Colorado is one of the most beautiful U.S. states to road trip through, and late summer and fall are the best times to hit the gas. You might not know that 2014 is the 25th birthday of the 25 Scenic and Historic Byways program in Colorado. Celebrate by taking one of these 10 scenic road trips in Colorado that follow historic trails. They also offer breathtaking views and plenty of reasons to stop along the way.
Sources: VisitColorado.com, LonelyPlanet.com, USAToday.com, Colorado.com
This route takes three hours and follows the Poudre River up to Cameron Pass. Once used by settlers traveling between Colorado and Utah, today the route is the ideal way to go if you’re looking for whitewater rafting or hoping to spot some bighorn sheep (the state mammal). Don’t forget to pack binoculars – the views around the bowl-shaped basin of North Park are amazing, and the area is a bustling habitat for wildlife.
Keep your eyes peeled on this three-and-a-half-hour trip for gray fox, mule deer, pronghorn and elk — some of the wildlife likely to be spotted on these roads. You’ll pass through high plains, and see buttes and flatlands before reaching the south of Lake Pueblo State Park. Further down the road is Wetmore, a town separating the Great Plains from the Rockies. At Highway 96 and Highway 165, you have two options for continuing on. The western route heads to San Isabel National forest and towns Silver Cliff and Westcliff, while the southern route will take you to Bishop Castle and Colorado City, a popular foodie destination.
Once called the “Road to Riches,” this route was part of the world’s largest gold rush to Florence, Cañon City and Florissant. Before getting too far into the drive, stop for a quick rest at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which contains fossils dating back 34 million years. The scenic route climbs from 5,500-to-9,500 feet. You’ll pass through rolling mountains, rocky canyons and eerie ghost towns along Phantom Canyon Road for five to six hours.
If you’re strapped for time, this drive is a quick and easy way to take in some of Colorado’s beautiful scenery, including portions of Weminuche Wilderness within the San Juan National Forest, the Continental Divide Trail, and Treasure Falls. The highway stretches 41 miles between South Fork and Pagosa Springs. Bring the whole family and get out of the car after that hour-long drive for a rewarding hike to 100-foot Treasure Falls before heading home.
Take this route, and you can say you’ve driven on the highest paved road in North America: it’s 14,130 feet above sea level. The two-hour road trip will take you through glacier-cut valleys and rocky peaks for 49 miles, offering the chance to spot mountain goats, bighorn sheep, granite walls and alpine lakes. As you head back down, stop for a breather at the Indian Hot Springs resort in Idaho Springs.
This is Colorado’s oldest scenic byway – it was established in 1918. The trip takes you from Estes Park to Black Hawk for a 55-mile, two-hour drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, Golden Canyon State Park, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest, and Eldora Mountain Resort ski area. Basically it’s the perfect route if you’re looking for a beautiful drive of mountain and lake scenery. Don’t miss the ghost towns of Apex and Hesse, and if you’re feeling like stretching your legs, take an easy hike to Arapaho Glacier.
This drive is only 19 miles, but climbing from 7,400 feet to 14,115 feet at the summit of Pikes Peak will take two hours. Outdoor enthusiasts will love this one – there are plenty of places ideal for biking, hiking and boating on the way up. When you reach the top, indulge in a doughnut at the Pikes Peak Summit House – they’re world famous, and the only donuts known to be made at an altitude above 14,000 feet.
Mount Elbert and Mount Massive are two of Colorado’s highest peaks, and you’ll get the chance to see both in all their glory during this scenic four-to-five-hour drive. The 115-mile trip takes you from the beginning of the Arkansas River to the town of Twin Lakes in San Isabel National Forest and Leadville, which is actually the highest incorporated city in the U.S. Bring your bike for a trip trough Shrine Pass, the perfect place to get off the beaten path and see wildflowers or go trout fishing in Missouri Lake.
History buffs should set aside time to stop as they pass through Lake City and Creede on this trip – they’re two of Colorado’s most historic districts. Lake City has one of the largest collections of preserved buildings from the 19th century, and in Creede you’ll find the well-known Creede Repertory Theater. The route is about 120 miles long and takes two-to-four hours, offering the chance to see the 800-year-old Lake San Cristobal and stunning views of North Clear Creek Falls from Forest Road 510.
Starting off in Estes Park, you’ll take the highest continuous auto road in the country through Rocky Mountain National Park on this two-to-three-hour drive. During the 48-mile journey, be on the lookout for elk as you whiz by glacier-carved valleys and incredible peak summits. You can see the Continental Divide from this route. Plan your trip sooner rather than later if this one sounds appealing. Because of heavy snowfall, this route is only open from late May to late October. One point of interest along the way is Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado. And if you’re Stephen King fan, you might consider spending the night at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park – inspiration for “The Shining.”