You cannot end your visit to Colorado Springs without a trip to the summit of Pikes Peak. The highest mountain of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains stands tall and proud at no less than 14,115-feet and it offers a spectacular view of the surroundings. Its location in Pike National Forest just 12 miles west of the town is highly-convenient for any tourist traveling through Colorado.
Pikes Peak’s Early History
One of Colorado’s 53 mountains that spear the sky at over 14,000 feet has been the subject of human admiration for as long as we can remember. Pikes Peak overshadows today’s town of Colorado Springs, but it has seen several settlements and communities settle at its base for thousands of years.
The Native American tribe of Ute claimed to have been created at the top of Pikes Peak, and their arrival in this area around 500 A.D. is the earliest documented evidence of human settlement. They called it “Tava,” which in their dialect meant “Sun,” and they even called themselves “Tabeguache,” which meant “People of Sun Mountain.”
The First American Climb to the Summit
The Spanish colonialists were the first Europeans to reach the mountain, and they called it “El Capitan,” which stands for “The Leader.” American explorers that followed in their footsteps in the 18th century were astounded by its impetuous presence and called it the “Highest Peak,” before the United States Board on Geographic Names settled on “Pikes Peak” in 1890 after one of its early explorers Zebulon Pike.
The first known climb to Pikes Peak’s summit was the successful attempt of Edwin James in 1820. The American botanist was just 23 years old at the time of the climb and led an expedition that included only two other men. James was the first scientist to discover and describe the blue columbine, which is today the state flower of Colorado.
The Gold Rush and other important events
The Pikes Peak did not escape the Gold Rush that swept Colorado in the middle of the 19th century. On the contrary, the expeditions of incoming gold diggers wore the slogan “Pike’s Peak or Bust” even if there was no gold found on the mountain. Most of the precious metal that triggered the rush was excavated from the nearby plains. The impressive summit only served as a landmark for the explorers.
Julia Archibald Holmes was the first European-American woman to climb Pikes Peak in 1858. Less than 40 years later, in 1893, American poet Katharine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful,” a song about the view from the top of the mountain. A plaque with a verse from the song has later been placed at the summit.
Visiting Pikes Peak today
After being declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961, Pikes Peak benefitted from substantial investment in infrastructure designated for visitors and hikers. Nowadays, the summit features visitor centers, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
You can reach the top of Pikes Peak by car on a 19-mile road that starts in downtown Colorado Springs, or by a train shuttle that will take you up to the last three miles off the summit.