Known for its unique 300-foot vertical rock formations, this public park northwest of Old Colorado City was established by the heirs of Charles Elliott Perkins. The striking natural landscape, composed of horizontally striated beds of red, blue, purple, and white-hued sandstone and limestone, was named in 1859, when surveyor Rufus Cable acclaimed the area as “a fit place for the gods to assemble.” Perkins, a railroad baron, began acquiring the land for a summer home in 1879, but he never built upon it, preferring to keep it as a park open to the public. His heirs, who gave 480 acres to the city in 1909, stipulated that only necessary structures be added to the landscape and that it remain open to the public in perpetuity.
The park, now 1,320 acres at the junction of Front Range Mountains with the Great Plains, encompasses grasslands, piñon-juniper woodlands, and mountain forests while offering distant views of Pikes Peak in the west. The road through the park between Manitou Springs and Glen Eyrie (home of city founder William Palmer) was designed by landscape gardener John Blair in the 1870s. The park also contains 15 miles of trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding, a Visitor and Nature Center, and the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, a re-created 1860s-era homestead and 1890s working ranch. Although legislation proposed and denied in 1886 would have made the area the country’s second national park, the Garden of the Gods was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971.