Colorado is the perfect road trip destination. The Rocky Mountains, the national parks and state parks, the historic towns, and the diverse landscapes are all linked together by some of the most beautiful drives in the United States. Drive some of the highest roads in the United States and twist and turn through verdant valleys and canyons. Here are 9 of the best scenic drives in Colorado.
About this List
This is not an all-inclusive list. The list of scenic drives in Colorado is very long. On this list are some of the most notable and popular scenic drives in Colorado, made famous by their spectacular views and sheer “wow” factor.
Many of these driving routes are through-roads, highways and byways that connect several destinations. Several of these drives simply take you to the top of a mountain for outstanding views. Here is a little road trip terminology:
Scenic Byway: A scenic route or tourist route; a specially designed road or waterway that travels through an area of natural or cultural beauty
Mountain Pass: A navigable route through or over a mountain range.
Note: All of these roads are paved so there is no need for a 4WD vehicle. You can see these scenic drives on a map at the end of this post.
Scenic Drives in Colorado
Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
Distance: 55 miles | Time: 2 Hours | Open: All Year
The Peak to Peak Scenic Byway connects Estes Park with Central City. It runs along the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado’s Front Range. This road traverses mountain peaks and goes through several historic towns before ending in Central City.
On this drive you get to see Longs Peak, the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. Mount Meeker, at 13,911 feet, can also be seen on this drive. Nederland is small, historic town and a nice place to stop for a bite to eat. Once in Central City, you can visit the casinos.
Lily Lake and Longs Peak, located along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Distance: 50 miles round-trip | Time: 2 hours | Open: Summer
This is the highest paved road in North America.
At 14,271 feet, Mount Evans is located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. You can drive to the summit of this lofty mountain on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
In just 28 miles, the road climbs over 7,000 feet, ending near the summit of Mount Evans. At its highest point it reaches 14,130 feet, making this is the highest paved road in North America.
Once at the summit, you get to enjoy panoramic views over the Rocky Mountains, views of the Continental Divide, and it is here that you have a very good chance to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
How to Do This: The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is typically open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, depending on weather conditions. Get updates here. To get here from I-70, take exit 240 in Idaho Springs, follow Highway 103 south until it reaches Echo Lake, then take Highway 5 to the top of Mount Evans. From Bergen Park, take Squaw Pass Road/Highway 103 to Echo Lake and then take Highway 5 to the top of Mount Evans.
Trail Ridge Road
Distance: 48 miles | Time: Half to Full Day | Open: Summer and early fall
Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved through road, not only in Colorado, but also in the entire US national park system.
Alpine Visitor Center and Trail Ridge Road
Elk on Trail Ridge Road
View of Rocky Mountain National Park from Trail Ridge Road
For 48 miles, this road runs from Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the west. 11 miles of this road is located in the alpine tundra, which is above the tree line. It reaches its highest point at 12,183 feet. Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass.
This is a gorgeous drive. Along the way, there is a good chance that you will spot bighorn sheep and elk. The views from the overlooks are stunning. A few great hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park start and end along this road. And you can also visit the Alpine Visitor Center, the highest visitor center in the USA.
Important: Trail Ridge Road is typically open from Memorial Day through mid-October. During the remainder of the year it is closed due to snow. Get updated road conditions on the national park service website.
Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway
Distance: 130 miles | Time: 4 to 5 hours | Open: All Year with the exception of Independence Pass
This scenic byway has several parts to it. It includes three mountain passes and several very historic towns.
Starting in Aspen, drive Highway 82 east towards Granite. Along this drive, you will cross Independence Pass, the highest paved state highway, crossing the Continental Divide. The summit of this pass sits at 12,095 feet. Parts of this road are narrow and winding and there are very short distances where the road is only wide enough for one car to pass.
Independence Pass is generally open from Memorial Day to late October depending on snowfall. It is closed the remainder of the year. Get updates on road conditions here.
Once you arrive at Highway 24, turn left and take Highway 24 north to continue on the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway.
Leadville, at 10,152 feet, is the highest incorporated town in the United States. This historic town was a boomtown in the 1880s, with its silver mines drawing famous figures like Doc Holliday, Susan B. Anthony, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Horace “Silver Dollar” Tabor.
At Leadville, this scenic byway forks. If you go right on Highway 91, you will cross the Continental Divide at the 11,318-foot Fremont Pass before arriving at Copper Mountain and I-70. If you go left on Highway 24, you will cross the Continental Divide at the 10,424-foot Tennessee Pass before reaching Minturn and I-70.
Highway 24 and Highway 91 are generally open all year, although they can briefly close after a big snowfall.
