peak Cog Railroad has a few sections right at the maximum of 25%, but has an average grade of 16%. In Switzerland, there is a cog railroad that uses the Riggenbach System that can climb grades of 48%!
Pictures From Along the WayClick thumbnail to view full-size
Riding the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad
The depot is located in Manitou Springs. Be sure to call ahead and book reservations to reserve your spot. There are numerous trains through out the day. Also, check out their website for departure times, prices, and coupons. Parking is limited so arrive early. Check in and head down to track level. There is a snack shop and gift shop to check out while you wait. I would advise taking a bottle of water with you, as there is not any food available on the train. I would also advise you to take a jacket with you, as the summit is at least 20 – 30 degrees colder than Manitou Springs.
Climb on board and get comfortable. As the cog leaves the Manitou Springs station, you will quickly notice the steep grade. There are times that the front of the train will be 4 stories higher than the back of the train. The trip starts out through dense pine and spruce forests. Watch for waterfalls along the track. The best one being Minnehaha Falls, which is located on the left side, near a siding that the cog will pull into to allow the descending cog to pass. This siding marks the first third of the journey. The conductors do a great job of telling you what is coming up and which side of the cog it will be on. They also do a great job of entertaining you on the trip as well. The next section is not as steep. Keep a look out for mule deer grazing in the fields. As you near the halfway point (Mountain View Siding), you will get your first glimpse of Pikes Peak. The grade begins to really get steep now as you continue to climb. The views become more and more amazing as the cog climbs above the tree line, which means there are only 3 miles left. The terrain will become rocky with little or no vegetation. Be on the look out for yellow-bellied marmots and bighorn sheep.
Views from the Summit of Pikes PeakClick thumbnail to view full-size
Pikes Peak Summit
When you reach the summit, you will have 30-40 minutes at the top before you have to begin the trip back down. Take caution when exiting the cog because the air is much thinner up there. Walk slowly and give yourself a chance to adjust. Be sure to take in the amazing views from the summit. On a clear day, looking east you can see into Kansas. If you look straight down to the east you can see the Garden of the Gods sticking up out of Colorado Springs. Looking north, you maybe able to see the buildings in downtown Denver, depending on how clear it is and how much smog there is. Looking south, you can see the Sangre de Christo (Blood of Christ) mountain range in New Mexico. Looking west, you can see more of the Rocky Mountains. Also, visit the America the Beautiful monument. America the Beautiful was written based on the views from Pikes Peak. This is a great place for taking pictures. The lines at the gift/snack shop are long so plan accordingly. The best idea is to get out and take pictures first, and then head into the snack shop. The cog will blow its horn about 10 minutes before departing back down the mountain. You must take the same train down as you came on; otherwise, it is a long hike down the mountain.
The Pikes Peak Cog Railroad is a great experience. I normally drive when my family goes on vacation, so it was nice to sit back and enjoy the scenery on the ride to the summit. It was a beautiful and relaxing ride. I highly recommend taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad.