It’s hard to play favorites with so many scenic drives in Colorado. But we will. Sure, you’ll find a spectacularly beautiful section of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon (from Dotsero to Glenwood Springs). But the following roads less traveled introduce you to stunning scenery complete with old ghost towns, deep canyons and high alpine lakes.
This byway (described in the Grand Junction and Around itinerary) is a hidden gem never seen by many Colorado residents. From Grand Junction, take Colorado Rt 141 south, where rock formations and scenic beauty deliver one photo op after another. Gateway Canyons has a resort with a classic car collection by the founder of the Discovery Channel. It’s definitely worth a stop. A bit further south you’ll see the remnants of an old flume clinging to a canyonside, an engineering marvel used to carry water for early gold mining.
The 23-mile Rim Rock drive in Colorado National Monument offers extraordinary canyon views. The Monument (in Fruita near Grand Junction) costs $10/car unless you have a Senior Pass. Check the website for hours and free days. Take I-70 to exit 31 and follow signs through Grand Junction or I-70 to exit 19, then south to Rt. 340. This, too, is one of the suggestions in the Grand Junction and Around itinerary.
Driving over Loveland Pass to Idaho Springs makes an entertaining day trip from Denver. In good weather, instead of staying on I-70 and going through the Eisenhower Tunnel, get off at the last entrance before the tunnel and take U.S. Route 6 up over Loveland Pass. At the top, at almost 12,000 feet, stop at the Continental Divide to straddle the Atlantic and Pacific drainages.
The drive up Mount Evans offers top-of-the-world views. It’s a popular day trip from Denver because it takes about an hour (in normal traffic) to reach the base and you can combine it with a visit to Idaho Springs.
Kebler Pass, which follows Gunnison County Road 12 from Crested Butte to Colorado 133 near Paonia, is partly paved and partly gravel. (It’s closed in the winter.) Huge stands of aspen trees line the route, and when leaves turn golden in September, the drive is “knock your socks off” gorgeous.
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Colorado Rt. 82, a 34-mile drive between Twin Lakes and Aspen, takes you over Independence Pass. The top, at approximately 12,100 feet above sea level, crosses the Continental Divide well above tree line. From there you can see 14,433 ft. Mt Elbert. Nearby is the partially restored mining ghost town of Independence.
Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park is the highest, continuous paved road in the world. The scenery is fantastic any time, but we really love it when aspen trees turn golden.
Sources for More Scenic Byways
Colorado Scenic Byways published by the Colorado Department of Transportation outlines the state’s scenic byways.
Always check road conditions and weather before driving into the mountains, especially if you intend to picnic, hike or mountain bike. Weather in the high country can change 40-degrees or more within minutes. Cotrip.org updates travelers on the latest road conditions. Regional ranger stations and local weather stations may be able to give you weather reports for your travel days.