Colorado Scenic Summer Drives
Winter’s snow is melting, and some of Colorado’s most breathtaking high mountain passes are getting ready to reopen for the summer scenic drives season. Twist your way through unbelievable Colorado scenery on these leisurely drives, perfect for no-agenda days.
This beautiful 44-mile route typically opens around Memorial Day, connecting Leadville to Aspen and topping out at 12,095 feet. (Snow closes the road in late October.) Follow the paved path as it climbs steadily past dozens of hiking trails and campgrounds in the shadow of some of the state’s tallest and most majestic peaks. Pull off to snap pics of 14,433-foot Mount Elbert or fish in the adjacent Roaring Fork River. Spend some time exploring above treeline and then descend into thick forests and extraordinary aspen groves.
Trail Ridge Road
Dubbed the highway to the sky, this national designated All American Road stretches 48 miles across Rocky Mountain National Park between Estes Park and Grand Lake. The road opens around Memorial Day when the snowpack melts and massive plows scrape away winter’s remains. A popular drive for millions of park visitors each year, Trail Ridge is the highest continuous auto road in the country and host to spectacular landscapes, glacier-carved valleys, pristine lakes and sweeping vistas.
Cache La Poudre Scenic Byway
This byway, also known as Colorado Highway 14, is a bit of a hidden treasure. Spiraling through the Poudre Canyon alongside the Cache La Poudre River, the roadway proceeds uphill until cresting at 10,276-foot Cameron Pass. Convenient pull-offs, campgrounds and riverside day-use areas are perfect for hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing and fishing in the trout-loaded river. Cameron Pass bridges the Medicine Bow Mountains and the Never Summer Mountains, housing thick populations of moose, elk and coyotes, while the sleepy town of Walden welcomes a steady stream of hunters.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Open to cars Memorial Day to Labor Day, the highest paved road in North America takes drivers to the 14,258-foot summit of Mount Evans. Turn off I-70 near Idaho Springs to access this narrow ribbon of a road and be sure to watch for cyclists along the way. Drive past three life zones, ancient trees and Colorado alpine tundra while gaining 9,000 feet in elevation. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pikas and marmots wander the top, snacking around turquoise lakes and bristlecone pine.
Drive this 236-mile loop for a true sampling of southwestern Colorado. You will delve deep into 5 million acres of San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests and pass through some of the state’s most iconic mining and resort towns. Durango, Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray and Silverton are just a few historic must-sees along the way. Climb through the rugged and remarkable San Juan Mountains before stopping to see ancient cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. Brake to view waterfalls and wildflowers and then stretch your legs while strolling and shopping in Telluride or pause for hot springs relaxation in Ouray.
For road conditions and more scenic drive ideas, visit cotrip.org.
By Lisa Blake