By Raetta Holdman

(CBS4) – Planning to travel to the top of Colorado’s most famous 14er this year? Look no further if you’re looking for tips on going to the 14,115-foot Pikes Peak summit.

Air Force Thunderbirds flying team preform for the graduation ceremony, at the Air Force Academy, on May 23, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The team passes near Pikes Peak during the performance.

The Air Force Thunderbirds pass in front of Pikes Peak during a performance. (file photo credit: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Let’s start with the key factor, getting to the top of Pikes Peak. You can drive, hike or take the refurbished Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

An image from the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2013.

An image from the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2013. (credit: KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Driving To The Summit
Let’s start with the drive. No question about it, it’s a tough drive and best avoided in the dark or when it is wet. It’s almost 12 and a half miles long more than 156 turns. It climbs more than 4,700 feet from the start Mile 7 with grades averaging 7%. The staff on the mountain keeps a very close eye on the weather and makes the decision on when the road should be closed or when to send people down from the top. It takes about 2 to 3 hours to make just the round trip drive, that does include time for pictures, shopping or snacking. There are no gas stations along the highway so make sure to have at least half a tank before you start and to stop to have your brakes checked on the way down. The summit will be opened to drivers on June 15.

Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway

(credit: Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway)

2. The Cog Railway
Ready to leave the driving to someone else? Book a seat on the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. An extensive restoration project means new trains head out of renovated depot onto new tracks to make the 9-mile trip to the top. It’s a 3 hour round trip.

PHOTO GALLERY: A Journey To The Top Of Pikes Peak On The Newly Restored Cog Railway

It has an average grade of 12% but sometimes gets as steep as 24%. It’s a great way to enjoy the scenery of the Pike National Forest. The newly improved rail line also includes a new snowblower which can cut through snow drifts up to 14 feet tall so the trains can make it to the summit.

(credit: CBS)

3. Hike To The Top
Think you have what it takes to hike to the top of Pikes Peak? Barr Trail is the most common hike, it’s a 13 mile one-way hike with 7,800 feet of elevation. The first piece of advice from a local hiking expert is simple: don’t do it in the winter. At pikes-peak.com, he describes it as a hike you train for, not one you just decide to do. Timing is an issue for a winter hike, it takes 6 to 8 hours to hike, in good weather with a clear trail. Once you get to the top, you can get a ride down on the Cog Railway or arrange to get a ride down. You can camp on Pikes Peak at Barr Camp but you need a reservation. Otherwise it’s a great place to stop for a rest.

Pikes Peak Summit Complex (credit: City Communications)

4. Visit The Summit Complex
The new Pikes Peak Summit Complex will open before June 30. Crews broke ground on the Pikes Peak Summit Complex in 2018 to build an ambitious new version of a Summit House. It includes upgrades to the exterior facilities to make it easier for visitors of all ages and abilities to explore the peak. Inside, you’ll find new interactive features sharing the history of Pikes Peak. This is the latest in a string of structures dating back to a weather station built of stones. The U.S. Army opened a formal station in 1873 but was abandoned in the late 1880s. Eventually the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway used the building as a station, even expanding it to add hotel rooms. It burned in the 1950s. The summit house that was just demolished was built in 1963.

5. Donuts At The Top
And yes, most importantly, you can still get those famous “Top of the Peak” donuts. In fact, the new donut machine is so large, it was put in the kitchen area first, then construction crews built around it. The new machine is also reported to be more environmentally-friendly, matching the whole higher efficiency theme of the build. At 14,115 feet, Pikes Peak is the highest peak on the Front Range and thrillist.com says these are the only donuts produced at an altitude above 14,000 feet, that means a top secret recipe for really high altitude baking. And while the frying machine may be new, that old recipe made its way to the new building.

LINKS: Pikes-Peak.com | ColoradoSprings.gov/Pikes-Peak-Americas-Mountain

Raetta Holdman