It's unlikely you'll visit the Royal Gorge without a stop in nearby Cañon City. And although the gorge sports the nation's highest suspension bridge, dangling more than 1,000 feet above the crashing Arkansas River below, that's not the only reason to visit this city in south-central Colorado. River rafting is a huge attraction here, and it doesn't get any more exciting than a trip through the Royal Gorge.
You also can ride the revived Royal Gorge Route Railroad passenger train through the gorge, seeing it from the bottom up instead of the top down. The train leaves on a regular schedule from the depot in Cañon City and offers more plush accommodations than most of Colorado's historic trains. Learn more about attractions in the Royal Gorge region.
While in town, you'll find wine tasting at the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, several art galleries and antique shops, and several places to grab a bite. If you're interested in criminal history, try a visit to the Museum of Colorado Prisons, appropriate because Cañon City is also home to several state and federal penitentiaries. And if you're visiting in the spring, you might catch the annual Music and Blossom Festival, celebrating the cherry and apple crops to come.
The area is also becoming a hot spot for mountain biking in Colorado, with the expanded Oil Well Flats trail system just north of Cañon City. The new South Cañon Trail System, which you can catch right in town, offers 10 miles of trails that connect the Arkansas Riverwalk, Ecology Park, the Section 13 trail system and Grape Creek to thousands of acres of BLM-managed public land. Thanks to the region's topography and mild climate, singletrack seekers can hit trails practically year-round. And some of the best fishing in the state can be had on the Arkansas’ Gold Medal trout waters, including the area around Parkdale (just above the Royal Gorge).
Walkable downtown Cañon City has shops, restaurants, cafes and a public-art program that make a pleasant space to while away the day. The Fremont Center for the Arts hosts exhibits and events exploring local arts and history. Or experience the region’s delicious apples and other local bounties at farmers’ markets and farm stores. Treasure hunters beeline to Florence, a lovely nearby town with extensive antique shopping, art galleries and specialty shops. The new Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience brings ancient history to life with science-focused interactive displays, full-scale dinosaur fossil casts and hands-on exhibits with real dinosaur fossils.
Legends of gold rushers, agriculture pioneers and even dinosaurs abound in the region. Self-guided Fremont County Heritage Tours offer great opportunities to discover the history.
Hidden-gem attractions include Skyline Drive, the Cañon City Queen Ann Tea House and Tunnel Road, a flat, two-mile stroll along an old railroad bed that offers a bird’s-eye view of the Arkansas River.