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Colorado's Scenic and Historic Byways

The Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways program is a statewide partnership intended to provide recreational, educational, and economic benefits to Coloradans and visitors. This system of outstanding touring routes in Colorado affords the traveler interpretation and identification of key points of interest and services while providing for the protection of significant resources. Information from Colorado State websites.

Scenic and Historic Byways are nominated by local partnership groups and designated by the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Commission for their exceptional scenic, historic, cultural, recreational, and natural features. There are now 25 Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways.  More information can be located at www.ColoradoByways.org .  They have a weatherproof map available upon request by emailing Byways@dot.state.co.us

Southwest
1 Alpine Loop
2 Trail of the Ancients
3 San Juan Skyway
4 Unaweep/Tabeguache
5 West Elk Loop
North Central
6 Guanella Pass
7 Mount Evans
8 Peak to Peak
9 Cache la Poudre- North Park
23 Trail Ridge Road- Rocky Mountain National Park
Northwest
10 Colorado River Headwaters
11 Flat Tops Trail
12 Grand Mesa
22 Dinosaur Diamond
South Central
13 Los Caminos Antiquos
14 Top of the Rockies
15 Silver Thread
16 Gold Belt Tour
17 Frontier Pathways
24 Collegiate Peaks
Northeast
18 Pawnee Pioneer Trails
19 South Platte River Trail
Southeast
20 Highway of Legends
21 Santa Fe Trail

 

1. Alpine Loop
The Alpine Loop leaves pavement and people behind, crossing the remote, rugged, spectacular heart of the San Juan Mountains. Itís demanding - the two 12,000-foot passes (Cinnamon and Engineer) require a high-clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicle - but the well-prepared motorist reaps unparalleled rewards: pristine mountain views,hiking and biking trails, great camping opportunities, and ample solitude. These rocky roads were first used by 19th-century miners, who carted their ore off to Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City in mule-drawn wagons. Spend an afternoon exploring abandoned townsites, structures, and other former mining haunts - if you want to commune with ghosts of Coloradoís rich past.
Length:63 miles
Driving time:4 to 6 hours
Special considerations:Bring full tank of gas, extra food/water; roads can be muddy; closed in winter
Special features:7 ghost towns, 2 high alpine passes, BLM/USFS wilderness areas


 



 

2. Trail of the Ancients
The Anasazi - the "Ancient Ones" to the later Navajo - guarded their secrets closely. We know they dominated the Colorado Plateau for hundreds of years, yet basic questions about them - who they were, how they lived, what they believed - remain less than fully resolved. This 114-mile route across the broken, arid terrain of their former civilization is heavily laden with clues: cliff dwellings, rock art, pottery shards. Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park. Both contain dense clusters of Anasazi remains, and the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores offers background and interpretive information. One branch of the byway leads to the Four Corners Area, connecting Utahís Trail of the Ancients byway.
Length:114 miles
Driving time:3 hours
Special considerations:Some gravel surfaces, muddy when wet
Special Features:Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Anasazi Heritage Center, Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park


 



 

3. San Juan Skyway
If byways could claim royal lineage, this one would probably rule them all. Start with the major towns along the route - Durango, a well-preserved descendant of the Old West; picturesque Telluride, renowned for world-class skiing and film, jazz, and bluegrass festivals; and Silverton and Ouray, Victorian jewels tucked in deep alpine valleys. Add another diadem - Mesa Verde National Park, home to one of the densest collections of prehistoric ruins in the U.S. - and five million acres of undisturbed national forest. Then there are the roads themselves, snaking through the woods in the shadow of impressive 14,000-foot peaks. The segment from Ouray to Silverton is called the "Million Dollar Highway." But you canít put a price tag on this experience.
Length:236 miles
Driving time:6 hours
Special considerations:Bring a camera; inquire about road conditions during winter
Special features:Mesa Verde National Park, Anasazi Heritage Center, four wilderness areas


 



 

4. Unaweep/Tebeguache
Unaweep Canyon knifes through the soft red sandstone of the Uncompahgre Plateau all the way to Precambrian times. Ancient rivers silted the rock away, exposing hundreds of millions of years of the geologic record (including fossils of dinosaurs and early amphibians). Other secrets of the earth were ferreted out by miners with picks and shovels. The canyon witnessed a copper boom around the turn of the century; decades later, the U.S. Army processed ore from nearby Uravan to produce the uranium used in the first atomic bombs. Above all, this ageless desert region offers sheer scenic wonder - striated cliffs towering a thousand feet overhead, raging streams, and boundless skies.
Length:133 miles
Driving time:3 hours
Special considerations:Bring full tank of gas, food, and water; long intervals between service stopst
Special Features:San Miguel River Environmental Area, Unaweep Seep, Dolores and San Miguel Rivers


