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View of Pikes Peak from Colorado Springs, CO

While Colorado Springs may be the second-largest city in its namesake state, the city takes a back seat to no city, in Colorado or in any other Rocky Mountain state, in terms of ideal location close to awe-inspiring natural beauty. Resting comfortably in the evening shadow of America's most famous mountain, Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs is home to world-class hotels and restaurants, and numerous historical and natural attractions that have convinced countless visitors to return and make the city their home. Colorado Springs is the 41st most populated city in the US, giving "the Springs", as it's known to natives, the size to afford residents the typical conveniences and options found in any major city. The city is spread out below the foothills at the southern end of the Front Range, however, stretching nearly 195 acres to make Colorado Springs the state's largest city in area. The size of the Springs provides ample room for its 465,000-plus residents, thus giving it the character and feel of a much smaller city.

Colorado Springs city limits Sign on I-25 with Pikes Peak in the background View of downtown Colorado Springs with Pikes Peak in the background

The views from different parts of Colorado Springs are striking. In addition to Pikes Peak, the city offers majestic views of Cheyenne Mountain, the Garden of the Gods, the foothills of the Front Range and the southeastern edge of the 1 million-acre Pike National Forest. If visitors prefer a view of the city from up high, they can take the 15 minute trip west to the Pikes Peak Highway, a 19-mile journey that climbs 6,700 feet via paved road to the the 14,115-foot summit of America's most well-known peak. Along the journey are breathtaking scenes of mountain lakes, alpine forest, occassional wildlife. The trip up Pikes Peak often provides an ascent into and out of the clouds, as well as it winds up the mountainside above the treeline ending at the summit more than two and a half miles above sea level. Pikes Peak Highway is one of only two paved roads in North America that rise above 14,000 feet, and a drive up leads to stunning panoramas of Colorado Springs, the Front and Rampart Ranges, the Garden of the Gods, the American Plains spreading out to the East, the Sangre De Cristo Range to the South and an ernormous chunk of the Pike National Forest to the northeast.

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground View of Cheyenne Mountain from Bear Creek Dog Park

As awe-inspiring as a trip to Pikes Peak's summit is, it's merely the tip of the amazing Colorado Springs iceberg. Situated on Fountain Creek, the city is surrounded by alpine wonders including mountain terrain, forest and a number of reservoirs and creeks. The city boasts some of the nation's finest alpine hiking trails, including the orange sidewalks that meander around the Garden of the Gods and the trails of Cheyenne Canyon, some of which take hikers up the face of the Springs' other famous mountain. Colorado Springs is also a hub for US amateur athletics as the home of the United States Olympic Training Center, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the National Junior College Athletic Association and the governning bodies of amateur basketball, hockey, swimming, wrestling and racquetball. Springs visitors can also enjoy the powerful, cascading waters of Seven Falls, watch Division I college football at the Air Force Academy's stadium on the city's north end or play golf at dozens of local golf courses, including the course at the world famous Broadmoor, home of the 66th US Women's Open in 2011. Colorado Springs is also a blossoming hub for disc golf, offering a wide selection of world-class courses. Hikers, bikers and runners are also taken care of in this beautiful city, with a wide array of trails both inside and outside of the city. There are a number of facilities within an hour of the Springs that offer whitewater rafting, kayaking and zip line tours, as well as numerous world-class ski resorts including Vail, Aspen, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge.

Air Force Academy Falcons football stadium with the foothills of the front range in the background Black and White Colobus Monkey at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Red Necked Wallaby at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Slender Tailed Meerkat at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Reticulated Giraffe at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Animal lovers will enjoy the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, nestled among the foothills west of the city. Zoo visitors are also treated to a trip up the Shrine Road to the Will Rogers Shrine, a tower built in 1937 by prominent Springs native and benefactor Spencer Penrose. A climb to the top of the Shrine's tower unlocks access to awesome views of the Broadmoor resort and golf course, downtown and all the communities surrounding Colorado Springs. The zoo also offers a ski lift-type "Sky Ride", which glides over the zoo and up the face of Cheyenne where even more spellbinding vitas can be had. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is somewhat unique among US zoos due to its location at the foot of a forest covered mountainside, although some visitors find it hard to pay attention to the animals with the stunning scenery spreading out from the zoo. Dog lovers residing in Colorado Springs enjoy a number of pet-friendly recreation areas, including America the Beautiful Park, Memorial Park, Palmer Park, Cheyenne Mountain State Park and Bear Creek Dog Park, a large fenced-in area where dog owners can take their pets off the leash and take in the breathtaking beauty of the mountains while Fido gets his morning exercise and takes care of business.

Another attraction for animals just twenty minutes from Colorado Springs offers even closer observation of wildlife. Serenity Springs Wildlife Center is a non-profit sanctuary for wild animals that have been abandoned as well as former performer animals that have been retired. The facility only exists to provide better lives for the majestic creatures that live there, which include tigers, lions, black and spotted leopards, bobcats, mountain lions, bears, coatimudis, and other exotic animals. A reasonably priced tour of Serenity Springs' grounds brings visitors within just a few feet of the animals' cages, and the staff actually goads many of them up to the fence, offering a much closer experience than a zoo typically offers with these types of animals.

Colorado Springs also offers occasional glances of native wildlife throughout the city's outer neighborhoods and the surrounding terrain. Colorado Springs residents are comfortably accustomed to sharing the morning air with deer as they retrieve the morning paper, and its not a shock to come across bears roaming Springs neighborhoods. The city is surrounded by diverse topography that supports a wide array of birds, fish and animals living in landscapes just as varied. In addition to offering a close-up view of the western edge of the Rockies, Colorado Springs is also less than a half hour from the alpine forests of the 1 million-acre Pike National Forest, giving residents quick access to scores of lakes, rivers, streams, and natural areas ideal for enthusiasts of all outdoor activities. The city is just an hour from Denver, for any big city conveniences not found in the Springs, and is just a few hours from countless exhibits of natural beauty including Canon City's Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Vail, Monarch and Wolf Creek passes. There are also a number of natural hot springs located within a few hours of Colorado Springs, including Idaho Springs, Glenwood Springs and Pagosa Springs.