Garden of the Gods is a popular natural landmark nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak on the west side of Colorado Springs. Known for its massive red rocks sticking straight out of the ground, tourists come from all over the world to wander the trails, see the wildlife and witness the formations for themselves. Colorado history has deep roots in the garden and anyone who wants to be a true Coloradoan — native or otherwise — needs to have Garden of the Gods at the top of their list for must-see Colorado destinations.

Here are some little-known facts about the Garden.

In true Colorado fashion, the park got its name from a conversation about beer.

In 1859, Melancthon Beach and Rufus Cable, two railroad surveyors, were sent to locate and establish the city of Colorado City. When the two happened across the rock formations — it’s said — Beach exclaimed, “This would be a capital place for a beer garden!” Cable replied, “Beer garden! Why this is a place fit for the gods to assemble. We shall call it the Garden of the Gods!”

All photos via Thinkstock.

It’s free 

And it will stay free.

Back in 1879, railroad mogul, Charles Elliot Perkins, bought the portion of land containing many of the unusual formations. Perkins wanted the property to be open to the public for everyone to enjoy. After his death in 1907, Perkins’ family deeded the property in December 1909 to the City of Colorado Springs under several stipulations — one of which being that the park remain “forever free” and open to the public.

It was voted the best city park in the country.

And number two in the world. Yup, right here, an hour away from Denver, we have the best city park to unwind and take in the sights. The 1,334-acre park grows almost every year as more land is donated. Roughly two million visitors from all over the world visit the park every year. According to the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, the visitation density at Garden of the Gods is 100 times that of the 265,461 acres of Rocky Mountain National Park. Long story short, come in the off season when there is a lot less traffic.

Garden of the Gods has its own dinosaur.

Colorado College professor James Kerr found the only known Theiophytalia kerri in the Garden in 1878. Although technology to prove the new species took more than a century to catch up after the finding, Kerr was still honored as the discoverer. The dinosaur was named after him and the place it was found. Theios is Greek for “belonging to the gods” and phytalia meaning “garden.”

Garden of the Gods after a dusting of snow at sunrise.

The known human history of the park goes back more than 3,000 years.

Garden of the Gods was neutral ground for Native Americans. Even rival tribes laid down their weapons when entering the garden. This peaceful area was sacred and a hub for trade between nomadic tribes. The Ute people were native to the area and made the land near the formations their home during the winter months.

Nearly 100 Bighorn Sheep call the park home.

The Bighorn Sheep, the state mammal of Colorado, is an elusive creature that can often be found on the sides of Colorado’s fourteeners. If climbing mountains isn’t for you, you might get a glimpse of the large Rampart herd in garden of the Gods or at nearby castle, Glen Eyrie.

Five different ecosystems converge at the Garden of the Gods.

Cottonwood-willow, prairie-grassland, mountain shrub, pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine are the ecosystems that make up the Garden. Several other ecosystems could account for the cliffs and the plants and animals that live there, but the rocks don’t meet the exact definition. Because of the drastic changes of scenery, you’re sure to see a variety of plants and wildlife that might include bears, mountain lions, hawks, deer, raccoons and more.

Activities are endless in the Garden of the Gods. From Segway tours and horseback riding to hiking and rock climbing you can do almost anything inside this iconic park.

For more information about Garden of the Gods, check out the free Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center. For an even more in-depth experience, check out the Adventure Series events in the Garden.

Sunrise on the red rocks formations of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado.