All aboard the Pikes Peak Cog Railway!
This 3 hour and 10 minute trip spans over 8.9 miles of track. The first third of the trip is along Ruxton Creek in Englemann Canyon. Here the steep track follows a cascading stream through dense stands of Englemann spruce, Colorado blue spruce, and Ponderosa pine trees. Be sure to pay attention to the boulder fields on both sides of the train; conductors like to point out the various "faces" and shapes which, with a bit of imagination, can be seen in the giant boulders.
Right near the Minnehaha switch, where the down bound trains pass the up bound trains on many trips, is Minnehaha Falls.
Right below the old settlement of Ruxton Park, the train passes through what is known as "Hell's Gate." Don't worry, it's not as ominous as it sounds, it's just a natural gateway in the mountains.
After a few more minutes, the train passes through Deer Park, where passengers sometimes catch a glimpse of mule deer grazing. Then we pass over the Four Mile Siding and get our first glimpse of Pikes Peak! At the halfway point of the journey, you will pass by Mountain View, another siding. At about the 5-mile point, the grade steepens again and we begin climbing in earnest.
Here on "The Big Hill," Mount Almagre dominates the views.
Many of the trees in this area are bristlecone pine, some of the oldest living things on earth! It is estimated that some bristlecone pines on Pikes Peak are over 2000 years old. For more information on these amazing trees, check out this website: www.sonic.net/bristlecone.
Once we climb above timberline, the views become more expansive. Timberline is the area where trees stop growing. They cannot get enough moisture because, just under the surface, there is permafrost where the ground remains frozen year-round. What does grow is known as Alpine tundra: a mixture of mosses, grasses, and wildflowers, which have all adapted to the extremely short growing season.
Here passengers frequently see yellow-bellied marmots and Bighorn sheep. The yellow-bellied marmot is the most populous animal on Pikes Peak. Playful creatures, the marmots like to sun themselves on rocks in the summer and hibernate in the winter. They are noted for their piercing whistle, which alerts others of danger, and gives rise to the name "whistling marmots" or "whistle pig." Pikes Peak is also home to one of the largest herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in Colorado.
The last 3 miles of the trip are all above timberline. To the east stretch the Great Plains out beyond the border of Colorado and Kansas. To the south, the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Range stretches south to New Mexico. On the western horizon, just slightly to the southwest, lies the Collegiate Range.
To the southwest, as the base of Pikes Peak, sit the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor. Once upon the summit, if the weather is clear (and there is not much Denver smog), you can see the skyscrapers of downtown Denver.
You are allowed 30 to 40 minutes on the top of Pikes Peak. Most people begin to feel the effects of high altitude (slight nausea, headache) after about 30 minutes.
We recommend that you budget your time accordingly. In the high season, the summit house serves thousands of people daily. The staff of ARAMARK (the concessionaire at the Summit House, which is owned by the city of Colorado Springs) does an admirable job with a facility that was built in the 1960's and was never intended to serve the numbers it does today.
Consequently, long lines are quite common especially in the food service area right after the train arrives. You can bring food and beverages aboard the train (those purchased from the Cog Railway Market; sorry, no outside food or beverages are allowed), but due to limited seating, you cannot bring outside food or beverages into the Summit House.
Here are some Helpful Tips to make the most of your time at the Summit:
First, walk around outside and enjoy the view and take pictures. The north side of the summit is most dramatic with a breathtaking drop-off into what is known as the Bottomless Pit. BE CAREFUL! ESPECIALLY WITH SMALL CHILDREN!
Then walk over to the far side of the summit near the High Altitude Research Station to get a nice view of the Continental Divide.
After that, go inside and warm up, check the lines at the snack/gift area (try to eat before or bring something on the train).
Use the restroom and then head outside to the viewing platform on the south side.
In November through March, and most of April, you should purchase food at the Depot and take it with you on the train as food service is VERY LIMITED.
In April and early May, you should get any food or beverage AS SOON AS YOU ARRIVE ON THE SUMMIT, as the food service up there closes after about 20 minutes.
The train crew will blow a long blast on the horn 10 minutes before the train leaves. Remember, you must return on the same train, and the train leaves ON TIME! It can be a long walk down if you miss your train!