Things to do / Travel Guide
Colorado Scenic Drives - Rockies
The eastern Colorado and Wyoming Rockies is one of the greatest regions in the U.S. for drives over and through mountains and mountain ranges, and around rivers, and lakes. The clear, crisp air enables you to better enjoy the views, and allows you to see farther into the distance. Many of the highest roads in the country are in this region, and above timberline, all there are are mountain tops, as far as the eye can see. These Colorado Scenic drives could very well be the high point of your trip to the region.
Many roads are closed during certain months of the year - like a dirt road frozen up with several inches of ice and snow, for example. If you don't want to get caught with your favorite road closed for the winter, check beforehand.
If you're leaving Denver, on your way to Idaho Springs and everything west of the region, you'll probably be taking I-70. As you leave flat Denver and its suburbs to the west (Lakewood and Wheat Ridge), the buildings and multiple streets fade away, and the bold mountains begin to loom up in front of you. These are the mountains you've seen from within the city limits; from up close they seem so massive you feel as though you're being swallowed up by them. You pass one hump along the road, then there they are; what a way for a road trip to begin!
Denver Scenic Drives - Squaw Pass Scenic Drive and Mt. Evans Scenic Byway
Squaw Pass Road is easy to get to: You just take a left from I-70 at Idaho Springs, and State Road 103 becomes Squaw Pass Road after a few miles. Not far from Denver, the scenic drive is practically a loop back to I-70, as you return to the highway about 20 miles east of Idaho Springs. Along the way of this 40-odd mile loop you'll have the opportunity to take the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway, which slowly winds up to the summit of Mt. Evans. This fully-paved road is in fact the highest paved road in North America, switchbacking up to a final height of 14,130 feet.
Scenic Drives near Denver and Boulder - Estes Park
There are two scenic drives near Denver that stand out involving Estes Park. The first is the famous Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway. This route connects Roosevelt National Forest to Rocky Mountain National Park to. It's about 60 miles long, and it starts in Central City on I-70 and ends in Estes Park. On the way, you'll pass through the forest and see vistas of Mt. Evans, rising to 14,264 feet high, then Longs Peak, rising 14,255 feet. However, don't strictly pay attention to the mountains, as the highlands in and around Rocky Mountain National Park are stunningly green, with beautiful wildflowers. If you're lucky, you might also spot ducks, mallards, and migrating geese on the lakes, and elk, deer, and coyotes in the meadows and forested areas.
The other scenic drive, not far from Boulder, originating in Estes Park, is Trail Ridge Road. Otherwise known as U.S. Highway 34, this cuts through Rocky Mountain National Park before skirting its border southward down to Grand Lake and Granby, crossing the Continental Divide. The stretch cutting west through the park holds the most views, so once you reach Fairview Curve, you can either turn back, or head south to U.S. Highway 40 down to east-going I-70. This drive is quite high-altitude - you'll pass a sign at the beginning marking two miles above sea level, and you keep climbing from there. On the west-heading portion of Trail Ridge Road, which begins at Estes Park Headquarters on U.S. Highway 34, you'll first hit Many Parks Curve and Rainbow Curve, where endless mountains rise up and valleys drop. There's snow throughout the year on these mountains, and the verdant meadows and sub-alpine fir and colorful wildflowers are nurtured throughout the warm season from the melting waters. Farther on, you see a canyon and glacial rock formations, and ice-formed lakes. Then you reach the so-called Lava Cliffs, made up of compacted volcanic ash. Lastly, you'll have a great overlook of the Kawuneeche Valley, which you'll be descending into upon turning back around. This whole section of Trail Ridge Road until Fairview Curve is about 15 miles of curvaceous, slow-going paved roadway.
Scenic Byway out of Fort Collins
State Road 14 out of Fort Collins is your ticket to these more northerly mounts. You could basically drive all the way to Walden, around 100 miles away, to the west, and the views wouldn't let up. The farther west you go on the road, the higher the elevation. This route is an alternative to the Estes Park scenic drives, at a lower elevation. Scenic Road 14 follows the Cache La Poudre River, which is quite scenic itself, and Colorado's first National Wild and Scenic River.
Wyoming Scenic Drives near Cheyenne and Laramie
The road between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming makes for a splendid scenic drive. The pastures and prairie land break to mountains, then back to pastures and prairie land. The whole drive will take less than an hour.
Scenic Drives near Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs has been known for its medicinal environment from the time of its founding. This is owing to the city's crisp, clean air that it gets from being at a high elevation, hovering around 6,000 feet. The city itself is quite flat, but just outside the city limits the mountains pick up and you're treated to some of the best views from a four-wheeled vehicle you'll ever see.
You can drive to the top of Pikes Peak, elevation 14,110 feet, on the Pikes Peak Highway. Reach the highway via U.S. Highway 24 from Colorado Springs. The Highway, a 19-mile paved road, is full of switchbacks and scary climbs and drops. The mountain that Captain Zebulon Pike, in 1806, concluded to be unconquerable by man, you can conquer in your grandmother's 1977 Buick Le Sabre. You can watch the trees grow more and more scraggly and earth-hugging, until finally, above 12,000 feet, no trees can live, and only craggy rocks flourish. You will not stop exclaiming “wow!” If you say “wow” really loud you might cause an avalanche, though.
The scenic drive from Colorado Springs to Canon City is especially picturesque, in a much gentler sort of way. Emerging from the city on State Road 115 you see the plains stretching out to the east. The area east of Fort Carson Military Reservation is rolling grassland populated by junipers, piñon trees, and sagebrush. If you look carefully from your car window you can see deer and elk, golden eagles, and prairie falcons.