The Highways of Colorado:
Scenic and Historic Byways

Scenic Byway

The Colorado Department of Transportation signs a system of scenic and historic byways as an auto tour route system through particularly scenic or historic areas (duh!) of the state. The markers for them are an image of the columbine, the Colorado state flower , with a white-on-blue sign underneath with the name of the byway. These are usually only posted at the beginning and endings of the route and at intersections where the byway is turning. Highways are nominated by a local booster group and approved by the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Commission.

Official Site: Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways

America's Byways America's Byways: These are byways that have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as one of the best scenic or historic byways in the country. Of Colorado's 26 byways, 11 have earned America's Byways status.

Alpine Loop

  • Region: San Juan Mountains
  • Route: Starts at Lake City, west via Henson Creek, northwest over Engineer Pass to Ouray, doubles back toward the southeast and then goes southwest to Howardsville and to Silverton, then does a U-turn, and east via Cinnamon Pass, and northeast via the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River back to Lake City. Length: 63mi
  • Notable: Historic mining area. Definitely out in the back country, and has ample mountain scenery, hiking and biking trails and camping. Includes 7 ghost towns.
  • Unpaved in many locations. Requires high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles. Closed in winter.

Collegiate Peaks

  • Region: Central mountains
  • Route: Starts at the US 24/SH 82 intersection south of Leadville and goes south to Buena Vista, south on US 285 to Poncha Springs, east on US 50 to Salida and north on SH 291. Length: 57mi
  • Notable: The byway connects to the Top of the Rockies Byway at its north end and continues the theme. The Collegiate Peaks area has one of the highest concentrations of 14,000' mountains anywhere. The canyon along the byway is home to the Arkansas Headwaters National Recreation Area and supports fishing and rafting. The byway passes several hot springs and Salida is a historic railroading town.

Colorado River Headwaters America's Byways

  • Region: Northern mountains
  • Route: Starts at the southwest corner of Rocky Mountain National Park at Grand Lake, southwest via US 34 to Grandby, west via US 40 along the Colorado River, through Hot Sulphur Springs, to Kremmling, southwest via Grand CR 1/Trough Road to SH 131 at State Bridge. Length: 80mi
  • Notable: Byway starts near Lake Granby, which is a major recreation destination and has on its north shore the Farr Pumping Plant, a marvel of Colorado engineering and main water supply facility for the North Front Range. The upper reach of the Colorado River is a tumbling mountain stream, providing opportunities for rafting, fishing, and camping. Gravel between Kremmling and State Bridge.

Cache la Poudre-North Park

  • Region: Northern mountains
  • Route: Starts at I-25/SH 14 east of Fort Collins, west via SH 14 through Fort Collins, Ted's Place, Poudre Canyon, Cameron Pass, Gould, the North Park valley, and ending at Walden. Length: 101mi
  • Notable: That P word is pronounced "poo der", and is French for "hide the powder"; think French fur traders. The Poudre provides fishing, rafting and camping opportunities. Cameron Pass is one of Colorado's higher ones at 10,276 feet and is maintained year round. The North Park valley is a wildlife haven. The road goes through the Colorado State Forest and Roosevelt National Forest.

Dinosaur Diamond America's Byways

  • Region: Western Slope
  • Route: Starts at Grand Juntion, west via US 6 and I-70 to Loma, north via SH 139 over Douglas Pass to Rangely, west via SH 64 to Dinosaur, west via US 40 through Vernal and Roosevelt to Duchesne, south via US 191 through Price to I-70, east back to Grand Junction. Length: 486mi
  • Notable: A lot of the route is in Utah, so isn't marked. The unique topography of the region makes it a premeire dinosaur fossil area. The byway passes numerous dinosaur digs and museums, two national monuments (Colorado and Dinosaur), one national park (Arches), and two of the regions major rivers (Green and Colorado).
  • Long intervals between services.

Flat Tops Trail

  • Region: Western Slope
  • Route: Starts in Yampa, and goes northwest on Routt CR 17, northwest on FR 16, and southwest on Rio Blanco CR 8 over Ripple Creek Pass, along the North Fork of the White River to Buford, and northwest to Meeker. Length: 82mi
  • Notable: Most of the byway is within a pristine area of the the White River National Forest. Some portions unpaved.

