Last time, we talked about the autumn landscapes in our great state: a rainbow of colors dominated by the yellows and greens of our Aspens and Evergreens. But how to go about seeing the beauty of the season? We would like to recommend Colorado’s 25 Scenic Byway drives in almost every part of the state! No matter which bed and breakfast you choose, there is a gorgeous and historic drive full of gorgeous Colorado scenery, within a short distance of your inn, just waiting to be explored!
Scenic Byways are just that – scenic. But that really isn’t an accurate term for the routes here in Colorado. The views are majestic, awe-inspiring, and just downright picturesque. During these jaunts, you can drive through the mountains, across the prairie, and along valleys and gorges. As you wander, you will see sights that can only be found here in Colorado: the flora and fauna, amazing landscape, and a variety of our natural wildlife. Some routes even lead you to recreational areas where you can take a break from your driving and see the sights close-up.
But did you know that many of our Byways are also historic? With names like The Ancient Roads, Trail of the Ancients, Highway of Legends, and Gold Belt Tour, how can they NOT be historic? Many of the Byways coincide with both National Historic designated sites, and locations that are obviously major parts of our state heritage.
Of our state’s 25 Scenic Byways, eleven of them have been designated as “America’s Byways” by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation: more than any other state in America!
Without further ado, a brief summary of our Byways is listed below. While some of the routes follow major roads, please note that some are back-road drives which may require 4WD vehicles, some may have vehicular restrictions, and some may not be passable during winter months. Please be responsible about checking road conditions before you set out, especially during the winter and after large storms.
The prairie-lands in the northeast easily bring to mind images of covered wagons and men on horse, making their way west to find either fortune, or the start of a new frontier life. The flatlands are interrupted by sights of hearty crags jutting above the earth in the north. This is truly the land where “the deer and the antelope play.” Our BBIC member inns in this area offer a comfortable night’s rest and hearty breakfast to prepare you for your explorations!
Pawnee Pioneer Trails
This 128 mile tour which meanders between Fort Morgan, Sterling, Grover, Briggsdale, and Ault. This short-grass prairie area is home to coyotes, prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, pronghorn antelope, and birds. The Pawnee Buttes provide a visual landmark throughout the drive, and you’ll even pass right by them on the north part of the route. Potential stops include the Overland Trail Museum and the Fort Morgan Museum. Keep an eye out for quilt squares painted on the area barns!
South Platte River Trail
A 19-mile circle route close to the Nebraska border that travels from Ovid to Julesburg and back again. While it may be short, this route covers the main route used to travel west in the 1800s. Potential stops include the Fort Sedgwick Museum, site of the Pony Express home station, and the Colorado Welcome Center.
Welcome to the land that inspired Native Americans and Spanish Explorers to tales of the fantastic. This rambling land is home to prairie lands, wondrous rock features, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and trading posts. When you leave your Southeast Colorado inn, you will wander from your comfortable and welcoming accommodations and into the atmosphere and inspiration of the past!
Highway of Legends
This 82-mile E-shaped route located on the west side of Interstate 25 is anchored in Trinidad, Aguilar, and Walsenburg. As you travel through the foothills, you will drive through Cucharas Pass and Cordova Pass and witness some truly amazing mountain views and rock formations. Keep an eye out for the Devil’s Stairsteps and the Dakota Wall, and consider stopping at Trinidad State Park and Lathrop State Park.
Santa Fe Trail
National Scenic Byway
A 188-mile drive from the Kansas border to the New Mexico border, passing through Lamar, Animas, La Junta, and Trinidad. This route covers the wagon-route used by settlers and traders through the southern grasslands. Look for coyote, prairie dogs as you drive through this historic country. Potential stops include Bent’s Old Fort, and the Santa Fe Trail Museum in Trinidad.
Front Range Region
Home to Universities and growing communities, the Front Range is also full of gorgeous scenery and the nation’s highest paved roadway. With the mountainous views and natural beauty along the waterways, these drives will both invigorate and inspire. Your Front Range bed and breakfast inn will give you the perfect place to dream of your wanderings each night!
This 22-mile route travels through the Arapaho National Forest between Georgetown and Grant. You will go from lush, green areas in the lower elevations through mid-elevation meadows, all the way up above the treeline at Guanella Pass itself. Consider a top at the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining and Railroad Park.
This 49-mile route begins at Idaho Springs and ends with a 28-mile climb to the top of Mount Evans itself where you may see bighorn sheep, mountain goats, marmots, and incredible views of the Front Range. When you take the side-branch to Bergen Park, you will pass through a variety of environments featuring rolling hills, open meadows, evergreen forest, and more alpine scenery.
Please note that the summit of Mount Evans is open during the summer only – from Memorial Day through Labor Day. When you travel to the summit, the weather can make drastic changes. The weather may go from sunny to rainy to snowy in a very short time, no matter what time of year it is! Mountaintops are cool, yet you are that much closer to the sun – so bring sunscreen and warm clothing!
