Thrills and Chills While Visiting Colorado’s Royal Gorge

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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.

Royal Gorge Bridge

Royal Gorge Bridge. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard

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.

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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.

Royal Gorge Colorado

Aerial gondola. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard

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.

Skyrocket Royal Gorge Colorado

Garrett on the Skyrocket. Photo courtesy Royal Gorge Bridge & Park

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.

Red Canyon Park - Royal Gorge Colorado

Beauty in Red Canyon Park. Photos by Tracy Ellen Beard

We stopped at a mountain summit and snapped photos through an enormous arch.

Royal Gorge Colorado

Garrett and Tracy on the summit. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard

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.

Royal Gorge Colorado

Allosaurus tracks. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard

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.

Royal Gorge Colorado - river rafting

Our rafting crew. Photo courtesy Echo Canyon River Expeditions

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.”

Royal Gorge Colorado - river rafting

Paddle high five. Photo courtesy Echo Canyon River Expeditions

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.

Royal Gorge Colorado - river rafting

Gentle rapids on the Arkansas River. Photo courtesy Echo Canyon River Expeditions

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.

Royal Gorge Colorado - River Rafting

A wild ride on the Arkansas River. Photo courtesy Echo Canyon River Expeditions

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.

Royal Gorge Train

Ride on the Royal Gorge Route Train. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard

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.

Royal Gorge Colorado - train ride

Gourmet chicken lunch. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard

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.

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Panna cotta dessert on the train. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard

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.

Royal Gorge Colorado - Royal Gorge Cabins

Royal Gorge two-bedroom cabin. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard.

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.

Royal Gorge Colorado - Royal Gorge Cabins

Cabin living room. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard.

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.

Royal Gorge Colorado - Royal Gorge Cabins

Our cabin patio. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard.

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.

Cañon City makes a perfect base for exploring the Royal Gorge. Venture out by train, gondola, raft, zip line, jeep, and skyrocket to witness breathtaking views. #Colorado #RoyalGorge #zipline #adventure #adventuretravel #rafting

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.

Written by Tracy Ellen Beard

Tracy Ellen Beard, Wander With Wonder Senior Editor, is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer based in Longview, Washington. She is an avid traveler, wine connoisseur, foodie, hiker, cyclist, and kayaker. Tracy is the “Out and About” columnist for the Columbia River Reader and writes monthly for Upscale Living Magazine. She also contributes regularly to LuxeGetaways, Northwest Travel & Life, Country, Country Extra, and several other magazines. Her stories focus on luxury and adventure travel, fine dining, wine, libations, road trips, and recipes. Tracy shares a unique perspective on the world from her personal journeys and the excursions she took as the founder and past president of an international children’s nonprofit. Her twenty years of experience writing in various genres, and her culinary training in San Francisco, California, have added to her knowledge and expertise.

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