City is a town of about 17,000 residents that’s located near the geographic center of Colorado.
It’s the seat of Fremont County and is a popular destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes.
Cañon City’s proximity to the Arkansas River and a variety of state and national parks gives visitors an abundance of outdoor recreation options to choose from, and it’s just a stone’s throw away from one of the country’s most notorious prisons in nearby Florence.
The weather is typically harsh in the winter, but there are a variety of indoor activity options, including museums, galleries, and historic sites.
Below are 14 things to do in and around Cañon City.
1. Royal Gorge
Located along County Road 3A just outside of town, Royal Gorge is an impressive natural attraction that was created by constant bombardment by wind and water over the ages.
The Royal Gorge Park is also home to the tallest suspension bridge in the country, which towers nearly 1,000 feet over the Arkansas River below.
The gorge, bridge, and park are some of the area’s most photographed icons and are places that many visitors wind up spending significant amounts of their time.
Other gorge amenities include a playground, theater, and a unique water-powered clock that’s the only one of its kind in the state.
2. Museum of Colorado Prisons
For lovers of macabre history and eerie tales of terror, there’s no better place to spend a few hours than the Museum of Colorado Prisons.
The museum is housed in a historic women’s prison located next to the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility that traces its roots back nearly 150 years.
Permanent exhibits include contraband weapons made by inmates, uniforms, cells, and first-hand accounts of administrators, guards, and prisoners who spent time on the inside over the years.
Many guests find the biographies of the prison system’s most dangerous and colorful characters to be among the highlights of their visit to the museum.
3. Big Burger World
With so many outdoor activities and loads of fresh mountain air, those who spend time in The Rocky Mountain State tend to have big appetites.
According to burger aficionados, Big Burger World has not only the biggest burgers in town, but the most flavorful ones as well.
Big Burger World is regularly described as an old-time restaurant that reminds many visitors of the comfortable and inviting burger joints they visited as kids.
Located on South 9th Street, they have been serving up their hearty fare since 1968, and they also offer barbecue on Fridays and Saturdays, delicious shakes, and lots of tasty sides.
4. Garden Park Fossil Area
Many of the fossils found in the Garden Park Fossil Area in Cañon City are on display in some of the country’s most prestigious museums, like the Smithsonian Institute in the nation’s capital.
For more than a century, the area has been excavated, and for lovers of natural history, it’s a must-visit attraction while in the area.
There are nearly 20 miles of multiuse trails that wind their way through the scenic landscape; they’re open to hikers, cyclists, and trail runners.
For those who prefer exploring by four-wheel drive or all-terrain vehicle, there are rough roads in the Dinosaur Flats portion of the park.
5. Cañon City Brews & Bikes
Colorado residents love their craft beers and spending time in the great outdoors. For those interested in enjoying both pursuits at the same time, Cañon City Brews & Bikes deserves a top spot on their itineraries.
Though it’s only been around since 2018, it has attracted a loyal following – and in addition to being a tap house, it’s a bike rental shop.
Most guests prefer to ride first and drink second. They’ve got nearly 20 beers on tap at any one time, offer indoor and outdoor seating and live entertainment on Friday nights, and a wide range of food options.
Those unfamiliar with the area will get insider tips from the staff on where to ride.
6. The Royal Gorge Route Railroad
Some historic railroads still operate across the state, and many of them were founded more than a century ago when Colorado was just opening up to exploration and settlement.
The Royal Gorge Route Railroad is a unique and romantic way to take in the fantastic countryside just outside of town. The company that now operates the railroad offers two-hour tours in which trains travel under the aforementioned Royal Gorge Bridge, making for unparalleled views of both naturally occurring and humanmade wonders.
Tours include a variety of food options, like burgers, burritos, and appetizers, and they carry wine and beer as well.
7. Echo Canyon River Expeditions
Colorado is home to some of the country’s best rafting rivers. Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned expert or a newbie, you’ll likely find an appropriate option at Echo Canyon River Expeditions.
