Independence Pass is the highest paved pass in North America, peaking at more than 12,000 feet above sea level, where dramatic mountains peaks soar into the nearly always bright blue skies. This is one of the most popular routes to Aspen from Denver or anywhere else along the Front Range, passing Twin Lakes as it descends to one of the state’s most beloved mountain towns. The scenery at the pass and all along the 44-mile route is some of the most jaw-dropping in all of Colorado, and arguably the most viewable from a major highway. Be sure to get your camera ready, and your hiking boots as you should really get out and explore it more in-depth.
The Peak to Peak Highway makes for an ideal road trip in Colorado for those looking for something closer to Denver. It offers the chance to see ghost mining towns, spectacular views of Longs Peak and the magnificent opulence of Victorian-era buildings. Begin in Blackhawk, where you might want to test your luck in the casinos, and then drive north towards Nederland, a place where the hippie spirit is alive and well. End your journey in Estes Park, where you can explore the famous Stanley Hotel, the very hotel that inspired Stephen King’s “The Shining,” and browsing the many shops and galleries that line the main street.
The only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River flows through Poudre Canyon, west of Fort Collins, stretching all the way to North Park, and the Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway is considered one of the state’s premier scenic highways, with its stunning cliffs and curious rock formations that are dotted with pines, mountain mahogany, aspen and sagebrush. If you want to get out and stretch your legs or get even more active, both the canyon and river offer a wealth of outdoor adventure opportunities, including whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, and mountain biking. Along the way, be on the lookout for deer and bighorn sheep that navigate rocky peaks and boulders.
Rocky Mountain National Park is jam-packed with majestic peaks that tower more than 12,000 feet, with plenty of scenic hiking trails to explore. It also hosts an extensive road system that provides visitors easy access to everything from lowland meadows, rivers and aspen groves to subalpine forests and even alpine tundra region. Trail Ridge Road is one of 10 America’s Byways in Colorado and a national designated All American Road. Its highlights include entire sweeps of the Rockies, in every direction. It stretches for 48 miles, from Estes Park on the east side of the park to Grand Lake on the west. At its peak, it winds across the tundra to its high point at 12,183 feet in elevation, offering jaw-dropping views and wildlife sightings, including elk, moose, bighorn sheep, marmots and more, right from the comfort of your vehicle.
This loop trip begins and ends at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, situated along its border with Utah. You’ll be able to channel your inner paleontologist while traversing a landscape that’s home to some of the most significant dinosaur fossils on Earth. Gaze at the wide open spaces highlighted by multi-colored rock formations, and checking out Carnegie Quarry, a world-renowned site with almost 1,500 visible dinosaur fossils and interesting interactive exhibits. You may want to stop in Fruita as well, the gateway to Colorado National Monument, and a remote high desert region that showcases a rich heritage and diverse flora and fauna with impressive monoliths and gorges.
This lesser-known, but no less spectacular drive, will bring you through the remote Flat Tops Wilderness of northwestern Colorado, beginning in Yampa and traveling through the White River National Forest to Meeker. It follows small forest service roads that once served as trails for the Utes, and features wide swaths of lush rolling hills, jagged mountains, river valleys and glistening glacial lakes. There are recreational activities galore, with everything from fishing the creeks and lakes, to hiking, mountain biking, four-wheeling horseback riding and more.
The Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway will not only take you through gold mining towns and historic stagecoach and railroad routes but awe-inspiring scenery and the prehistoric past of dinosaurs. The scenic loop drive begins in Florissant, home to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument which offers the chance to learn about prehistoric Colorado through thousands of detailed fossils of insects and plants as well as petrified redwoods stumps that are up to 14 feet wide. From there you’ll travel to the mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor, home to grand Victorians and charming old miners’ homes as well as numerous historic sites, before venturing to Florence and Canon City, and back again to Florissant.
The Million Dollar Highway follows the 25-mile stretch of US 550 between Silverton and Ouray. While this drive is known as one of the most heart-pounding in the country, with endless twists and turns right at the edge of sheer cliffs, it also brings some of the most jaw-dropping vistas on the planet. As you turn each corner, the views of the soaring, jagged peaks of the San Juan Mountains seem to get better and better. The towns at either end offer lots to experience as well. Ouray’s Main Street is lined with century-old Victorian buildings and old western mining town-style buildings, is registered as a National Historic District and also hosts a mineral hot springs pool. Much of Silverton is also designated National Historic District and there are a number of places for uncovering the past, like the old county jail, Old Hundred Gold Mine, and the Mayflower Gold Mill National Historic Site.