Peak To Peak
This 55-mile Byway travels between Estes Park and Black Hawk/Central City, passing through part of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The Continental Divide is the main feature of this drive, although the route passes near the Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, guaranteeing plenty of natural beauty. There are plenty of attractions to consider for a stop including Eldora Ski Resort, and of course the fun casinos in Black Hawk/Central City. This is Colorado’s oldest scenic byway, celebrating its 94th birthday this year.
Cache la Poudre
Spanning 101 miles from Fort Collins to Walden along route 14, the east 2/3 of this route passes through the Colorado State Forest, following the Cache la Poudre River where you may see fishers, rafters, and kayakers enjoying the water during warmer months. Look for deer, elk, moose, coyote, and antelope during your travels, and watch for livestock crossing the road!
Please note that this Byway is highly-travelled during the summer and is used by semis and other commercial vehicles.
Trail Ridge Road, RMNP
National Scenic Byway
From Estes Park to Grand Lake, this 48-mile drive takes you through the RMNP, offering mountainous beauty, summer flowers, fall color, and the chance to see bighorn sheep, elk, and other wildlife common in the area. Featuring a cliff-hugging roadway sure to thrill and astound, this drive is one you’ll never forget. Be sure to stop by the Visitors’ Center at Fall River Pass.
Please note that parts of this Byway are closed during the winter months.
National Scenic Byway
From Golden, to Bergen Park and Morrison, and back again, this 40-mile circle route explores the foothills west of Denver. Along the way you’ll see Red Rocks Park, many open space parks, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, Dinosaur Ridge, and plenty of natural beauty and wildlife. This Byway is open and accessible all year.
Pike’s Peak is, of course, the LARGEST draw of this region. But don’t think that’s all there is to see here! The Rocky Mountains span down the west side of this area, hiding beautiful scenery and historic towns which provide lessons of the past, as well as entertainment of today! BBIC Member Inns await your visit to their home turf which offers six different Byway options.
Los Caminos Antiquos (“The Ancient Roads”)
This Byway spirals 129 miles starting at Alamosa and continuing through Fort Garland, San Louis, and Antonio before ending at the New Mexico border. The main feature of this tour is the Great Sand Dunes National Park: giant sand dunes (the tallest in North America) at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range where you can climb the dunes, hike the base, fish, and even ride a sled down the sand if you’ve thought to bring one! During your trip, you can stop by the Fort Garland Museum, San Louis Lakes State Park, and our state’s oldest surviving town of San Luis.
Top of the Rockies
National Scenic Byway
This is an 82-mile drive from Aspen passing through Leadville, the Tennessee Pass, Red Cliff, and Minturn with a side-route through the Fremont Pass. Featuring the stunning mountains surrounding this route and two opportunities to cross the Continental Divide, this pretty drive follows the Arkansas River. Watch for wildlife at the water and enjoy stops at the many recreational areas and National Forests, the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Healy House Museum.
See the old mining camps during this 117-mile drive along Route 149 between the Blue Mesa Reservoir and South Fork. Enjoy incredible views of the upper Rio Grande and the stunning North Clear Creek Falls, amazing Slumgullion earth slide, and Uncompahgre Peak’s fin-like structure.
Gold Belt Tour
National Scenic Byway
This route meanders 131 miles through gold country from Florence to Florissant, and back again. See the stunning vistas of Pikes Peak, Beaver Creek Wilderness, Royal Gorge, and natural beauty in Colorado’s high country. See the towns which were once home to gold mine camps during the prospecting days, and enjoy stops at Canon City, Cripple Creek, and Victor. If you’re a fossil-hunter, stop by the Glorissant Fossil Beds National Monument and the Garden Park Dinosaur Fossil Area.
Please note that 4WD vehicles are recommended for the Shelf Road, and Phantom Canyon Road is impassable for vehicles over 25 feet in length.
National Scenic Byway
Spanning 103 miles from Pueblo to Westcliffe on Route 96, and down to Colorado City on Route 165, this was once a common travel route for Native Americans, explorers, traders, trappers, ranchers, and gold prospectors. Snow-capped mountains, meadows, and canyons accompany your tour past historic buildings of bygone days.
This 57-mile journey covers the area from route 82 in the north, following route 285 south to Poncha Springs, 50 to Salida, and 291 to make a small triangle on the south end. This Byway parallels the Continental Divide along the Sawatch Range (home of many 14’ers in the state). Much of this drive follows the Arkansas River where you may see kayakers and fishers enjoying the waters. High-altitude ranches are also prevalent in the area, as is the aquamarine mined on Mount Antero by several companies. Consider a stop at the Arkansas Headwaters State Park, San Isabel National Forest, and the historic district in Salida.
Known for the mighty Colorado and ample skiing opportunities, this region is an outdoor-lover’s dream. Be sure to watch for the excitement as you make your way along any of the four Byway options in the area. Northwest BBIC Inns in Carbondale, Cedaredge, Glenwood Springs, Frisco, Eagle, and Minturn will prepare you for your adventures with a good night’s rest and a delicious breakfast!
Colorado River Headwaters
National Scenic Byway
Following the tumbling brook that will eventually become the Colorado River, this 80-mile byway travels on a gravel road from Grand Lake to Route 40 where it follows the water to State Bridge. With the classic, picturesque stream-side drive, you’ll see tumbled rocks, small waterfalls, trees, lush greenery during the summer, and crystal ice during the winter. Watch for native animals visiting the creek for a drink!
