In the summer of 1893, Katharine Lee Bates reached the top of Pikes Peak. The American educator and author had been teaching English at a summer school in nearby Colorado Springs when she decided to join her fellow teachers on a wagon and mule trek up the 14,000-foot mountain.
Though she only spent 30 minutes at the summit, Bates felt deeply inspired by the stunning landscapes she saw around her. When she returned to her hotel, she wrote a poem that would later become “America the Beautiful.”
Pikes Peak—nicknamed “America’s Mountain”—has long lured travelers like Bates to its perch above the clouds. And now, for the first time ever, visitors can take a train ride to the top of the majestic mountain at sunrise.
The historic Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway—which celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2021—will chug out of the station at 4:30 a.m. on July 21 for its inaugural sunrise trip. As the train makes its way along a nine-mile stretch of track, riders will get to watch the sun emerge from below the horizon while looking out over Colorado’s Eastern Plains. They’ll be rolling along the highest railway of any kind in the United State—and the highest cog railroad in the world.
A portion of the proceeds from the three-hour ride will benefit the local Manitou Springs Carnegie Library, which is in the middle of a renovation project that will make the 1910 building more accessible to visitors with mobility challenges, reports O’Dell Isaac for the Colorado Springs Gazette. So far, this ride is the only sunrise train trip on the schedule, though the railway’s leaders are considering adding more in the future, per KKTV’s Tony Keith.
Travelers who can’t make that date—or the early wake-up call—work with their schedules can still visit the mountain, which is open year-round (barring bad weather). They can reach the top by riding the train, driving, hiking or biking.
At the summit, travelers will find panoramic vistas waiting for them—similar to what Bates saw more than a century ago. From Pikes Peak, she likely looked east and envisioned the “amber waves of grain” growing in Kansas, according to the National Park Service. When she turned her gaze to the west, she saw the “purple mountain majesties” of the Rocky Mountains. And though she probably couldn’t see all the way to Chicago from her perch, Bates may have imagined that she could: She wrote the line “thine alabaster cities gleam” while remembering her experience at the World’s Columbian Exposition in the Windy City earlier that year.
After taking in the views, travelers can get out of the wind and warm up inside the new summit visitor center that opened in 2021. There, they can snack on donuts made from a recipe that’s so top-secret that the employees have to sign a confidentiality agreement. The center also has indoor and outdoor exhibits covering everything from geography and climate to the region’s history.
The historic railway, which was built in 1891, recently underwent a refresh as part of a multi-year, $100 million renovation project. Crews modernized the railway’s depot, cogs, tracks and railcars.