A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to squeeze in a trip out to Manitou Springs, Colorado. If you aren’t already familiar with the destination, you may recall its largest attraction, Pike’s Peak. Pike’s is the highest summit of North America’s portion of the Rocky Mountains. Manitou Springs is an incredible small town tucked into wildly beautiful mountain ranges, yet is also only a quick drive from Downtown Colorado Springs. On this mini adventure, I spoke with the town mystic, ate some great Cajun food, and got even farther out of town to experience the Garden of the Gods.

But, before I even checked into my Airbnb, I needed to see what all the Pike’s Peak fuss was about. Here is what I gathered: Since I had done a summer visit, the entire town was booming but apparently, the crowds don’t slow down much; in the winter months the majority just shifts from vacationers to Colorado locals. Another fascinating thing about Pike’s is that the park gives you several different options when it comes to personal experience. Some choose to drive up the entire way, while some choose to take a fitness challenge and run up the incline. The best way, and in most everyone’s opinion, the most challenging way to reach the peak is by good old-fashioned hiking (Barr’s Trail is the official trailhead). The trail gains 7, 510 vertical feet over the course of 13 miles so you are able to see your progress fairly early on. Once you’ve passed treeline, you are looking at only three miles until you reach summit. And what an astounding summit it is.

In comparison to Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods is much less challenging yet still phenomenally alluring. Created during a geographical upheaval along the fault line millions of years ago, these red rock sculptures seem to have religious connotations permeating their entire existence and really, it’s a hard topic not to think about being in such an awe invoking place. The breathtaking red rock up against the grey mountains is one of the best spots for photographers and climbers alike.

When most think about Colorado they reminisce on skiing in Vail or shin-digging about town in Boulder proper. But there’s something to be said about South-Western Colorado; if you are planning a vacation to the mountains, (ideally you’ll take enough time to see it all) don’t miss out on the Southern end.