We made our way to the Garden of the Gods after our visit to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Helen Hunt Falls. Garden of the Gods is Beauty 360 degrees! The red mountains and with the green trees and grass was stunning! Garden of the Gods is also perfect for the budget because it is free!
We stopped by the visitors center before we entered the park (that’s where my featured image was taken). There is a great view of the park from there and you can get a map of the Garden of the Gods fromt there. Of course there’s a gift shop too for all the fun memorbilia to take home with you.
The drive alone is worth a visit! There are winding roads throughout, so you can drive and see the beautiful sights without even getting out of your car.
Hiking and More
Of cours we wanted to go for a short hike, that turned into a long hike. The path was paved, and very easy to hike with an 18 month old. We were lucky there was nice cloud cover, which made for a cooler hike in the early evening. There were quite a few other people hiking and taking photos, but it was not too crowded. There were a few rock climbers high up with their ropes and equipment. They are pretty impresive, nothing that I’m willing to do.
There is so much to see, so you should really make a good amount of time to explore the park especially if you like to hike. We were pretty tired from our busy day, or we might have stayed longer. We were also anxious to get back to our retreat and relax in the hot tub.
Where’s your favorite place to hike or explore in Colorado?
After some time at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo we decided to go to Helen Hunt Falls. A couple of years before we had been to Seven Falls, but I wanted to go somewhere different this time, plus Helen Hunt Falls is Free!
Finding Helen Hunt Falls
I found out about Helen Hunt Falls through TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor is a great app (or website) with information you sometimes can’t find normally. A lot of reviewers leave great tips! I’m not sure I would have known about Helen Hunt Falls if it had not been for searching for free things to do on TripAdvisor.
We drove on a winding road to reach the falls through North Cheyenne Canon Park. There were several picnic areas and people pulled over hiking, playing in the water, exploring, etc. We had to park on the road and walk a little to reach the falls. We had a nice hike up the falls. You really must climb to the top to get the full experience and spectacular views. It’s not a bad hike and we had already been all over Cheyenne Mountain Zoo earlier in the day, so we were pretty tired. Yes, it was hot and humid!
They also have a visitors center and everyone was very friendly. The falls were not crowded at all, especially for being later in the day, so that was very nice. I don’t know that they have a website, but you can google for more information or search on TripAdvisor.
Our next stop was The Garden of the Gods, then we headed back to our little retreat at the base of Pikes Peak for some time in the hot tub, some fresh cool mountain air, and a good nights sleep.
What’s your favorite free thing to do in Colorado Springs?
While we were in Colorado Springs (July 2014) we visited the North Pole – Santa’s Workshop at Pike’s Peak. I visited as I child, I think I was about 7 or 8-years-old. I remember having a lot of fun as a youngster. I was excited to take my kids, and hoped it was still as neat as I remembered.
Go on a Weekday
Santa’s Workshop did not let us down! It was great because the park was not crowded, no wait in line for rides, food or bathrooms. We went on a Thursday, so I’m sure that helped to make it less crowded.
What to Expect
The entire place is so quaint, friendly and clean. We really loved it! Our oldest (13-years-old) said this was her favorite place we visited in Colorado Springs. There are rides for young and old. You pay an entrance fee which covers all of the rides, then they give you a card and you charge everything else on it. When you leave the park they total up your expences, and then you pay. This can be a little dangerous! We kind of lost track on what we were spending. There are lots of good eats, and many cute little shops. Everything is Christmas themed. If you are a Christmas lover you must visit Santa’s Workshop. They have a palethra of Christmas ornaments. We ended up getting several custom ornaments. There is a shop that will paint names on any ornament you want. I got one for each of the girls, they picked their’s out. I also got one for my Mom and put all of her grandkids names on it.
We headed to Meade, Colorado after we left to go visit and stay with friends. Our plan was to visit Rocky Mountain National Park at least one of the next 2 days.
Have You been to Santa’a Workshop? What did you enjoy most?
On our vacation to Colorado Springs, we decided to visit Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. I have a cousin who lives in Denver and she and her family met us there in the morning. We wanted to get an early start before it got too hot outside. Even though we were in Colorado, it can still get very hot in the summer. Especially if you’re not way up in the mountains. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is actually on a Mountain, so there was a lot of hiking up and down hills on our visit. We rented a stroller for our youngest, but she was just getting feet mobile and wanted to do lots of walking herself.
One of the first things we did was the giraffe feeding, they are pretty close to the entrance. They are super friendly and it’s fun to watch their long tongues reach out for food. Both girls enjoyed feeding the giraffes. My cousin’s two girls are a little older and they both had fun too. We also fed several birds in the bird sanctuary they have. That is always neat for kids to do, and I enjoy it myself along with my husband. If you go to the zoo’s website you will find several “animal feeding experiences” listed. You have to pay extra for all of the animal feedings.
My cousin’s husband, her girls and my oldest road the Mountian Sky Ride. It is a like a ski lift that goes high over the zoo. It looked pretty cool, but I’m not sure how I would have handled the height! I was never scared of heights until I got older. I think I was in my late 30s that heights started making me a bit dizzy. You do have to pay extra to ride. My youngest had to ride the carousel while we were there. Always a good ride for the younger kids and even the bigger kids enjoy it.
Visit the Zoo’s website for current pricing on all of the extras. The food at the zoo was pretty good. Your standard zoo food. We had some delicious ice cream. It may have tasted so good because we were all hot, sweaty and tired when we ate. The views were fantastic! Everywhere your turned were beautiful views of the mountains. My biggest negative for me was the zoo set up is not user-friendly. You go into one section, then have to circle back out before you can move on to the next section. We still had a very good time.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a fun little zoo to visit with family. Be prepared for a lot of up and down hill hiking!
Have you been to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo? What was your favorite part?
After hiking and exploring the Wichita Mountains area we headed to Tuttle to visit the Tiger Safari. We had visited once before when my oldest was about 7 or 8 years old. I thought this would be a fun experience for both girls.
What to expect.
Tiger Safari is a neat interactive Zoological Park down a country road near Tuttle, OK. We went in May 2014, so I know there have been some changes since then. We bought my oldest the ticket to interact with the animals, and my youngest husband and I just bought the tickets that provide a guided tour. That is one of the things I really liked about this zoo, the guides are great and have lots of information on the animals their likes, where they came from, how long they’ve been there, etc. You can tell they really like their jobs! This was my 3rd visit (I went several years earlier with my cousin and her children), and I have always had a really good time, including the tour guides. You can walk the park on your own, but I recommend a guide and the interaction experience if you have little ones that love animals. There is almost always a new animal to interact with, but they have Tiger feedings every time. My oldest was pretty brave holding animals. Especially the Python! She would not hold the owl though, so I did that one. He was pretty heavy so she may not have been able to hold him. I can’t remember if I had to pay extra to do that or not? It was pretty cool though. Check out their website for additional information and pricing.
The Wichita Mountains is a pretty spectacular sight to see. You are driving along the prairies of Oklahoma, we came from Oklahoma City on the turnpike, then suddenly there are mountains in view. Huge stacks of boulders seem to be piled on top of one one another to form mountains. It’s a beautiful sight, with flat prairies between the mountains. I have visited, hiked and camped at the Wichita Mountains many times before I moved to NW Oklahoma. There are so many places to hike, explore and rock climb. You could go 50 times and discover something new each time. They have camping sites, a visitors center, hiking, rock climbing, prairie dog town, lakes, lake recreation, animal sitings and more. This visit was the first time I took my girls, and it was not long enough.
About the Wichita Mountains Wildflife Refuge
A little about the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge was established to protect wildlife species that were in grave danger of extinction, and to restore species that had been eliminated from the area. Bison were reintroduced, along with elk and wild turkey. More recent reintroductions include the prairie dog, the river otter, and burrowing owls. The refuge provides habitat for large native grazing animals such as American bison, Rocky Mountain elk, and white-tailed deer. Texas longhorn cattle also share the refuge rangelands as a cultural and historical legacy species. More than 50 mammals, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish, and 806 plant species thrive on this important refuge. You can learn more at their website.
Hiking and Exploring
After breakfast in Medicine Park, we headed to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. We stopped by The Holy City first, it is pretty close to the entrance. The hiking there is relatively easy, not a lot of hills or rock climbing. There are several structures including a small chapel. Pasion Plays are performed there annually. You can see video and photos of past Pasion Plays. I just find it to be a fun and easy hike, with lots of structures and small hills for the girls to explore. They have a little gift shop, and there were hummingbird feeders hanging outside. We witnessed quite a few of the tiny birds fluttering around and my girls really enjoyed seeing them, as did I.