 



 

5. West Elk Loop
The twin summits of Mount Sopris and the incomparable Black Canyon of the Gunnison anchor the ends of the West Elk Loop. This magnificent landscape has been home to uncounted generations of Native Americans, most recently the Utes. White settlers originally came in search of minerals and stayed to farm and ranch. The coke ovens at Redstone bear witness to the toil that built the communities of today. Carbondale, Hotchkiss, Crawford, Gunnison, Crested Butte, and other towns offer a slice of Coloradoís rich history, varied lifestyles, and natural beauty. The route gives access to the White River and Gunnison National Forests, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, Curecanti National Recreational Area, and Crawford and Paonia State Parks.
Length:205 miles
Driving time:6 to 8 hours
Special considerations:31-mile gravel section over Kebler Pass closed in winter
Special features:Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Blue Mesa Reservoir


 



 

6. Guanella Pass
For a quick study in Rocky Mountain eco-systems, you could hardly find better instruction than here. This well-settled road leap-frogs the steep divide between the South Platte and Clear Creek watersheds, passing through a succession of distinct environments. The lower elevations are green and wet, thick stands of spruce, fir, aspen, and pine rising along cascading creeks. Higher up, the streams snake through broad meadows, succoring thirsty mammals, nesting birds, and the industrious beaver, The road crests well above timberline, where every spring the grasses and flowers stubbornly renew, and the fragile tundra thaws and blossoms. This old logging and mining area flanked by Mounts Bierstadt and Evans boasts two of the stateís best-preserved Victorian towns, Georgetown and Silver Plume.
Length:22 miles
Driving time:1 hour
Special considerations:Variable road conditions; popular for fall-color viewing
Special Features:Georgetown Loop Historic Mining and Railroad Park


 



 

7. Mount Evans
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway climbs more than 7,000 feet in just 28 miles, reaching an altitude of 14,264 feet. At the summit youíll enjoy the big picture - the entire Front Range sprawls at your feet - but donít overlook the details. This highest of Rocky Mountain highs brings you to the rarefied world above timberline, a singular amalgam of hardy wildflowers, lichens and grasses, furry mammals like pikas and marmots, rock-jumping mountain goats, and alpine lakes. This is perhaps the best place in Colorado to catch a glimpse of the stately bighorn sheep. The weather is volatile - be prepared for wind, rain, lightning, snow, and hail any day of the year.
Length:28 miles (one way)
Driving time:1 hour (one way)
Special Considerations:Bring warm clothing, sunscreen; summit open Memorial Day through Labor Day only
Special features:Highest paved road in North America


 



 

8. Peak to Peak
Welcome to the showcase of the Front Range. Less than an hour from Denver, Boulder, or Fort Collins, this 55-mile-long route provides matchless views of the Continental Divide and its timbered approaches. The string of popular attractions along the way - Rocky Mountain National Park, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Eldora Ski Resort - combine recreation with nature preservation. The gravel roads criss-crossing the main highway lead to high-country lakes, trailheads, campgrounds, the Moffat Tunnelís east portal, and ghost towns at Hesse and Apex. Established in 1918 this is Coloradoís oldest scenic byway.
Length:55 miles
Driving time:80 minutes
Special Features:Rocky Mountain National Park, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Eldora Ski Resort


 



 

9. Cache la Poudre- North Park
This byway links Fort Collins with verdant North Park, a quiet, bowl-shaped valley just west of the Continental Divide. The road runs through the Cache la Poudre River canyon, once a useful transit corridor for Native Americans and, later, white explorers. Todayís visitors lean more toward recreation; whitewater boaters and anglers love the Poudre, Coloradoís only federally designated National Wild and Scenic River. At 10,276-foot Cameron Pass the highway intercepts Colorado State Forest, a 70,000-acre preserve of glaciated mountains and evergreen thickets. North Park, once a favorite bison grazing ground, remains heavily populated with deer, antelope, elk, moose, beaver, and coyote; migrating waterfowl flock to the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.
Length:101 miles
Driving time:3 hours
Special considerations:Watch for livestock crossing road, commercial trucks (semis), heavy summer traffic
Special features:Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado State Forest, outstanding fishing


 



 

