Tucked into the foothills west of Colorado Springs is a magical place: The North Pole-Santa’s Workshop.
If you look closely, you might spy the century-old Ferris wheel or the towering candy cane slide peeking through the trees along Hwy 24.
66 Years of Santa
In the 1940s, former Walt Disney artist Arto Monaco sketched a young girl’s vision of Santa Claus’ home and village. Those drawings turned into blueprints for an actual village – a dozen alpine buildings including a home for Mr. & Mrs. Claus, workshops, a reindeer barn and more.
The original village opened in Lake Placid, NY in 1949. A few years later, an identical village was planned for the foot of Pikes Peak, with the 25-acre theme park opening in Cascade, CO, on June 16, 1956.
George Haggard, one of the original investors, eventually owned the park with his wife. Children came from all around to visit. And those who couldn't? Haggard brought The North Pole to them, visiting orphanages in Oklahoma and Texas.
“He loved that sort of thing,” said Haggard's granddaughter, Austin Lawhorn. “My grandmother was more of the boots on the ground.”
Lawhorn’s father, Tom Haggard, eventually took over the family-owned business and now, Lawhorn and her brother also help run it.
Nostalgia, Nostalgia + More Nostalgia
This park is not Disneyland or Universal Studios and it’s not trying to be.
“We are really a vintage park," Lawhorn said. "We have our own magic here.”
Kids can touch the same always-frozen North Pole that their parents did. They can mail a postcard from the post office, stamped with the “North Pole” postmark. They can visit Santa in his quaint cabin every day the park is open. (Bonus: While Santa’s Helpers are happy to take pictures that you can buy, you are welcome to take your own for free.)
After 66 years, some of today’s visitors are the great-grandchildren of the wide-eyed youngsters who visited Santa’s Workshop in the 1950s. And today’s kids? They love going down that candy cane slide in potato sacks just as much as their grandparents did.
“The world is changing, but their hearts aren’t,” Lawhorn said. “The things that they find fun? That doesn’t change.”
Never been and just want to check it out? Go on a non-peak day (calendar on the website) – it's free admission to wander around, enjoy the village and visit Santa. Simply purchase a wristband, if you’d like to ride rides.
“Santa is the heart of the park,” Lawhorn said. “You don’t need to spend extra to remember your trip. … We’re not trying to nickel and dime. We’re just here for folks to enjoy themselves. We want people to keep coming back to us.”
Vintage + Antique Rides
It’s no small task to maintain more than two dozen vintage and antique rides and traditional log buildings.
“My father likes to refer to himself as a dinosaur,” Lawhorn said. “We are always refinishing, refurbishing, painting.”
Sometimes, the refurbishments cost as much as a new ride would have. But it’s all about preserving nostalgia here. The North Pole has its own fiberglass guy and a super-secret paint shop hidden beneath the Sugarplum Terrace. Other projects, they farm out to local experts like Bradley’s Machine Shop and Reblitz Restorations.
“It’s a labor of love,” she said. “The rides that people like the most? They’re the old ones – old, classic ones.” Rides like the century-old Carousel featuring reindeer, the Candy Coaster and the Christmas Tree Ride.
Ready for a visit? The park is open through Dec. 24, then will reopen in mid-May.
“We are traditional, old-school family fun,” Lawhorn said. “I think we are for the young and the young at heart.”