We drove to the Visitor’s Center next and walked around in their nice cool air conditioned building. The Center is pretty informative and is interactive also. It is a neat place to visit, and a great way to cool down, refill water bottles, learn, and purchase some souvenirs. Our next stop was Prairied Dog Town. We got a kick watching these sweet little dogs run, play and communicate with each other. It was fascinating!
I would have loved to hike a lot more and stay longer, but our next stop was The Tiger Safari in Tuttle. I know we will visit again in the near future. There is just too much to see not to visit this place many times.
We decided to take a short weekend vacation when my daughter was still under a year old to Medicine Park, Oklahoma, the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge and the Tiger Safari in Tuttle, OK. We also did not have a lot of money to spend, so we wanted to go somewhere close. I lived in Chickasha for several years before I was married and it is close to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. It is a fantastic hiking and rock climbing area. One of my very favorite places to go hiking! I miss being less than an hour from the Wichita Mountains. I decided it would be great to stay in Medicine Park, a very quaint little town just a few minutes from the Refuge and the first tourist resort in Oklahoma. I wanted to share this area with my family. I knew my oldest would love all the rocks, the cobblestone building in the town of Medicine Park and the rock mountains in the Wichita Mountains! She has always been a fan of rocks.
I did some research, as usual! And found a cabin in Medicine Park I liked and that we could afford. Also, we were only staying one night, and not all cabins/houses would let you reserve for just one night. I had a doctors appointment in OKC that Friday. After the appointment, we went to Meers to have a meersburger. Meers Store & Restaurant is a hole in the wall kind of place. In the middle of nowhere and nothing fancy, but they have the best burgers and cobbler. Their menu has lots of tasty selections, and BBQ to go. We ordered 2 longhorn burgers, and I ordered their fries. My oldest and I shared a burger because they are huge! The meal was great, as always. For dessert we all shared peach cobbler over homemade ice cream, it is beyond words. After lunch, we headed to Medicine park and checked into Margie’s Cabin and it was perfect! There were drinks, snacks, and a Keurig coffee maker. There were also beach towels in one of the bedrooms. It was set off from other houses and had a cute patio area. We absolutely loved it, and I wished we had booked two nights instead of just one.
Just across the street, there is a walk way that leads to the center of Medicine Park. The girls got in their bathing suits and we headed down the path and to the swimming area. My oldest made friends quick and had someone to play with. My husband, youngest and I just explored the area and watched the ducks, geese, fish and turtles.
We drove to the Wichita Mountains and to the top of Mount Scott later in the day. Such a great view from the top of the mountain. It’s alway a little bit windier and cooler at the top. The next morning we sat on the patio and just enjoyed nature and the quiet. We walked to the town center after we all got around in the morning. There was a little bakery with pastries and donuts, so we stopped there and had breakfast at a table outside. Later that morning we went to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
We decided to see the Dixie Stampede while we were in Branson. My husband mostly does not have much of an opinion on what we do. He usually says, “Whatever you want honey.”. I knew that all of us would enjoy the show and the food, so I was pretty excited. After we Rode the Ducks, visited the Titanic Museum and ate lunch we went by Dixie Stampede to pick up tickets for the show that evening. Luckily there was no line! I had a coupon from Ride the Ducks but did not end up using it, because I paid extra for preferred seating. I will tell you, all the seats are great, and if you want to save money, you can purchase regular seats and see everything just fine.
When we got there, there was a huge line! I’m so glad I got my tickets early. We went into the preshow area and sat down, this is a separate room from the arena. We were confused at first, but a waitress explained that we would be seated in the arena after the pre-show. They had a juggler. Her was really good and funny. After that, we all went into the arena and found our seats. We were on the 2nd row and had great seats. The way the seats are set up is perfect because no one’s head would block your view. We got seated, and they asked us what we wanted to drink. The seating is a bit crowded, but luckily none of us were next to any large people. Before the show started, our waitress asked if my youngest could participate in the show. She said she would let me know when she needed her to come down, and where she needed to be. I said sure. The food was great, and our waitress was too. We had no silverware, so we had to eat everything by hand, which wasn’t that bad. We had biscuits, a small roasted chicken, a strip of pork loin, corn on the cob, and an apple turnover for dessert. The show was excellent and kept us entertained. When it was time for Ragan to go down (we just went to the first level of the audience area), she did great. She had to swing a little lasso, and the waitress helped her. It was adorable and made the visit even more worth it. I think they pick newbies to participate.
