Cañon City, Colorado is located two hours south of Denver and 45 minutes southwest of Colorado Springs. This little town makes the perfect home base for exploring the Royal Gorge. Venture out by train, gondola, raft, zip line, jeep, and skyrocket to witness breathtaking views of the Royal Gorge, Arkansas River, and Red Canyon Park. After playing all day, rest and rejuvenate in the comfort of your private luxury cabin at Royal Gorge Cabins.
Exploring the Royal Gorge History
The Royal Gorge lies west of Cañon City, Colorado. According to geologists, the constant pummeling of rocks and sand against the Arkansas riverbed eventually eroded the land underneath forming a deep narrow canyon. At its most narrow point, the Gorge is approximately 1,250 feet wide and 1,050 feet deep.
Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
The spine-tingling fun never stops at Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. Approximately 360,000 visitors a year take in spectacular views of the Gorge in exhilarating ways. Guests can select their preferred level of an adrenaline rush—ranging from a casual walk across the historic bridge to skyrocketing out over the canyon.
My son Garrett and I chose to observe the gorge from several panoramic perspectives. We began our joint experience with a ride across the Gorge on the aerial gondola. We traveled the 2400-foot span across the Gorge absorbing the incredible 360-degree view from a thousand feet above the Arkansas River.
Garrett stepped up the game and braved the Skyrocket. His ride commenced with a freefall launching him out over the canyon at 50 miles per hour. Hanging suspended in space for several seconds, he looked down more than 1200 feet to the river below before being swept back by gravity and catapulted out again several more times. His screams of excitement echoed throughout the canyon.
Due to high winds, the zip line was closed during our visit, but we enjoyed vistas from the bridge adorned with flags from each state. At the Plaza Theater, we learned about the construction of the Royal Gorge Bridge, the highest suspension bridge in 1929. Garrett sleuthed for fossils in the Tommy Knocker Playland, and we watched children play on the Splash Pad. Guests enjoy free entertainment and music at the park throughout the year.
Colorado Jeep Tours
The land surrounding Cañon City is famous for dinosaur digs. We joined Colorado Jeep Tours’ guide, Ed Norden, to explore Red Canyon Park. Rocking and rolling on the bumpy roads, we spotted Indian petroglyphs, tall red spires, and gigantic monoliths.
We stopped at a mountain summit and snapped photos through an enormous arch.
Ed explained that for years the grounds were expropriated by archeologists digging for dinosaur bones. Some of the largest and most complete skeletons were collected from the area. Digging is no longer permitted in the canyon, but evidence of the prehistoric animals is evident. While driving on Skyline Drive, we stopped to look at Allosaurus footprints paralleling the road.
Echo Canyon River Expedition
Echo Canyon River Expedition’s “Royal Gorge White Water Rafting Trip” is best on a hot summer day. We geared up in wetsuit booties, helmets, and life jackets. I wore a half wetsuit, which provided some extra insurance if I fell into the icy-cold water.
Our crew—David, John, Diane, Jayden, Garrett, and I—joined Jessica, our fearless guide, at the river. After a few safety rules, we set out onto the easier part of the river, Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
We perfected our crew’s technique while rafting through Class II and Class III rapids. After each successful run, we raised our paddles for a “high five.”
After a couple of hours, we stopped for a steak lunch alongside the river. Echo Canyon guides grilled the steaks and set out the green salad, potato salad, cookies, and plenty of punch and water to quench our thirst. Lunch was delicious and plentiful, but it was soon time to get back on the river and tackle the Royal Gorge section featuring Class III and Class IV rapids.
The morning was carefree; but with rapids named Wall Slammer, Shark’s Tooth, and Sledge Hammer awaiting us, my confidence waned. Luckily, Garrett rode in front of me. I knew if I went overboard, he would pull his momma back into the raft. It wasn’t long before we reached the first Class IV rapid. We approached the challenge like a well-oiled machine. The boat rose and plummeted in the turbulent waves. We paddled hard listening to the commands of Captain Jessica. Soon we were on the other side of the rapid, raising our paddles for another high five.
Our adrenaline was running high, and the excitement soon returned as the roar of the next rapid permeated the air. From that point on it was a blur and ended all too soon. We had successfully run each rapid without losing any passengers.
Royal Gorge Route Railroad
In 1999, Mark Greksa along with his family and staff began resurrecting the rail line in Colorado’s Royal Gorge. After only four years, they were up and running with their first high-end, multi-course dinner train.
The train ride is a lavish way to experience the Gorge, and Garrett and I enjoyed a three-course lunch in one of the Vista Dome cars. As the train ran alongside the Arkansas River, we savored chicken and asparagus with a balsamic glaze, beef Wellington, green salad with goat cheese and candied nuts, and espresso panna cotta. The food was superb, the service first-class, and the views magnificent.
Traveling by train through the Royal Gorge is a delightful way to watch the kayakers and rafters tackle the river. Cocktails and wine are available making travel even more enjoyable.
The railroad offers multi-course dinner trips, happy hour, and murder mystery trains throughout the year. The railroad has special themed trips that pair up with specific holidays. Traveling by train is a fabulous way to get a closeup view of the Gorge.
Royal Gorge Cabins
After a full day of rafting, jeeping, and touring it was great to sleep in luxury. Royal Gorge Cabins offers first-class amenities.
Each cabin comes fully equipped with a kitchenette, linens and bath products, comfortable beds, a gas fireplace, large flat-screen TVs with cable, Wi-Fi, an indoor/outdoor grill, a covered patio, and magnificent mountain views.
The one- and two-bedroom cabins accommodate between four and six guests, and traditional campground sites and “glamping” tents are also available. Garrett and I relaxed and rejuvenated in our spacious two-bedroom cabin. We purchased a few items from the grocery store and dined on our patio each morning.
Across the freeway is 8 Mile Bar & Grill. After a day in the heat, we enjoyed a refreshing cocktail. The bar serves 16 different beers on tap. We sat outside at a table under an umbrella munching on onion rings with horseradish sauce as we mused about our adventure on the river.
Cañon City is the perfect launching pad to experience Colorado’s Royal Gorge, great adventure, and fabulous outdoor activities. Don’t let the summer pass without visiting this remarkable part of the world. Enjoy more great Wander articles about what to see and do in Colorado.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, tours, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.