Retirees Find Harmony and a Gentle Soul in the Touristy, Friendly, Quirky, Authentic Victorian Mountain Town of Manitou Springs, Colorado
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Just to the west of Colorado Springs (population 450,000) in south central Colorado, funky, artsy Manitou Springs (population 5,500) is a Victorian mountain village nestled in a forested box canyon at the foot of majestic Pikes Peak. It seduces nearly all who come upon it, and in many ways, it feels as though it has been caught in an earlier time. Manitou is a gentle, slightly quirky community that appeals to people with a live and let live sensibility. In the 1960s, it was a hippie haven, and today, off the beaten path, it has a mix of families, retirees, old hippies, artists, professionals, shopkeepers and students. Interesting homes, colorful storefronts, a mellow vibe and beautiful scenery are just a few reasons why people love Manitou.
Forty-two percent of the population is age 45 or better. Politically, residents lean to the right. Forty percent of locals have at least a four year college degree. Manitou has grown by 18% within the last couple of decades, and racial diversity is minimal. The cost of living is 22% above the national average, and the crime rate meets the national average.
The median single family home price is $360,000, and no cookie cutter, tract housing is here. Many residences, some restored and others needing a little TLC, date from the late-1800s and early-1900s. Most are in close proximity to one another on narrow, steep streets that radiate from the main road. Dwellings outside of town, which are mostly expensive chalets and large custom homes, often come with mountain acreage. Apartments are not plentiful, but a few single family homes are for lease.
Colorado is considered tax friendly for retirees. For people age 55 to 64, $20,000 of retirement income, including Social Security, is exempt from state income tax. People age 65 and better may exempt $24,000. Real estate taxes are assessed on 9.13% of a property's fair market value, and for people age 65 or better who have lived in their residence for 10 years or more, 50% (up to a maximum reduction of $200,000) of their primary residence's value is exempt from taxation. The annual taxes on a $360,000 Manitou home are approximately $2,160. The state income tax is a flat 4.63%, and the state sales tax is 2.9% (food for home consumption is exempt).
Manitou borders Colorado Springs but seems a world away. The road from Colorado Springs is a busy thoroughfare, and except for a destination sign, there really is no physical separation between the two towns. Yet there is no mistaking the moment one arrives in Manitou. The mountains close in (the elevation is 6,320 feet), and along the road a plethora of eclectic merchants pops up, from slick tourist boutiques and slightly dilapidated trinket shops to Victorian B&Bs and more modern motor motels. The ambiance quickly changes from hustle and bustle to offbeat charm. A large chuck of town (752 buildings) has been declared a national historic district, ensuring that Manitou will retain its unique character.
This area was known to the Ute and Cheyenne Indian tribes long before Europeans arrived. It was considered sacred ground thanks to two dozen healing, "boiling" mineral springs that give Manitou Springs its name. In 1820, the Long Expedition discovered the springs, and soon wealthy Easterners, particularly those battling tuberculosis, were making their way here to partake in the curative waters fed by the snows from 14,110-foot-tall Pikes Peak. By the 1890s, Manitou was thriving, boasting elegant residences and grand hotels, three of which still stand today. The town welcomed U.S. Presidents and celebrities of the era, including P. T. Barnum, Thomas Edison and Lillie Langtry.
Residents have plenty to do, from antique shopping to nearby backcountry camping and fishing. Many of the attractions are tourist-oriented but are still a fun way to spend an afternoon. Every day, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway takes riders from Manitou to the top of Pikes Peak, the mountain that inspired the song "America the Beautiful." The Manitou Cliff Dwellings boast tours of 700-year-old Anasazi Indians' cliff dwellings. The Cave of the Winds is the place for a fun, high altitude trek into some amazing underground caverns. Mystical Garden of the Gods, actually in Colorado Springs, is full of spectacular, towering red rock formations. The The Iron Springs Chateau Dinner Theatre offers melodramas throughout the year. Seven Falls, the Air Force Academy, the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center and more are all a short drive away. Christmas is particularly magical as the town takes on a storybook quality.
Manitou also has lots of little nooks and crannies with cute restaurants and odd shops, making strolling around town always a treat. Most shopping is of the touristy boutique variety, but there are grocery stores and large supermarkets on the road to Colorado Springs. Once in Colorado Springs, indoor malls, theaters, art centers, colleges, box stores, restaurants, museums and the like are plentiful.
Mountain Metro is the public bus system, and it has a shuttle from Manitou into Colorado Springs (with connections to Denver). The regular fare is $1.75, but adults age 60 and better ride for $.85. Members of the Senior Ambassador Program are on hand to help anyone age 50 or older learn the bus system. The nearest international airport, Denver International Airport, is 65 miles to the northeast.
Manitou does not have its own hospital, but Colorado Springs has two, University of Colorado Memorial Hospital and Centura Health Penrose St. Francis Hospital (which has two campuses). Memorial is a Level II Trauma Center and has won national recognition for its cardiac care. Penrose is also a Level II Trauma Center, and it has been named a Distinguished Hospital for clinical excellence. Both hospitals accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, and both are accredited by the Joint Commission. Denver has an extensive array of medical facilities if needed. For military retirees, Colorado Springs has a VA clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Denver.
The award-winning Colorado Springs Senior Center, which welcomes Manitou residents, provides programs and services to people age 55 and better and features an art gallery, a ceramics room, a computer lab, an exercise room and more. Activities include day trips, a variety of classes, health clinics and noon meals. Meals on Wheels is active as well.
This part of the country has a four season climate. Winters bring a mixture of beautiful, sunny days with sparkling blue skies and occasional cloudy, snowy days. Most snow melts within a day or two, although heavy snows do occur and changes in weather can happen quickly. Winter temperatures are in the 20s, 30s and 40s, and summer temperatures are in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Humidity is low. The area occasionally experiences a drought, triggering water restrictions. The sun shines 250 days of the year. The air quality and water quality are both well above the national averages.
Despite its charm, Manitou Springs has a few drawbacks. Tourists descend in the summer, clogging the main road and filling up restaurants and shops. The terrain is steep. It is worth noting, too, that in 2012 the Waldo Canyon Wildfire left a burn scar north of Manitou. In 2013, flash floods rolled through downtown because the burn left no trees or underbrush to keep rain water in check. A new flood control channel was subsequently built in Williams Canyon above town so that floods do not happen again.
When all is said and done, Manitou is hard to resist. It is a great retirement spot!
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