Things to do / Travel Guide
Some of the most beautiful overlooks in the world are right in your own backyard - when your backyard happens to open up onto Rocky Mountain National Park, of course! For that matter, here's some trivia to put the larger picture into perspective: The line “For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain” from America's second anthem “America the Beautiful,” is talking about none other than the view of the plains and orchards from atop Pikes Peak. That song was written in 1893 by schoolteacher Katharine Lee Bates while she was journeying out to the West. Pikes Peak was (literally) the highpoint of her trip.
Some general info about mountain overlooks, particularly in Rocky Mountain National Park: anywhere above timberline, where it's pasture or rocky or some combination of the two, you can look down onto the trees, around you to the peaks in the near vicinity, and across valleys to the often snow-capped peaks in the distance. There is no shortage of these views, and the trick is to take in as many angles of the same peak as you can.
Scenic Overlooks on U.S. Highway 34 (Trail Ridge Road)
U.S. Highway 34, also known as Trail Ridge Road, is one of the most beautiful paved roads in the country. Traveling west on the highway, before you hit the Alpine Visitors Center, you'll reach Many Parks Curve. Park in this context means a meadow enclosed by mountains. Close by is Rainbow Curve, from which you have a good view of the Mummy Range.
Traveling west on U.S. Highway 34, within Rocky Mountain National Park, the road itself peaks above timberline around the Alpine Visitors Center before turning south and descending below timberline again. This area is your chance to get out, look around, hike a bit, and enjoy the 360-degree views of snow patches and craggy peaks against verdant valley, far below.
Also on U.S. Highway 34, past the Visitors Center traveling west, is Milner Pass. This is a great spot to look down on the bighorn sheep. Just a bit further and you encounter Farview Curve, from which you can see quite-a-far view of the Kawuneeche Valley, carved millions of years ago by the moving ice of a glacier.
Scenic Overlooks on the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway
Another great road on which there are many places to stop your car (rest that carburetor) or get off your bike (rest them legs!) is the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway, which gets you to Estes Park from Central City and Blackhawk. One great scenic overlook towers above the others: Traveling north, right after the Byway becomes State Road 7, but before Allenspark, there's a place to park and look around. To the north is Mt. Meeker and Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin.
Scenic Overlook at the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave
The final resting place and museum acting as tribute to Buffalo Bill Cody, the man who invented the Wild West, and made popular in America the ubiquitous Van Dyke goatee, was set on Lookout Mountain in 1917, upon the deceased's specific request. From the overlook at the grave you can see the plains stretching out before you and the great city of Denver.
Scenic Overlook from Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun
Rogers isn't buried here, but this shrine is a memorial for the man “who had a special gift for making the world laugh at its troubles.” It's a five-story tower located on Cheyenne Mountain, the top of which is at 8,136 feet above sea-level. From the tower's top deck you can see Colorado Springs, the Broadmoor Valley, and far off to the east.
Scenic Overlooks on Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs, is one of the tallest mountains in Colorado, and, at a height of 14,115 feet, can be seen from far off on the prairie of eastern Colorado. Most people take Barr Trail to the top, which from trailhead to summit is the greatest height gain for a trail in all of Colorado. You climb 7,00 feet in 12 miles. There's nothing on the hike that bars anyone in modest shape from reaching the top, however it is still considered a pretty difficult endeavor on account of the steepness.
If you don't want the hike, you can drive up in your car on a well-paved and historical road, and there's also the cog railroad to the top. The railroad is the highest such in the world, and a round trip, including 30 minutes taking in the views from the top, takes a bit more than three hours. The train departs from Manitou Springs, and makes eight trips a day. There are also great opportunities for fall foliage. All aboard!
There are plenty of scenic overlooks to check out along the way to the top of Pikes Peak, no matter your mode of transportation. But if you want to see what Ms. Bates saw that inspired her to song, then you have to get (by foot, car, truck, or the cog railway) to the summit. Once there, you can take the time to look down at the wildflowers if it's springtime. Otherwise, stationing yourself at the summit you can look out all the way to the Denver suburbs in the north, or the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges in the south towards New Mexico. Gazing out to the east, you'll view the fruited plain and (if you're lucky) the sea of grass stretching to Kansas. In addition, you can literally see the curvature of the earth from this peak, as you can from other summits in the area.
Scenic Overlook in Denver, Colorado
After all the hiking to get to the previously-mentioned scenic overlooks, you might not have energy to tramp up to Cheesman Park's Cheesman Memorial Pavilion. Fortunately Denver's pretty flat, so there actually isn't much tramping involved. Once in the strategically-placed and -designed pavilion, you'll have a spectacular 150-mile panoramic view of the Front Range. It just so happens that the pavilion is perched on a hill facing the mountains.
More Scenic Overlooks in the Eastern Colorado Rockies
We couldn't resist adding some more for you to try to fit in:
- There are several scenic overlooks on State Road 14, a scenic byway. It's a canyon road, so within Poudre Park you'll pass through the Big Narrows, with truly impressive rock formations on either side of the road. Shortly after the tiny towns of Rustic and Eggers, you'll come into viewing range of Profile Rock (formerly called “Old Man's Face”), to the south. After Profile Rock you'll soon reach Poudre Falls, a whitewater treat, to the north. There are places to hop along the rocks on either side of the river
- Really out of the way, but not too hard to get to, are the Redfeather Lakes. Just take State Road 14 west to Manhattan Road. There are many windy roads in this area, some of them dirt, but there are plenty of places to get out and check out the views.