Flat Tops Trail
Traveling 82 Miles from Meeker to Yampa, you’ll pass through the middle of what was once the White Water Plateau Timberland Preserve: land set aside in the 1800’s that would eventually become part of the National Forest System. With protection for that long, you can imagine the pristine beauty that waits for you on this drive!
Please note that you will want a full tank of gas when you leave either Meeker or Yampa to make this drive! The road can also be muddy when wet. This Byway is also closed on the west side during the winter.
National Scenic Byway
This 63-mile route runs from I-70 to Cedaredge on Route 65 with a side-trip to Lands End. Enjoy scenic canyons, evergreen forests, and the summer’s green fields on top of the Grand Mesa where stream-fed lakes offer ample fishing opportunities. Not to mention the views of the lands below! In the winter, the Mesa is blanketed with snow and is a popular location for all kinds of winter activities. Look for mountain lions, coyotes, deer, red fox, and elk as you follow this Byway.
National Scenic Byway
This is a long, 486-mile circle drive in the very western side of Colorado and into Utah and back again. The Colorado portion of this drive is 110 miles from Dinosaur (Route 40) to Fruita on Route 70, and then over to Grand Junction. If the name Dinosaur didn’t give you an idea, some of the most notable dinosaur fossil grounds are located along the sum total of this route. This route cuts through mountains and over plateaus. Consider stops at the Dinosaur national Monument and Colorado National Monument.
Please note: We recommend a full tank of gas before setting out on the Colorado portion of this tour, as there are very limited services along this route.
Known for its history of the Pueblo people, mining, and the prized geological locations, this region is also a popular place for outdoor-lovers and sightseers. All of our BBIC Inns in this region are within just a short distance from at least one of these five Byway selections.
This strictly 4WD vehicle circle-type route between Routes 550 and 149 requires some high clearance to complete. Anchored by Ouray, Silverton, and Lake City, the Alpine Loop is made up of unpaved, rocky roads that were once used by miners in the 1800s. But this Byway makes up for the lack of comfortable travel with some of the most pristine landscapes available in the state. Explore the seven ghost towns in the area as you traverse two alpine passes.
Please note: A full tank of gas is required at the start of this drive, and extra food and water is recommended, as there are no services offered through this Bypass. This route is closed in the winter, and can be very muddy when the weather has been wet.
Trail of the Ancients
From the Colorado/Utah border to the Four Corners and on into the easternmost part of Utah, this 116-mile loop circles the southwest corner of the state with a side-trip to Mesa Verde National Park. The Ancients are the Anasazi people who left behind cliff dwellings, rock art, and remnants of pottery… and not much else. Archaeologists are still trying to decipher this mysterious race. Consider a stop at the Mesa Verde National Park, Hovensweep national Monument, Anasazi Heritage Center, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park.
Please note: Some roads are gravel and can become muddy when wet.
San Juan Skyway
A 236-mile circle-route passing through Placerville, Ridgway, Silverton, Durango, Cortez, Delores, Rico, and Telluride. Full of things to see (BESIDES the amazing views) and do, this trip could take anywhere from 6 hours to several days! Drive through mountains and valleys, through the woods and along the rivers between towns that offer both history and entertainment. Bring your camera because you’ll want to have these photos to look back on! Potential stops include the Mesa Verde National Park and four wilderness areas, the Ouray Hot Springs, and a number of different railroad and historical museums.
Please note: Bring an umbrella or jacket for the common afternoon thundershowers during warmer months. Also make sure the road conditions are passable during the winter.
This 133-mile drive along Routes 141 and 145 from Whitewater to Placerville is full of both scenery and history during your drive through the Uncompahgre Plateau. Red sandstone formations tell of earlier times, cliffs tower over you like high rise buildings, and streams carry runoff water down off the plateau. Several preserves and places of archaeological interest can be found along the Unaweep.
Please note: The recommendations are numerous for this Byway! Start with a full tank of gas and plan your route well, as there are sections of your drive where you will be unable to find fuel, and cell service is patchy. Bring food and water, as eateries are few and far between. Do not touch or take artifacts and respect the private properties bordering the Byway. Finally, watch for both falling rocks and wildlife on the roadway!
West Elk Loop
From Carbondale in the north, down Route 133 to circle around Paonia, Hotchkiss, Gunnison, and Crested Butte, this 205-mile Byway boasts grand views of Mount Sopris’ twin summits AND the amazing rock layers decorating the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This can be strictly a sightseeing trip, however it can also offer a rich lesson in history if your interest lies there.
Please note: a 31-mile gravel section of the road over Keebler Pass is closed during the winter months.
25 total byways offering 25 different experiences. Featuring stunning sights, a chance to see both wildlife and domesticated herds, and providing historic insight into the different parts of Colorado, the Scenic Byways are a favorite activity of thousands of visitors each year! Check out the Bed and Breakfast Innkeepers of Colorado specials for Scenic Byway vacations!