Frontier Pathways America's Byways

  • Region: South Front Range and Wet Mountains
  • Route: Starts at Colorado City, northwest via SH 165 through Rye, San Isabel, to SH 96 at McKenzie Junction, west via SH 96 to Silver Cliff and Westcliffe, back east on SH 96 to Wetmore, and east to Pueblo. Length: 103mi
  • Notable: This area of Colorado lies at the intersection of numerous cultures and travelers: Native American, Spanish, French, American homesteaders, gold prospectors, cattle empires, etc. Many historic buildings line the route.

Gold Belt Tour America's Byways

  • Region: Southern mountains
  • Route: Starts at Florissant, south via Cripple Creek-Florissant Road to Cripple Creek, SH 67 southeast to Victor, south via Phantom Canyon to US 50, SH 67 south to Florence, west via SH 115 and US 50 to Caņon City, SH 9 northwest, Fremont CR 11 northeast, which becomes High Park Road in Teller County, back to Cripple Creek-Florissant Road. A second leg goes from Cripple Creek south via Shelf Road and Fremont CR 8 through Marigold and along Fourmile Creek to Caņon City. Length: 131mi
  • Notable: Gold, gold, gold. The route is dotted with former gold mine boom towns. Cripple Creek-Victor is a National Historic District. The byway also includes the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and goes near Royal Gorge.
  • Shelf Road and Phantom Canyon are unpaved, avoid in wet weather. Shelf Road requires high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles. No vehicles over 25 feet long in Phantom Canyon.

Grand Mesa America's Byways

  • Region: Grand Mesa
  • Route: SH 65 from I-70 east along Plateau Creek, south via Mesa, Skyway Point, over the Grand Mesa, south and ending in Cedaredge. Spur route goes west along Land's End Road along the Grand Mesa. Length: 63mi
  • Notable: The Grand Mesa is indeed a high-alpine environment, with fishing, hiking and snow shoeing, near an elevation of 11,000 feet.

Guanella Pass

  • Region: Eastern mountains
  • Route: Starts and I-70 and Georgetown, and goes south via FR 118 along Cabin Creek, over Guanella Pass, and down Duck Creek and Geneva Creek to US 285 at Grant. Length: 22mi
  • Notable: Road is entirely within the Arapaho and Pike national forests. The byway is a favorite in the fall to view the leaf colors. Guanella Pass is at an elevation of 11,669 feet, well above tree line. Georgetown is a National Historic District.

Highway of Legends

  • Region: Southern mountains
  • Route: Starts at I-25 in Trinidad, west via SH 12 along the Purgatoire River through Segundo to Stonewall, north through Monument park, over Cucharas Pass, north along the Cucharas River through Cuchara and La Veta to US 160, and east to Walsenburg. Includes a pur from Cucharas Pass over Cordova Pass to Aguilar. Length: 117mi
  • Notable: Runs along the side of Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and passes the Spanish Peaks. Area was one of the first in Colorado to see Spanish exploration.

Lariat Loop America's Byways

  • Region: Front Range Foothills
  • Route: Loop. From US 6 in Golden, goes up Lookout Mountain Road, southwest down to US 40, onto I-70 at Genesse, then SH 74 from El Rancho to Evergreen to Morrison, Hogback Road north to US 40, and Heritage Road north back to US 6. Length: 33mi
  • Notable: The loop has the historic towns of Golden, Evergreen and Morrison as its cornerstones. On Lookout Mountain take in the vast view of the Denver metro area as well as "Buffalo" Bill Cody's grave and museum. North of Morrison the loop takes you past Red Rocks Park, the famous amplitheatre.

Los Caminos Antiguos

  • Region: San Luis Valley
  • Route: Starts at Alamosa, north via SH 17 to Mosca, east via CR 6N to the south side of Great Sand Dunes National Monument, south on SH 150 to US 160, east through Blanca to Fort Garland, south via SH 159 to San Luis, west via SH 142 through San Acacio and Manassa to Romeo, south via US 285 to Antonito, west via SH 17 along the Conejos River, and over La Manga and Cumbres passes to New Mexico. Length: 129mi
  • Notable: The San Luis Valley is a vast, irrigated plain bordered by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the east and the San Juan Mountains on the west, and serves as the head waters of the Rio Grande. This was one of the first areas of Colorado settled by Europeans. The Great Sand Dunes are one of Colorado's natural wonders, formed as the wind coming out of the west slams up against the Sangre de Cristos. There's also the Cumbres/Toltec Scenic Railroad.

