The last time I was in Manitou Springs, Colorado was about 30 years ago in route to North Pole Santa’s Workshop in Cascade with a husband and two young children in tow. Driving through I made a mental note that we should plan a weekend stay in the quaint town nestled between Garden of the God’s and Pike’s Peak. Fast forward to April 2023 when I was surfing the web looking for a weekend getaway from our home in Fort Collins. Colorado Springs is what popped up in my Google search, but then I remembered the hidden gem just a 15-minute drive further into the mountains. And for those from out of state, Manitou Springs is the perfect elevation to adjust to the altitude at 6,400 feet above sea level.
At 60 and 70 years old my husband and I bypassed the campgrounds and youth hostel options and went straight for a hotel in the middle of the historic district for ease of getting around town, and because being able to park the car once we arrived on Friday night and leave it in the valet parking for the duration of the weekend was ideal. Public parking in Manitou Springs is quite expensive starting at $3.50 for the first hour, $35 for 6 hours and $11.50 for each additional hour after that, so if you have an opportunity for valet or all-day parking take it! We booked at the Cliff House for our stay, and they offered 24-hour parking for $15, which was a steal.
My husband, Jeff, and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this year, so I’m working that angle for all it’s worth. When I booked the reservation on Booking.com, they had the lowest rate at $165 per night for a queen studio room, I had noted that it was our anniversary (I didn’t mention that this April booking was still two months from our actual June anniversary – wink!). When we arrived on a busy Friday evening the front desk agent told me that she had upgraded us to a junior suite and wished me a happy anniversary. We found a red rose and chocolates waiting for us on our bed and a gas fireplace blazing. Although the hotel is older the room was large, bright, and immaculately clean, with no musty odors. On all the reviews that I had read all the guest mentioned the heated toilet seat, and sure enough when I went into the bathroom the famed heated toilet was in place and worked beautifully (if heating your buns is your thing). If you are looking for historical elegance, this is probably not it, with a bit too much floral and window chintz., even the bathtub had a curtain valance, but I enjoyed the charm and the effort in detailing.
The Cliff House was built in 1873 and has been open to guests longer than Colorado has been a state (1876). It was originally a stagecoach stop along the Colorado Springs to Leadville route during the gold rush days of the Wild West. Once the mining boom ended the town struggled to find its place, but luckily the interest in the town’s ancient mineral springs brought visitors looking for a “cure”. Historians believe that as many as 1/3 of Colorado’s early settlers came for health cures, most notable tuberculous. There are several fresh mineral water taps running along the historic downtown where you will see visitors and locals alike filling their water bottles with the mineral dense spring water pouring from the public spouts. I tried it myself and it has an almost effervescent feel with a slight baking soda flavor. The original hotel had a stable connected to it that housed burros. At the turn of the century the town was a mecca for those looking to escape the heat of the city and enjoy the mineral pools and burro lines up to Pikes Peak. The ill-fated stable that housed the “Rocky Mountain canaries”, was a good idea for the excursion organizers, but not such a pleasant wake-up call for the guest.
For dinner we walked about half a mile through the quaint downtown to Swirl Wine Bar on Manitou Avenue. The cozy bar restaurant was on the bottom floor of the former Wheeler Bank, which was Manitou Springs first bank built in 1888. The upper floor was formerly an opera house (Wheeler Hall) perfectly suited due to its high ceilings and excellent acoustics. Every inch of the ceiling of the wine bar is covered in colorful umbrellas of various styles creating a unique canopy. Jeff and I each had the beef tips paired with Eola Hills Pinot Noir. Delicious! I judge a restaurant by their bathrooms, and I must say that this one left something to be desired, as it doubled as a cleaning supply closet, but as a whole the experience, especially with the knowledgeable wait staff suggesting a variety of wines to pair with our meal, was a win. There is also outside seating in their alley way that would be perfect on a hot summer day paired with a chilled rose.
The Broadmoor Hotel has always been on my bucket list to stay at, but alas, the cost of a standard king room running approximately $950 per night keeps me wishing, so we opted for a walk around the exquisitely manicured grounds and lunch at The Bar. The dark wood paneling, muraled walls and rich leather chairs made for elegant seating inside and outside seating had lakefront and mountain views. The service was friendly and professional with nary a moment without a refresh on my iced tea. My husband indulged in the $23 footlong chilidog, and I opted for the Kentucky Hot Brown (turkey sandwich). Although there was a waiting list to be seated, we were not rushed, and we allowed ourselves to bask in the casual elegance.
The hotel is also home to an incredible collection of western art from the Anschutz Collection from Denver’s Museum of Western Art. Not all the art is original, but I’d challenge you to tell me which ones are real, and which are replicas. The approximately 300 pieces of art on display glamorizing the Old West will turn any city slicker into a cowboy!
