Top 10 Scenic Drives in Colorado

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Colorado is a state so rich in natural beauty with its mix of desert terrain and richly forested mountains. Regardless of the season, there is something breathtaking to see. Snow-capped peaks provide a picturesque background in winter, summer is ideal for water sports in places like Land-O-Lakes, and the changing foliage in spring and fall enhances any sight. In addition, the state’s desert regions are filled with fascinating rock formations. Visitors to this state may want to see it all, and these top scenic drives are a great place to start:

No. 10 – Colorado River Headwaters Byway

Colorado River Headwaters Byway Colorado
Flickr user: Carolannie

Starting Location: Grand Lake, CO
Ending Location: Kremmling, CO
Length: 71 miles
Best Season to Drive: Summer and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Much of this scenic drive follows along with the Colorado River, but there is far more than just water to see. The countryside is dotted with mountains and valleys and sweeping ranches, but turns into more desert-like terrain towards the end of the route. Stop in Hot Sulphur Springs for a soak in reputedly healing waters or spend a while in Kremmling to ride llamas to better river views.

No. 9 – Alpine Loop

Alpine Loop Colorado
Flickr user: robert thigpen

Starting Location: Silverton, CO
Ending Location: Animas Forks, CO
Length: 12 miles
Best Season to Drive: Summer and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Although this drive is only 12 miles long, it takes about an hour to traverse without any stops due to the steep climbs, and it’s really only recommended for vehicles with four-wheel-drive capability. Although the way may be tough, the magnificent views this route affords make it worth all the trouble – and it ends in an eerily beautiful ghost town. To make the trip a little longer, stop for the Mayflower Gold Mill Tour in Silverton or picnic at Engineer Pass.

No. 8 – Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe Trail Colorado
Flickr user: Jasperdo

Starting Location: Trinidad, CO
Ending Location: Iron Spring, CO
Length: 124 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This portion of the Santa Fe Trail has sweeping prairie views with plenty of points of interest to break up the scene, including horse corrals, railroad yards, and sugar beet farms. History buffs will especially enjoy the drive, as it goes by Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, where Americans and Mexicans gathered to search for gold, and actual wagon ruts from the Santa Fe Trail in Iron Spring. There are also preserved dinosaur footprints in Iron Spring’s Picketwire Dinosaur Tracksite, although reservations are required.

No. 7 – Peak to Peak Scenic Byway

Peak to Peak Scenic Byway Colorado
Flickr user: Carolannie

Starting Location: Central City, CO
Ending Location: Estes Park, CO
Length: 61 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This particular route, designated in 1918, is the oldest scenic byway in Colorado and passes through the mountainous terrain of the Arapaho National Forest, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, and the Rocky Mountain National Park. In Central City and Blackhawk, it’s worth taking some extra time to look at the historic Victorian buildings. All travelers along this way should stop in Nederland, a high-elevation location with quirky shops and small-town charm.

No. 6 – Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

Grand Mesa Scenic Byway Colorado
Flickr user: Chris Ford

Starting Location: Palisade, CO
Ending Location: Cedar Edge, CO
Length: 59 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

As suggested by this byway’s name, the main attraction on this route is the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, which spans 500 miles and has a top elevation of 11,227 feet. There are also plenty of peeks at lakes and ranches in the valleys, and Utah’s Beehive Butte is also visible in the distance. As travelers near Cedaredge, apple orchards begin to dominate the scenery, and there are ample fruit stands to find a sweet sample.

No. 5 – Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway

Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway Colorado
Flickr user: Bryce Bradford

Starting Location: Pueblo, CO
Ending Location: Colorado City, CO
Length: 72 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

There may be more straightforward ways between the cities of Pueblo and Colorado City, but those fast-tracking routes don’t have the same scenery. Early prospectors used to travel in a similar fashion through the Wet Mountains, where bighorn sheep and mule deer roam in large numbers. Fishermen may enjoy trying their luck in Lake Isabel, and Lake Pueblo State Park has a wonderful campground for those wishing to stay a night.

No. 4 – Trail of the Ancients

Colorado mesa verde national park
Flickr user: Kent Kanouse

Starting Location: Mancos, CO
Ending Location: White Rock Curve Village, UT
Length: 75 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Beginning in Mesa Verde National Park, travelers are highly encouraged to begin with an up-close-and-personal look at the cliff dwellings built there between 450 and 1200 A.D. by the Anasazi People. More can be learned about these people at the Anasazi Heritage Center, which doubles as the visitor center for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, in the town of Dolores. The drive ends at another Anasazi creation, the Hovenweep National Monument in Utah.

No. 2 – Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway

Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway Colorado
Flickr user: Casey Reynolds

Starting Location: Whitewater, CO
Ending Location: Placerville, CO
Length: 121 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Driving through Unaweep and Dolores River Canyons, this twisting route provides plenty of photo opportunities and panoramic views. For those who need to stretch their legs and gain a closer look, recommended hiking spots include Gunnison Gravel Natural Research Area and San Miguel River Nature Conservancy Preserve. If the natural beauty along this way becomes too awe-inspiring to handle, consider a detour to the Gateway Colorado Auto Museum which has a collection of over 40 classic cars.

No. 2 – Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument New
Flickr user: ellenm1

Starting Location: Grand Junction, CO
Ending Location: Fruita, CO
Length: 21.4 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Exploring the northern portion of the Uncompahgre Plateau, this scenic drive takes travelers by numerous spectacular vistas and famous rock formations. Most of the terrain is semi-desert, with junipers and piñon pines dotting the landscape. Visitors are encouraged to stop along the way to take advantage of the superior photo opportunities at spots like the Grand View Overlook and Artists Point.

No. 1 – San Juan Skyway

Colorado San Juan Skyway new
Flickr user: Granger Meador

Starting Location: Ridgway, CO
Ending Location: Ridgway, CO
Length: 225 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This loop, which could really begin and end at any point, twists and turns all the way up to 10,000 feet at its highest point, offering such panoramic views that travelers can feel they are literally on top of the world. The route passes through several state and national parks as well as skirting the Uncompahgre River for a while, which affords plenty of opportunities to take a refreshing dip in warmer months or see if the fish will bite. Around the town of Durango, travelers can even spy some desert terrain betwixt Victorian homes.


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