23. Trail Ridge Road
Soaring to an elevation of 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road seems to leave the earth behind. It slices through the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, entering a world of rare alpine beauty. Distant peaks loom in all directions, while fragrant wildflowers blanket the tundra in mid-summer. Sharp-eyed observers can usually spy elk, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife traversing the meadows and crags. Higher than any paved through-road in the country, this cliff-hugging highway is as impressive for its engineering as for its stunning vistas. You can't find a road like this one anywhere outside of Colorado.
Length:48 miles
Driving time:2 hours
Special considerations:Open from about Memorial Day through mid-October; unpredictable weather; no fuel available
Special Features:Nationally designated as an "All American Road", Numerous overlooks and short hiking trails; Visitor Center at Fall River Pass


 



 

10. Colorado River Headwaters
Downstream the Colorado is a mighty river irrigating and providing power to the Southwestern United States. But up here, at its source, it is no different from dozens of other Rocky Mountain waterways, a clear brook tumbling across greenish meadows and down cramped redrock gorges. This stretch between Grand Lake and State Bridge offers first-class fishing, canoeing, and rafting, along with plenty of quiet spaces where you can sit on the banks and contemplate. The route begins at Grand Lake, an old resort town on the shores of Coloradoís largest natural lake, and ends on a gravel road through spectacular Upper Gore Canyon.
Length:80 miles
Driving time:2 hours
Special considerations:Limited visitor services; gravel surface between Kremmling and State Bridge
Special features:Rocky Mountain National Park, Arapaho National Recreation Area


 



 

11. Flat Tops Trail
This byway cuts through the heart of the original White River Plateau Timberland Reserve, set aside in the late 19th century as the second unit of what eventually became the National Forest system. Two decades later, in a foreshadowing of the 1964 Wilderness Act, development of any kind was banned around Trapperís Lake (the "Cradle of Wilderness"). The areaís long-standing history of preservation and multiple-use land management makes for pristine scenery and superlative wildlife viewing. Yet this remains very much a "working" byway, dotted with active mines, ranches, and timber-producing woodlands. Meeker and Yampa, the routeís two endpoints, embody the rugged individualism that lies at the heart of western lore.
Length:82 miles
Driving time:2 hours
Special considerations:Fill tank in Yampa, Buford, or Meeker; roads muddy when wet
Special Features:White River National Forest, Flat Tops Wilderness Area


 



 

12. Grand Mesa
Fittingly, the Utes called the Grand Mesa "Thunder Mountain." Standing at Landís End Overlook, the Grand Valley unfolding more than a mile below, one might easily fell like Zeus himself, thunderbolts at the ready. Indeed, this playground in the sky seems a bit too heavenly for mere mortals. From I-70, the road climbs through the dusty canyon of Plateau Creek to the cool evergreen forests of the mesa top, 11,000 feet above sea level. Porcupines, mountain lions, coyotes, red fox, elk, and deer thrive here, and the mesaís 300 stream-fed lakes swarm with rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout. For those seeking a higher plane of being, this 63-mile route offers a truly transcendent experience.
Length:63 miles
Driving time:2 hours
Special considerations:No services between Cedaredge and Mesa; spur road to Landís End closed in winter
Special features:Grand Mesa National Forest


 



 

22. Dinosaur Diamond
Some of the world's most significant dinosaur fossil quarries and museums are clustered along this route, in the midst of a forbidding but stunningly beautiful landscape. The earth, fractured and stained, coughs up a rare collection of treasures. Ancient stone rises to the surface after eons underground; skeletons buried 100 million years ago now bleach in the desert sun. The byway traverses high mountains and barren plateaus, with stops at two national parks, two national monuments, and two great rivers of the West(the Colorado and Green). This dramatic maze of rocks and bones defies the imagination.
Length:486 miles
Driving time:2-3 days
Special considerations:Limited services on some stretches; carry extra water
Special Features:Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado National Monument


 



 

13. Los Caminos Antiguos
The Great Sand Dunes are one of natureís most painstaking creations. Hundreds of feet high and more than a thousand miles from the nearest ocean beach, these huge drifting dunes accumulated over the eons as winds gathered and swept sand against the west face of the Sangre de Cristo Range. That slow, determined process reflects the spirit of the San Luis Valley - a high, enormous, sun-baked flat between the Sangres, and the San Juan foothills. Life here would not seem to have changed much since the 1600s, when Spain cast its claim over this region. Los Caminos Antiguos take you to Coloradoís oldest surviving community (San Luis, 1851), the oldest church (Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Conejos), and one of its first military posts (Fort Garland). Drive, explore, take your time- thereís plenty of it to spare.
Length:129 miles
Driving time:3 hours
Special considerations:Accessible year-round
Special features:Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Cumbres/Toltec Scenic Railroad


