With a nod to the Boss, we’re going to gush yet again about the wild and wondrous outdoors of the great state of Colorado, whose "highways jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive" unfurl with wild and wondrous scenery accessible to anyone with a set of keys and a full tank of gas. Indeed, the scenic drive is the most democratic of outdoor opportunities, and the Bicentennial State has many of them, infinitely many—throw a dart anywhere the map is green and start your engine.
Traveling by car has its perks, and the incomparable Rocky Mountain and Colorado Plateau scenery we’ve written about so many times scrolls past the passenger like it would a hiker—just more of it and faster. Colorado has many scenic drives. Among them are paved highways, long single-lane dirt roads, and 25 nationally recognized scenic byways. String them together into a week-long road trip or a long weekend in the Sawatch Range.
These are adventures worth the madness of love.
San Juan Mountains
- San Juan Skyway: Perhaps the most beautiful scenic drive in Colorado, the San Juan Skyway is a harrowing journey more than 100 miles long that summits mountain passes and hangs from cliffs in the San Juan Mountains. Go in the fall when the mountains are painted by golden aspen, yes, but also by the cerulean of oxidized copper and the ruddy carmine of iron. Also: mines. Old mines. Photogenic, awe-inspiring, distance driving doesn’t get any better.
- Last Dollar Road: The San Juan Mountains are a paradise for the off-road enabled, and Last Dollar Road showcases views of Wilson Peak and golden aspen in the fall along a 20-mile dirt road. Four-wheel drive recommended.
- Dallas Divide: A scenic alternative to Last Dollar Road, the Dallas Divide showcases the Sneffels Range rather than Wilson Peak to accompany those fall colors. Four-wheel drive and high clearance are recommended.
Sawatch Range and the Elk Mountains
- Kebler Pass: Mixed dirt and pavement characterizes Kebler Pass, connecting Paonia State Park to Crested Butte. Along with the ubiquitous explosion of color in Colorado every fall, wildflowers come out on Kebler Pass beginning in late May.
- Ashcroft and Castle Creek Road: Near Aspen and the Maroon Bells, Ashcroft and Castle Creek Road includes a visit to a ghost town.
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison: Two routes follow the course of the Gunnison River as it drills deeper into the Black Canyon. South Rim Road features more overlooks and paved roads, plus a descent into the canyon into the East Portal. The North Rim Road is unpaved and less popular—and much of the south rim remains shrouded for much of the day.
- Trail Ridge Road: North America’s highest road crosses the Continental Divide at 10,120 feet and features overlooks and short hikes in one of the continent’s most beautiful national parks and abundant alpine tundra wildlife, like elk, marmots, and bighorn sheep.
- Old Fall River Road: An alternate route to Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road was once the access road to the high country. One way only, it climbs much quicker than Trail Ridge Road, offering a unique glimpse into how the environment changes between elevations. It makes for an excellent loop option when combined with Trail Ridge Road.
- Pikes Peak Summit Highway: The 19-mile course to the summit of Pikes Peak (14,115 feet) is lined with overlooks, and you won’t find better views of the southern Front Range. Every year, the Race to the Clouds takes place on the Pikes Peak highway.