The company is located on US Route 50 and has been offering guided river tours since the late-‘70s. Each excursion is staffed by employees with plenty of experience.
Full and half-day trips are available, all of which include an ever-popular riverside meal.
During the peak summer season, expeditions often reach maximum capacity, so if you know exactly when you’ll be visiting, it’s wise to reserve your spaces in advance.
8. Skyline Drive
Like most of the mountainous western states, Colorado is home to some of the most scenic driving routes in the country, and Skyline Drive is consistently ranked as one of the best.
Though it’s a relatively short route, Skyline Drive follows the contour of a towering ridge along US Route 50. There are a number of pullouts with viewing areas along the way for those who’d like to stop and enjoy the splendor.
Near the top, visitors up for further exploration will have the opportunity to visit preserved dinosaur tracks from the Cretaceous Period.
The road is narrow, and passing slow-moving vehicles can be dangerous, so drive with caution.
9. The Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center
Located on Royal Gorge Boulevard in Cañon City, The Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center has been around since the ‘20s and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum’s exhibits touch on geology, dinosaurs, and local history. For those looking to make the most of their limited travel time, it’s a perfect place to spend a few hours getting up to speed with the area’s past and all it has to offer.
Some of the fossils on display date back hundreds of millions of years, and there’s an archive center, renovated schoolhouse from the 1860s, and a reading room as well.
10. Red Canyon Park
Though it’s not big by Colorado park standards, Red Canyon Park is spread over nearly 600 acres that are adjacent to the Rocky Mountains.
The park’s vibrant red rock has been carved into canyons, gorges, and spires over millennia, and most of the park is accessible by a network of trails that range from easy to moderately difficult.
Due to the park’s size, it’s wise to do a bit of research online before your visit, or consider stopping by the visitor’s center to get an overview of the layout and things you’ll want to see before heading out on your own.
11. Royal Gorge Zip Line Tours
Perhaps with the exception of skydiving, there’s really no more exhilarating way to get a bird’s eye view of the landscape than by zip lining.
Royal Gorge Zip Line Tours is located on US Route 50 just outside of town and boasts nearly two dozen individual zip lines that are set at varying heights. It’s common for daring participants to reach more than 50 miles per hour on the highest and most sloped lines.
Amazing views of the gorge, Arkansas River, and majestic rock formations are things to behold, as are the often snow-covered peaks of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the distance.
12. Red Canyon Cycles – The Bean Pedaler
Red Canyon Cycles and The Bean Pedaler are two area businesses that have come together to cater to the active crowd who relish time outdoors and great coffee.
Though neither business has been around very long, they just work well together. In addition to hot and cold coffee creations, they offer bicycle rentals as well as gear, and repair services for those traveling with their own bikes.
The coffee shop is contemporary and comfortable and serves reasonably priced breakfast favorites like panini and fresh baked goods. It’s a popular first-stop for early risers heading off to explore the Royal Gorge.
13. Fremont Center for the Arts
The Fremont Center for the Arts was founded in the mid-‘40s, which makes it one of the oldest art centers of its kind in the west.
Located on Macon Avenue in the heart of Cañon City’s historic district, in addition to being an art venue, it offers a variety of community workshops throughout the year, many of which are for artists of varying ages and skill levels.
The center’s exhibits feature historic and contemporary works from local, regional, and national artists done in a variety of mediums, and many of them have western themes that are very popular these days.
14. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve isn’t the closest attraction to Cañon City, but for those who choose to visit, it usually ends up being one of the most memorable.
The national park and preserve are home to the tallest dunes on the continent, and its varied environments include pine forests, lakes, wetlands, and even tundra.
A few mountain peaks adjacent to the preserve are higher than 13,000 feet, making for an impressive and photogenic contrast with the dunes below.
For many, the dunes are mystical and otherworldly places that are best experienced in the low light morning and evening hours.