 



 

14. Top of the Rockies
At 10,200 feet, Leadville is the highest incorporated community in the United States. Yet in this setting, surrounded on all sides by 14,000-foot behemoths, the city occupies the lowlands. South of town, Coloradoís two loftiest mountains - Elbert and Massive - stand side by side like Jupiter and Saturn. The colossal peaks of this area yielded fortunes of like proportions in the 19th century, as miners pulled millions of dollarsí worth of mineral from the ground. The luckiest of them, Horace Tabor, became one of the titans of Coloradoís silver industry. This 82-mile route crosses the Continental Divide twice and traces the Arkansas River nearly to its source in the vicinity of Fremont Pass. The small communities of Redcliff, Minturn, and Twin Lakes add charm.
Length:82 miles
Driving time:2 hours
Special considerations:Use normal winter precautions
Special Features:Tennessee and Fremont passes; Arkansas Headwaters State Recreation Area; Pike, Arapaho, White River National Forests


 



 

15. Silver Thread
The colorful old mining camps of the Silver Thread offer history, scenic beauty, and a heavy dose of authenticity. The heights around Creede and Lake City remain strewn with abandoned mining structures, most of them accessible via rugged backcountry roads. Between the two towns, Highway 149 shadows the upper reaches of the Rio Grande, serving up a bounty of natural wonders - sparkling North Clear Creek Falls, the Slumgullion earth slide, and the shark-like fin of Uncompahgre Peak. These mountains can be unforgiving: In 1848 explorer John C. Fremont lost a third of his men - and a quarter of a century later the infamous Alfred Packer cannibalized his companions - in two ill- fated winter expeditions.
Length:75 miles
Driving time:2 hours
Special features:Collier State Wildlife Area, Rio Grande National Forest


 



 

16. Gold Belt Tour
In the early 1890s the mining towns in the shadow of Pikes Peak enjoyed the greatest gold boom the state has ever known. This 131-mile circuit tours historic Cripple Creek, Florence, McCourt, Adelaide, Wilbur, Victor, and other former gold camps. The roads are narrow and rugged in places - one stretch of the Shelf Road clings to a canyon wall 200 feet above the stream bed - but the payoff comes in the outstanding scenery: majestic Pikes Peak, the unspoiled Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area, spectacular Royal Gorge, and miles of high-country beauty. Two significant fossil areas - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and the Garden Park Dinosaur Fossil Area - lie along the route.
Length:131 miles
Driving time:5 hours
Special considerations:Phantom Canyon and Upper Shelf roads have rough, gravel surfaces; avoid in wet weather; 4WD recommended on Upper Shelf; no vehicles over 25 feet long on Phantom Canyon Road
Special Features:Royal Gorge Bridge, Mueller State Park, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument


 



 

17. Frontier Pathways
During the winter of 1806 - 7, Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike nearly froze to death in the Wet Mountain Valley, within sight of the peak bearing his name. Yet this fertile, sheltered dale hard by the Sangre de Cristos became something of a beacon to 19th-century settlers who arrived in force to take advantage of the good soil and climate. Today the valley boasts one of the stateís finest collections of vintage ranches and farmsteads, some dating back to the 1840s; abandoned trading posts and stage stops contribute to this memory of the past. This pastoral paradise contrasts nicely wit the more severe scenery - rugged Hardscrabble Canyon, the whitecapped Sangre de Cristos, and sharp mesas and hogbacks flanking the Arkansas River - found elsewhere on the route.
Length:103 miles
Driving time:3 1/2 hours
Special Features:San Isabel National Forest, Lake Pueblo State Park, El Pueblo Museum (Pueblo)


 



 

18. Pawnee Pioneer Trail
This is the kind of scenic route the high plains are known for - open and endless. The land reveals itself in increments on this seemingly infinite expanse of shortgrass prairie; a new horizon appears at the tip of every swale. The tranquil confluence of earth and sky is disturbed only by the distant silhouette of the Rocky Mountains and the sudden upward jut of the Pawnee Buttes. These 250-foot-high knobs, visible for miles around, guided Indian and pioneer travelers over the years; today they provide refuge for coyote, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and hundreds of bird species. The surrounding region, first settled by 19th-century homesteaders, remains prime agricultural land, punctuated by tidy rural towns and modern-day homes on the range.
Length:128 miles
Driving time:3 hours
Special considerations:Start with full tank of gas; avoid gravel roads in heavy rain or snow
Special Features:Pawnee National Grassland; Pawnee Buttes


