Royal Gorge/Cañon City
Sky-high thrills greet visitors to this fun-filled corner of Colorado
While Arizona’s Grand Canyon gets all the attention for its sheer size, Colorado’s Royal Gorge near Cañon City could handily claim the title for America’s most fun canyon. Visitors here can find a variety of ways to experience the dramatic landscape of the deep groove carved over millennia by the Arkansas River.
Float high over the canyon in a gondola, or let the wind whip your hair as you walk across the nation’s highest bridge. Go deep into the gorge and experience the canyon from its depths with a whitewater adventure on roiling river rapids. Whether you are seeking scenic natural views or adrenaline-pumping thrills, you can find it in the Royal Gorge’s compelling landscapes and towns.
Adventure Awaits You at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park
The Royal Gorge’s granite walls rise over 1,200 feet above the river valley, which narrows to a mere 50 feet wide in some places at the base of the canyon. The geological features awed the Native Americans for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1929 that developers built the suspension bridge over the ravine, making it a tourism hot spot. At 955 feet, the Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest bridge in the United States and carries both pedestrians and passenger vehicles.
Crossing the bridge in your vehicle is thrilling, but nothing beats standing on the span’s walkway as a brisk breeze blows through the canyon. Peer down at the river, a dizzying 950-plus feet below, and observe rafts that appear ant-size floating in the water below. A trolley also crosses the bridge, allowing you to make it to the other side in a comfortable car. Running parallel to the bridge, bright red gondolas glide along cables, giving passengers superb views of the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s all part of the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, a complex built around the bridge to help visitors make the most out of the landscape.
Learn about the region’s history at the impressive new visitor center, which was rebuilt after a wildfire destroyed much of the park in 2013. Enjoy lunch with a spectacular view at Café 1230 (named after the eatery’s elevation). The Plaza Theater and Historical Expo tell more of the park’s remarkable story. Keep that adrenaline pumping by soaring over the canyon on the awe-inspiring Royal Rush Skycoaster or the Cloudscraper Zip Line.
Awesome Eye Candy
While the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is the area’s best-known attraction, folks eager to explore the surrounding area won’t leave disappointed. Motorists will feel as though they can touch the sky when they journey along Skyline Drive, a one-lane roller coaster of a road that traverses steep mountainsides and winds between high peaks. This drive might come with white knuckles (it’s definitely for cars, not RVs), but the stunning views are worth it for those who make the expedition.
To experience the beauty on foot, the Tunnel Drive Trail is a relatively easy 4-mile journey with picturesque views of the Arkansas River below and granite peaks. Tunnels through the hillside frame the scenery ahead.
Rafting the Arkansas River affords a different view of the canyon. Whether you desire to float along a gentle stretch of current or seek the rush of its infamous whitewater rapids, you’ll find an outfitter offering an excursion that meets your comfort level. There’s nothing like having the refreshingly cool water splash in your face as you bounce down the scenic riverway. You can practice your rafting skills at Cañon City’s Whitewater Kayak and Recreation Park before you hit the Arkansas. If you’re not ready to ride the rapids, fly-fishing from the banks is another wonderful way to experience the area.
Also on the bottom of this geological wonder is the Royal Gorge Railroad. The train’s 17 cars glide between the gorge’s granite walls and provide views of the river and the underside of the bridge along a route that’s been in service since 1879.
Get away from it all at Red Canyon Park, where red boulder monoliths tower over the desert landscape. More than 600 acres of trails lead adventurous hikers through compelling natural habitats and awe-inspiring rock formations.
Coasting Around Cañon City
Located about 13 miles east of the bridge, Cañon City is the gateway to the region and a perfect base camp for your explorations. In the 1850s, the town served miners who’d flocked to the region seeking to strike gold. The downtown district’s streets are lined with colorful, historic buildings housing art galleries, restaurants and quaint shops.
Cañon City boasts the unique distinction of being the “Corrections Capital of the World,” thanks to the number of jails and prisons that thrived in the area during the 1800s to protect locals from rowdy miners and dangerous gunslingers. The Colorado Prison Museum can tell you about the town’s fascinating history of incarceration. Museum exhibits are housed in cells and depict prison life in Colorado from its earliest days to the present through informative displays and artifacts. The building sits adjacent to the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility — which has been in active use since 1871.
Long before criminals ran afoul of the law, dinosaurs dominated the terrain. Learn about the area’s giant reptilian residents with a stop at the Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center. You can also learn about the Hollywood films shot on location in the area.
Cap your visit with a stop at The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. Visitors can taste handcrafted vintages while admiring mountain views. This is a spectacular spot for relaxing and unwinding after your busy adventures in the Cañon City and Royal Gorge region.
For More Information
Royal Gorge Region in Colorado
Colorado Tourism Office