To continue our journey through the Oklahoma Panhandle we went to “Black Mesa Nature Preserve” after our visit to “Black Mesa State Park” This is where you can hike up to the top of Black Mesa which is generally a 4-hour hike round trip. It was after 3 pm when we got there, but I knew we wouldn’t do the hike before that. There was no way our toddler could get through it, and I’m not sure the rest of us could either. Our youngest said she needed to use the bathroom even though we had just gone to the bathroom 15 minutes earlier. They have an outhouse type potty, but she did not like that. It was actually pretty clean, but the big hole is pretty scary. We hiked a bit up the Mesa to see the rocks and plant life. We found several cool lava rocks and a rock that was shaped like a small chair! Even just hiking a tiny bit up the mesa, provided great views. My toddler was getting pretty whiny and tired, so we headed back to the car after about 30 minutes. It is a really neat place, and I would love to come back at night. It is supposed to have one of the most fantastic views of the stars in the US. It’s pretty far out and away from everything so I can see why.
I’ve always wanted to visit the Black Mesa area in the far western panhandle of Oklahoma, the highest point in the state. Even though we are located in the panhandle ourselves (barely), Black Mesa is a long drive, approximately 3 1/2 hours. That is farther than driving to OKC. When the weather is nice we love to take day trips that include discovering, exploring, eating or hiking. It is always a great experience and good family fun. I’m a huge believer in doing things with my family rather than buying “things”. The experiences are by far always the best memories. So, as most parents know, taking any drive over 30 minutes with a toddler is not easy. There are lots of, “Are we there yet?” , “Are we almost there?”. We try to play a few car games, but those entertain only so long. My husband downloaded the movie, “The Secret Life of Pets”, and that helped quite a bit with the long drive.
After a few pit stops for bathroom breaks, we finally made it to the park. The park was very clean and well kept. We visited in March, so I’m not sure how well it’s kept up in the Summer months when things are probably busier. They had very nice looking campsites. There were several campers and tents set up. There was also a group of boy scouts camping out. When I searched Pinterest I found several photos of the night sky in the Black Mesa area that were phenomenal! You are seriously in the middle of nowhere, and there are no city lights to obstruct the night skies so I can see how this would be a fantastic place to star gaze. I packed a picnic lunch, so we found a table first and ate our lunch. It was a perfect day for a picnic and it was very quiet and peaceful where we sat. Afte we ate we walked down to the water, we saw fish swimming around and my youngest wanted to toss a few rocks in the water. We walked up to the playground area next, our toddler was begging to play. The playground doesn’t have much and is a bit dated, but I liked it. It reminded me of my childhood. We also took a short hike just across the street from the playground. There was a cave looking spot that we wanted to check out.
We decided to go up to the Ranger Station to pick up some maps next. We got a map of the State Park and another one of “Black Mesa”, the state park and “Black Mesa” are not in the same area. You have to drive a few more miles to reach the actual highest point in Oklahoma. I was hoping to post my maps on here, but I gave one to a family that was lost. I do have the one of the state park, see below. I found one on the web, but it is not as good as the maps they provide at the park. Here’s a link to the “Black Mesa” map. You can also find a bit more information on the TravelOK website.
They have a display of petrified wood, so we visited that first. It was nothing super exciting, but nice to see and touch. My youngest was being cute and posed next to the wood for pictures. I’m not sure what made her do that because I never really ask her to pose. I mostly ask her to smile, and not stick her tongue out. lol!
We knew we would not be doing the hike at “Black Mesa” because it takes several hours to complete and that was not going to happen with my little family. So, we found a nice hiking trail at the State park, Bird Haven Trail. It was a nice hike with some moderate walking up and down the mesa, including great views of the park when you reach the top. We also saw quite a few birds, which given the name of the trail, was not surprising. We didn’t see a single person on the trail while hiking. Which was surprising, because it was the perfect day to be outdoors. The trail was longer than we expected, so we finally had to make our own way down the mesa and back to the car. It was a nice hike, but we left our water in the car and we were all thirsty. My youngest also had to use the bathroom very badly. We stopped at the restrooms, and they were very nice and clean. Always great to find when you’re in a smaller park and a very secluded area.
As we were leaving the park we drove to the overlook and had a nice view of Lake Carl Etling and the group campground. Our next stop, Black Mesa.