 



 

19. South Platte River Trail
Though itís the shortest of Coloradoís twenty-one byways, the South Platte River Trail is long on history. Thousands of Fifty-Niners passed this way to Denver and the mines beyond in the early days of the Pikes Peak rush. The 19-mile loop includes stops at the site of the only Pony Express station in Colorado, where 15-year-old William F. Cody - Buffalo Bill - signed in as a rider; the location of old Fort Sedgwick, established in 1865 to guard westward migrants from Indian raids; and the spot where Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux warriors attacked a detachment of cavalrymen to avenge the Sand Creek Massacre. The route also follows the old Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to- coast automobile road in the United States.
Length:19 miles
Driving time:30 minutes
Special Considerations:Accessible year-round
Special Features:Fort Sedgwick, Pony Express sites, and the South Platte River Trail


 



 

20. Highway of Legends
Did George Simpson really save Trinidad from marauding Utes by distracting them with taunts? Where is the lost gold vein that supposedly offered nuggets so rich a 19th-century prospector could live off one for a full year? And what fate befell Juan Humana and his band of conquistadors, who disappeared near the Purgatoire River in 1594 and were never again seen alive? You may not find the answers on the Highway of Legends, but you will enjoy the dramatic settings that have inspired tall tales among Native American nomads, Spanish explorers, and Anglo and Hispanic settlers for hundreds of years. From the impenetrable heights of the Sangre de Cristos and Spanish Peaks to the ominous redrock abutments of the Dakota Wall and the Devilís Stairsteps, this land is truly larger than life.
Length:82 miles
Driving time:2 hours
Special considerations:Bring a camera and a guidebook to the regionís geology
Special Features:Geological formations, Trinidad State Park, Spanish Peaks


 



 

21. Santa Fe Trail
On a clear spring day, a sharp observer can still discern the wagon-wheel ruts of the Santa Fe Trail wending their way across the prairie. The cultural legacies of this historic trade route, which saw its heaviest use between the 1820s and 1870s, remain just as distinct. The byway, which comprises a 188-mile portion of the trail, traverses one of the last strongholds of the nomadic Plains Indians and one of the first toeholds of Anglo-American pioneers, who began homesteading along the Arkansas River in the 1860s. The Mountain Branch of the trail traveled through what is today Trinidad and crossed Raton Pass, a mountain gap used by Native Americans for centuries. The bywayís midpoint is Bentís Old Fort, once a trading post and cultural melting pot, now a National Historic Site. Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway brims with history. Its inhabitants included dinosaurs, American Indians, Spanish explorers, pioneer traders and Victorian merchants. There are 45 sites of interest on or near the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail which closely follows the original path of the Santa Fe Trail. Click on map for larger view.
Website:  http://www.santafetrailscenicandhistoricbyway.org/

Length:188 miles
Driving time:4 hours
Special Considerations: Good buys at fruit and vegetable stands
Special Features:Bentís Old Fort, Comanche National Grasslands, Trinidad History Museum (Trinidad)

 


 

 

24. Collegiate Peaks

No matter where you begin your tour of the Collegiate Peaks Byway, you will be ushered into one of Colorado's most scenically spectacular, historically rich and recreationally diverse areas. This paved 57-mile route parallels the Continental Divide at the foot of the Sawatch Range, the highest concentration of 14,000+ foot peaks in the country. The greater part follows the Arkansas River, the most commercially rafted river in the nation, a world-class kayaking destination, and one of the state's premier trout fishing resources.

The constantly unfolding views of impressive peaks, intermittent stretches of lush riverside, numerous fishing and boater access points, extensive national forest and other public lands, active high altitude ranches and an variety of commercially developed natural hot springs together define the amazing scenic, recreational and geological contrasts that are the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Nowhere else in Colorado is found the state gemstone, the aquamarine, mined on Mt. Antero. The classic mining towns of Vicksburg, Winfield and St. Elmo are accessible from the byway, the communities of Poncha Springs and Buena Vista are historically rich and vibrant, while the town of Salida boasts the largest historic district in the state. Click on map for larger view.
Website: http://www.collegiatepeaksbyway.org/  

Length: 57 miles
Driving time: 90 minutes
Special Features: Largest concentration of 14,000+ ft peaks, Arkansas Headwaters State Park, San Isabel National Forest,
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area, Historic downtown districts