I don’t know about you, but being cooped up at home for the last several months is starting to wear on me. Like so many families across the US, our spring break plans were foiled by this pandemic. We held on to hope that a summer vacation would be in the works, but no luck.
At my wit’s end, I just had to get the heck out of town!
I love exploring Colorado. I think we live in arguably the most beautiful state in America and its beauty is something we can take for granted. Our family often drives west to places like Buena Vista and Breckenridge, but we rarely go south. The great thing about Colorado is that you can get away fairly quickly, spend time in the great outdoors, and explore!
Climbing to the top of Bishop Castle was a bucket list item that I wanted to check off and a day trip seemed like the perfect opportunity to get away for a bit and do just that. I’ve heard folks talk about this crazy structure, built in the middle of nowhere, that you have to see to believe.
What is Bishop Castle?
Located right off State Highway 165, in the middle of the San Isabel National Forest, Jim Bishop has erected an unbelievable structure. He began construction in 1969 on a modest cabin in the mountains, where he had purchased land a decade earlier at the age of 15. He used stones from the land and added a metal tank to supply water to the cabin. Over the years the structure grew, and friends and family remarked that it looked like he was building a castle, so that’s what he did. He also took up ironworking, learned how to weld and began using iron in the construction.
The structure has been built entirely by Jim Bishop, without the assistance of anyone else. He’s moved each stone and timber, built each form for the arches, and welded each piece of iron and steel. And he continues to add on 40 years later. Today, the structure stands over 160 feet tall with two towers, complete with spiral staircases. The Grand Ballroom is adorned with beautiful stained-glass memorial panels created by a local artist and installed by Jim himself. There’s an enormous dragon that juts out the front and an elevator shaft that’s waiting to be completed.
We started by traveling south on I-25 to Colorado City/Rye and stopping off to fish at a local reservoir. While it’s not an incredibly long trip, taking a break is always a good idea with my family! A word of caution: the last stop for a bathroom break is in Colorado City. You can also travel south on State Highway 115 through Florence and Wetmore. We came back this way, making a big loop.
The highway is part of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway and it’s gorgeous. We drove by Lake San Isabel and even stopped off for a burger at the General Store. We couldn’t go in, due to social distancing, but my son said it’s the best cheeseburger he’s ever had. I suggest packing a lunch or some snacks, as there are only a few places to stop along the way.
What to Expect
I had always imagined a dirt parking lot with Bishop Castle sitting back in the forest. Nope. It’s literally built on the side of the road, which is also where you park. You’ll know you are there by the line of vehicles! But be forewarned, you may have to cross the highway to get to the Castle. The place was literally crawling with people – perhaps because we visited on the weekend.
There are signs of caution as you approach the enormous stone structure. “Enter at Your Own Risk!” “We Are Not Responsible for Your Safety!” There’s a list of warnings – and if you don’t agree with the conditions, you are trespassing. Otherwise, you are free to enter, wander, and climb.
As you explore the Castle, you are reminded that it is an active construction site. Tools and other building materials are strewn about in the areas that are under construction. The spiral stairs and balcony areas are made of what looks like diamond-mesh wrought iron patio furniture and it looks like it could give out at any time. Yet, the day we visited, there were people of all ages trekking through the labyrinth of rooms and towers.
My son was not interested in climbing to the top. The structure swayed in the mountain wind and from the steps of those around us. He preferred to find solid footing on the ground outside the Castle. But, I was determined to make it to the top. And after a nerve-racking and shaky assent, I made it! The views were spectacular and most definitely worth it!
I would recommend that families with young children (under 7) hold off on visiting until the kids are older. While we did see many little kids running around, the unsteady nature of the Castle made me nervous for myself. I think my anxiety would be through the roof managing a small child.
Make sure your kids are up for an adventure. It takes a bit to get there from Colorado Springs, and the drive, which beautiful to me, could be boring for the kids. And, while the Castle is amazing, it’s not for the faint of heart. Kids who don’t like heights may not be a fan of this adventure. It takes less than an hour to see the whole thing – including a quick visit to the gift shop.
Bring some cash. There’s no entry fee, but you can make a donation. All donations go to the Bishop Castle Non-Profit Charitable Foundation for New-Born Heart Surgery. These funds are used for the continued construction of the Castle and through a charity to help local families with medical expenses for young children.