And finally, don’t miss the petite Pourtales library, which was once a lady’s sitting room. It has a rolling ladder allowing guests to climb and reach books on the highest shelves. Even on this warm April day the fire was blazing, and guests were tucked into the built-in nooks reading some of the selections from the guest lending library.
Back in Manitou Springs…Jeff and I poured ourselves a glass of wine and made ourselves comfortable on the veranda of the Cliff House Hotel where the valet promptly lit the gas fire pit table in front of us. In the late afternoon light, the top of Pikes’ Peak was visible between the mountain tops in the distance, covered in snow it owned it’s “purple mountain’s majesty” reference. A birthday party was being held that evening in the ballroom, so the hotel smelled of perfume and shoe polish as the guests poured in creating a very festive atmosphere. As a Coloradoan, it was not lost on me that this warm April evening was a blessing, as it could have easily swung in the opposite direction and snow could have been flying.
For dinner we opted for Mexican food at The Loop at 7:30. Again, it was an easy five-minute walk from the hotel. After the bustling afternoon traffic pouring into Old Town, it was refreshing for the streets to have reverted back to those of a sleepy mountain town. I can only imagine the traffic come June. The hotel concierge had recommended the restaurant for the margaritas. The margarita menu was extensive, but the prices seemed a little high at $15.00 for a regular margarita on the rocks. The food was your usual Tex-Mex, but the food was well seasoned, the portions were plentiful, and the chips and salsa were complimentary, which I love! Although the restaurant interior could use a facelift the service was prompt and friendly, and the atmosphere was that of a fun resort town.
The breakfast at the Cliff House had been lauded as “amazing” on various reviews, but I found the food to be very average (scrambled eggs, vegetable frittata, bacon/sausage, and fruit). It was the white tablecloth, sunlit dining room, and coffee table-service that made the breakfast stand out. An amenities fee of $20 per day is added to your bill so the breakfast not actually “included” in the price of the room. But with that said the breakfast is served from 6:30-10:00 a.m. giving early and later risers ample time to help themselves to plenty of coffee and an ample breakfast in case they decide to attempt the Manitou Incline.
My son texted me and said that he and his girlfriend were driving down from Denver and were hiking “the Incline” on Sunday afternoon. He suggested that we might run into each other. I assured him that our paths would not cross on this well-known master hike. The Manitou Incline climbs over 2,000 vertical feet in less than a mile and has sections as steep as 68% grade. Once you reach the summit you connect with Bar Trail, which is also rated difficult, but the 3-mile trail is less strenuous and offers spectacular views back down to the base. No, Jeff and I were opting to end our weekend retreat in a more relaxed manner at SunWater Spa.
You are well advised to book your 90-minute mineral water soak at SunWater Spa well in advance. This popular, local day spa offers mineral water soaks in cedar tubs by reservation and offers free parking to guests. Each tub has a different name and is situated on three tiers of open-air decks for $45 per person. The water is sourced from 7 Minute Spring, which filters through deep rock faults and is said to infuse the water with holistic, healing minerals. Your reservation also gives you access to the sauna and the indoor saline pool. As a person with a voice that carries, I was intimidated by the signs that were sprinkled around the property saying “whisper”, but I think I was successful, except for a short time or two. I had originally wanted an afternoon reservation, but due to lack of availability I had to book a 10:00 a.m. tub. Our tub was on the ground floor, which I was initially disappointed in, imagining that the upper levels had better mountain views, but in hindsight the lower-level tubs were just steps away from the sauna and saline pool, so the chilly walk was just a few steps to both amenities. The spa also offers a variety of massage techniques, but we did not partake, we will save that luxury for next time.
We felt too relaxed after the spa to pile back into the car and kill the zen mood by heading the 2 two hours north on I-25, so we took a leisurely 10-minute walk to Manitou Brewing Company for lunch. The entrance to the small restaurant is nestled just off of the street along a little alley way off of Manitou Avenue. It was just noon, so the restaurant was not yet busy, and we seated ourselves at one of the outdoor patio tables. The service was prompt and friendly and our server was very knowledge about their beer selections. Jeff got a flight of 4 MBC beers with generous 5 oz. pours for $12 and I got a delicious pint of Garden of the Guavas Blonde with a pretty, pink hue and fruit forward flavor for $7.00. The soft perfectly baked garlic parmesan pretzel bites where a perfect coupling with the beers. We got the Incline Burger and the pulled pork tacos as our entrees. Both were good in the typical bar food sort of way. By the time we were ready to leave around 1:00 the restaurant was very busy and getting our servers’ attention to get our check took a few minutes. But all in all it was a perfect day for sitting on the shaded patio and the food and drinks were very much enjoyed.
Hidden in the foothills Manitou Springs is a little front range treasure. I hope it doesn’t take me another 35 years to make my way back to this quaint and quirky mountain town.