Pro Travel Tip: It can be 20 to 30 degrees cooler on these mountain passes (Mount Evans, Pikes Peak, Alpine Ridge Road, and Loveland Pass) than at lower elevations. Make sure you bring extra layers, even during the summer months.
Distance: 40 miles round trip | Time: 2 to 3 hours | Open: All Year
Driving to the summit of Pikes Peak is one of the most popular scenic drives in Colorado.
At 14,115 feet, this is one of the most prominent fourteeners in Colorado. It is located right outside of Colorado Springs and from its summit, Pikes Peak offers sweeping views over Colorado. On a clear day, you can also see Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.
View from Pikes Peak
There is an entrance fee to visit Pikes Peak, which you will pay at the base of the mountain, before starting the drive.
At the summit of Pikes Peak, there are restaurants, restrooms, and a gift shop. There are ranger-guided programs where you can learn more about the history, geology, and wildlife of Pikes Peak. And don’t miss the hot, fresh donuts at the Summit House…they are delicious!
Pikes Peak is generally open year round, although it can close after a heavy snowfall. For updated conditions and updated entrance fees, click here.
Skyline Drive in Canon City
Distance: 2.6 miles | Time: 15 minutes | Open: All Year
This short but sweet drive is also one of the most unique scenic drives in Colorado. This narrow, one-way road bounces up and down along a razorback ridgeline.
This road was built in 1905 by prison inmates, who in turn got a reduction in their prison sentences. Skyline Drive was built as a scenic drive to give visitors unparalleled views of the area. At first, it was only open to horse-drawn carriages, pedestrians, and bicycles but it was soon open to cars.
How to Do This: From Highway 50 in Canon City, turn right onto Skyline Drive (the entrance is marked on our map below). This one-way road heads south for 2.6 miles before ending back in town. There are no guardrails and the drop-offs on either side are 450 feet high. There are wider areas to allow other vehicles to pass.
San Juan Skyway and the Million Dollar Highway
Distance: 230 miles | Time: 1 day | Open: All Year
This is one of the most spectacular scenic drives in Colorado. The San Juan Skyway makes a big loop through the San Juan Mountains, connecting historic towns and two national parks.
Cortez is located on the southwest corner of this loop. This is the gateway into Mesa Verde National Park.
To drive the loop, head east along Highway 160 to Durango. This town was at its hey-day in the 1880’s during the mining of the San Juan mines.
From Durango, head north on Highway 550, through the San Juan National Forest and the Hermosa Cliffs.
The stretch of road between Silverton and Ouray is known as the “Million Dollar Highway,” since it reportedly took a million dollars per mile to build this road. Another legend has it that when the road was paved, it covered over a million dollars worth of gold and precious minerals.
This stretch of road is magnificent, with its twisting turns and high mountain views.
Ouray is a lovely, historic town. Soak in the hot springs, go shopping, or explore the Box Canyon waterfalls. Learn more about what to do in Ouray here.
Just past Ouray, the loop continues on Highway 145, heading through Telluride, another historic mining town. The loop ends back in Cortez.
Distance: 8 miles round-trip | Time: 1 hour | Open: All Year
Loveland Pass is a high mountain pass that is located south of I-70, between Vail and Idaho Springs. This pass sits at 11,990 feet.
To get here, it is a relatively short but steep drive from I-70. It is a steady 6.7% grade to the summit with numerous hairpin turns.
This is the highest mountain pass in Colorado that stays open during the winter season, although it can briefly close after large snowfalls. 2WD vehicles must carry chains during the winter months.
Rim Rock Drive, Colorado National Monument
Distance: 23 miles | Time: 1 hour | Open: All Year
This scenic drive is still on our to-do list but it looks absolutely amazing.
Colorado National Monument, with its red sandstone rock formations and mesas, looks more like it should belong in Utah or Arizona than in Colorado.
Rim Rock Drive winds along the edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau, offering stunning views of the red rock canyons and valleys.
There is a $25 fee per vehicle to enter Colorado National Monument.
Scenic Drives in Colorado: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the walking route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
If you have any questions about these scenic drives in Colorado, or if you want to share a scenic drive that we missed, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Colorado:
- ROCKY MOUNTAIN NP: 10 Best Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
- ROCKY MOUNTAIN NP: One Perfect Day in Rocky Mountain National Park
- ROCKY MOUNTAIN NP: Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary: Ideas for 1 Day to 1 Week
- BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON: 6 Great Things to do on the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
- GREAT SAND DUNES: 8 Amazing Things to do at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- MESA VERDE: Top 10 Things to do in Mesa Verde National Park
- COLORADO ITINERARY: The Perfect Colorado Itinerary: National Parks & Scenic Drives
If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.
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