Mount Evans

  • Region: Eastern mountains
  • Route: Starts at Idaho Springs, and goes southwest via SH 103 along Chicago Creek to Echo Lake, and east via SH 103 and Squaw Pass Rd to SH 74 at Bergen Park. A spur runs south via SH 5 up to the summit of Mount Evans. Length: 38mi one-way
  • Notable: Within the Arapaho National Forest. At Idaho Springs it starts at an elevation of around 7,000 feet, but within 28 miles has climbed to 14,160 feet near the top of Mount Evans -- the highest point on a road in the U.S. SH 5 is shut down over winter above Summit Lake. The summit is a true mountain tundra, inhabited by things such as lichen, wildflowers and mountain goats. Weather is volatile on top of the mountain, be prepared for anything.
  • SH 5 up Mount Evans: Closed in winter.

Pawnee Pioneer Trail

  • Region: Northeastern plains
  • Route: Starts at Sterling, west on SH 14 through Stoneham to Raymer, north on Weld CRs 129 and 127 through the Pawnee National Grassland, west on CRs 110 and 112 past the Pawnee Buttes, northwest on CR 390 to Grover, west on CR 120, south on CR 77 to Briggsdale, west on SH 14 to Ault. Includes a spur south on SH 52 to Fort Morgan. Length: 128mi
  • Notable: Gives an idea of the environment encountered by early Pioneers. The arrid landscape is a haven for coyotes, prairie dogs and antelope. The Pawnee Buttes are one of northeastern Colorado's curiouser topographical features. Portions are gravel.

Peak to Peak

  • Region: Front Range eastern slope
  • Route: Starts at Estes Park, south on SH 7 through Meeker Park, Allenspark and Ferncliff to SH 72, south through Ward to Nederland, and south on SH 119 through Rollinsville to Black Hawk/Central City. Length: 55mi
  • Notable: Established in 1918, it's Colorado's oldest scenic byway. The route hugs the pine-covered eastern slope of the Front Range mountains, while the Continental Divide rises up to west. The route takes one through or near Rocky Mountain National Park, the Arapaho/Roosevelt National Forests, the Moffat Tunnel, Golden Gate Canyon State Park and the Central City/Blackhawk National Historic District.

San Juan Skyway America's Byways

  • Region: San Juan Mountains
  • Route: Loop. Start in Durango, goes north on US 550 through Hermosa, over Molas Divide to Silverton, over Red Mountain Pass to Ouray, north to Ridgway, west on SH 62 over Dallas Divide to Placerville, southeast on SH 145 to Telluride, southwest through Rico and Dolores to Cortez, east on US 160 through Mancos returing to Durango. Length: 236mi
  • Notable: Take one part high altitude motoring experience (Million Dollar Highway), add a dash of ski resort (Telluride), sprinkle with ancient ruins (Mesa Verde National Park), and top off with historic mining towns (Ouray/Silverton) and you've got yourself perhaps the crown jewel of the scenic byway system.

Santa Fe Trail America's Byways

  • Region: Arkansas Valley and south mountains
  • Route: Starts at the New Mexico/Colorado border on I-25 at Raton Pass, goes north to Trinidad, northeast on US 350 through Timpas to La Junta, and east on US 50 through Las Animas and Lamar to the Kansas border. Length: 184mi
  • Notable: Follows the historic route of the Santa Fe Trail, used during the U.S.' westward expansion of the mid-1800s. East of La Junta is Bent's Old Fort, a national historic site and stop on the trail.

Silver Thread

  • Region: San Juan Mountains
  • Route: SH 149 from South Fork, northwest through Creede, over Spring Creek and Slumgullion passes to Lake City, and north to US 50. Length: 118mi
  • Notable: Historic mining region. Passes through the area that serves as the Rio Grande's headwaters, and includes the area of infamous Alfred Packer's canniballism.

South Platte River Trail

  • Region: Northeastern plains
  • Route: Loop. Starts at the Colorado Welcome Center in Julesburg, travels southwest on US 138 to Ovid, south to county roads, northeast along the South Platte back to Julesburg. Length: 19mi
  • Notable: This is the shortest scenic byway, but it's long on history. Near the byway lay the South Platte River (a major route during westward expansion), the Transcontinental Railroad, and the Lincoln Highway. Julesburg includes Colorado's only Pony Express station.

Tracks Across Borders

  • Region: Southern Western Slope
  • Route: Starts in Durango and follows US 160 and SH 172 to Ignacio, then SH 151 to Navajo Reservoir, then CR 500 southeast to Pagosa Junction, CR 551 southeast into New Mexico to Dulce, and US 64 to Chama. A spur goes along SH 151 from Navajo Reservoir north to Chimney Rock National Monument. Length: 125mi
  • Notable: Primary feature is development of the state’s first, and ultimately the nation’s largest, narrow gauge railroad system – the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG). Passes through the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation land, skirts the north end of Navajo Lake, and travels to Chimney Rock National Monument.

Top of the Rockies America's Byways

  • Region: Central mountains
  • Route: Begins on SH 82 at Aspen, travels east over Independence Pass, through Twin Lakes to US 24. Travels north on US 24 to Leadville, then splits, with one branch north on US 24 over Tennesse Pass through Red Cliff and Minturn to I-70, and the other branch north on SH 91 over Fremont Pass to Copper Mountain. Length: 108mi
  • Notable: Aspen is built around tourism, from winter skiing to summer festivals. Independence Pass is one of the highest paved passes in Colorado and features aspen groves, alpine lakes and the ghost town of Independence. Leadville holds the distinction of being one of the the highest incorporated places in the U.S., and is surrounded by Sawatch and Mosquito ranges. The route passes near Mount Elbert (14,433 feet), Colorado's highest peak. The Arkansas River has its headwaters in the Fremont Pass area.
  • Independence Pass is closed every winter. When open, no vehicles over 35 feet long.

Trail of the Ancients America's Byways

  • Region: Four Corners
  • Route: From Cortez, route goes three directions: 1) East on US 160 to Mesa Verde National Park; 2) southwest on US 160 and northwest on SH 41 to the Utah border; and 3) north on SH 145 to Dolores, west on SH 184, northwest on US 491 to Pleasent View, west on Montezuma CR CC, and southwest on CR 10 to the Utah border. Length: 114mi
  • Notable: Old stomping grounds of the Ancient Puebloan people. Mesa Verde National Park and Hovenweep National Monument have ruins, and there is an Ancient Puebloan museum in Dolores. The byways also passes near Four Corners.

Trail Ridge Road / Rocky Mountain National Park America's Byways

  • Region: Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Route: US 34 from Estes Park west through Rocky Mountain National Park over Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake. Length: 48mi
  • Notable: Trail Ridge Road is one of the world's highest continuously paved highways. Well above tree line, the road tops out at 12,183 feet. It traverses a true alpine environment, with lichen, bighorn sheep and elk inhabiting the area. An Alpine Visitors Center welcomes visitors with information just east of Fall River Pass. The road includes numerous pull-outs, overlooks and short hiking trails.
  • Trail Ridge Road is closed every winter from the Colorado River Trailhead north of Grand Lake east to Many Parks Curve west of the US 36 intersection in RMNP, usually from mid-October to Memorial Day. A herculian effort is required every spring to clear the 10+ feet of snow on the road to open it by the target date of Memorial Day weekend.

Unaweep/Tabeguache

  • Region: Uncompahgre Plateau
  • Route: Starts at Placerville, goes northwest on SH 145 through Norwood and Redvale to Naturita, northwest on SH 141 through Dolores Canyon and Uravan to Gateway, and northeast through Unaweep Canyon to Whitewater. Length: 133mi
  • Notable: In Unaweep Canyon, West Creek has carved deep down into the red sandstone of the plateau, exposing hundreds of millions of years of gelogic record. At the start of the 1900s, the region experienced a copper boom, and uranium ore from near Uravan was used in the first atomic bombs.
  • Long intervals between services.

West Elk Loop

  • Region: Western mountains
  • Route: Starts at Carbondale, south via SH 133 through Redstone, over McClure Pass, through Somerset and Paonia to Hotchkiss, southeast on SH 92 through Crawford to US 50, east to Gunnison, northwest on SH 135 to Crested Butte, and west on Gunnison CR 12 over Kebler Pass, returning to SH 133. Length: 205mi
  • Notable: The routes travels through many towns, giving the traveler a look at Colorado's varied culture. The byway gives access to the White River and Gunnison National Forests, Paonia State Park, Blue Mesa Reservior, and Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. Gravel over Kebler Pass.
  • Kebler Pass closed every winter.

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Page created 16 March 2002
Last updated 25 May 2015