Julie United States 12 Comments

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

1. 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

Lily Lake and Longs Peak, located along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway

2. 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.

Mountain Goat best scenic drives in Colorado

Steve Boice/shutterstock.com

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.

3. 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.

Trail Ridge Road

Alpine Visitor Center and Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road Elk scenic drives in Colorado

Elk on Trail Ridge Road


Trail Ridge Road View

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 and information about the Timed Entry System on the National Park Service website.

USA Road Trips

4. 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. 

Top of the Rockies

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.

Leadville best scenic drives in Colorado


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.

5. Pikes Peak

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.

Pikes Peak

Road to Pikes Peak | Scenic Drives in Colorado


Pikes Peak Drive

Pikes Peak View scenic drives in Colorado

View from Pikes Peak | Scenic Drives in Colorado

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. 

6. Skyline Drive in Cañon 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.

Skyline Drive Canon City

Skyline Drive | Scenic Drives in Colorado

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.

7. 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.

Silverton best scenic drives in Colorado


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.

Million Dollar Highway

Million Dollar Highway | Scenic Drives in Colorado


Best Scenic Drives in Colorado

San Juan Skyway scenic drives in Colorado


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. 

Ouray scenic drives in Colorado


Just past Ouray, the loop continues on Highway 145, heading through Telluride, another historic mining town. The loop ends back in Cortez.

ROAD TRIP IDEA: If you are road tripping through Colorado to visit the national parks, this drive is a great way to get from Mesa Verde National Park to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. From Cortez, drive the San Juan Skyway through Durango, Silverton, and Ouray, then continue north to Montrose.

Colorado Travel Guide

8. Loveland Pass

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.

Loveland Pass Sign

Loveland Pass

Loveland Pass | Scenic Drives in Colorado

9. 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.

Photo of Colorado National Monument scenic drives in Colorado

Zack Frank/shutterstock.com

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 about Colorado

NATIONAL PARKS IN COLORADO: In our guide to the National Parks in Colorado, learn about all 4 national parks: Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, and Mesa Verde. Learn how to combine them all together into one epic road trip in our 10 Day Colorado Itinerary.

COLORADO ITINERARY: With 10 days in Colorado, road trip to all four national parks, linking them together with some very scenic drives.

BEST OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: For a list of top experiences, read our article Best Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. We also have a guide to the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and how to spend one day in RMNP.

BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON: In our article How to Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison, we cover the best things to do on the North and South Rims and include several itineraries to help you plan your visit.

USA ROAD TRIPS: Planning your next big adventure in the USA? Check our our USA Road Trip Guide for travel ideas and sample itineraries.


If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide and our Colorado Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.



Colorado Scenic Drives


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Comments 12

  1. Avatar for Mariano

    Hello my friends. You helped us a lot when we organized the previous trip to the western United States in 2021. Thank you! In September we will return and one of our destinations is Colorado. A first question is: is it advisable to dedicate two days to travel the San Juan Skyway? Will we have time to stop in some towns and do some trails? Something else….the most “dangerous” section, that is, without railings, is just the Million Dollar Highway? Is the rest of San Juan Skyway “less dangerous”? Maybe some of my travel partners are a little fearful! Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Mariano. Nice to hear from you again! We didn’t find the Million Dollar Highway to be all that dangerous. Relatively speaking, it is a wide road but there may have been a few sections without a guardrail. As far as dedicating time to the San Juan Highway, that depends on how much time you have overall and how much of that time you want to spend exploring the small towns and hiking a trail or two. If you are short on time, one day is probably enough, to see the highlights and hike one trail. But if you see several small towns you want to spend some time in, you could extend it to 2 days. For us, we had 3 weeks in Colorado and wanted to spend most of that time in the national parks and in Aspen/Snowmass, so we spent about a day on this highway. I hope this helps and have a great trip to Colorado! Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Mariano

        thank you so much! One of my plans is quite ambitious, hahaha. First, two weeks in the east, specifically in NYC, WDC and the Appalachians (Sehandoah NP and GSMNP), then I fly to Denver and from there approximately 8 days in the region (2 days in Band Lands NP and Wind Cave NP, then 3 days perhaps in RMNP, 2 days in San Juan Mountains – perhaps Black Canyon NP – I don’t know yet how I will organize the complete itinerary.

        1. Avatar for Julie Post
  2. Avatar for Steve Owens
    Steve Owens

    Hi Guys
    I am thinking of a road trip in Colorado this year and saw the map here for scenic drives in Colorado. You have an option to port it to my maps but google maps has dicontinued that. How can I get hold of this as it seems a great tour

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Since it is a Google map I don’t have any other way to get it to you. That function seems to come and go, I’m not sure why, but you can try again in a few days or manually enter the points we list into your Google Maps account. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for John & Dee Chapman
    John & Dee Chapman

    Mid May 2024 we will be traveling from Moab to Green River Wy. – We have never been to Western Colorado and we thought this might be a perfect time to do a five day loop around the area. We are into scenery and wildlife and can do some walking; we are seniors. Any thoughts on a route and best places to stop would be appreciated.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hi John and Dee. From Moab, you could drive south, maybe take a quick peek at the Needles on this drive, ending around Cortez. Spend a day in Mesa Verde National Park. Then drive the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton and Ouray, ending in Montrose. That evening or the next morning, visit the south rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, then drive to the Colorado National Monument and continue to Wyoming. You might have to play around with the timing of this but you’ll get to see 2 national parks in Colorado, a national monument, part of Canyonlands NP, and some scenic drives. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Paulo

    I need to chose which of these two routes to take between Mt Evans/Idaho Springs and Rocky Mountains NP:

    1. Peak to Peak highway followed by Old Fall River Road then Trail Ridge Road out to Mt Ida trailhead, then back to Estes Park and further east: 125 miles, 3 3/4 hours of driving according to Google Maps. Misses Grand Lake, Never Summer and a piece of Trail Ridge Road (but travel the main piece out and back).

    2. US40 followed by US34/Trail Ridge Road eastbound only to Estes Park and beyond: 120 miles, 3 hours drive. Including Old Fall River Road (and redo a small piece of Trail Ridge) adds 25 miles and 1 hour.

    What is your review of these two options?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Paulo. We have not driven US40 through Grand Lake so I will not be able to make a comparison with the Peak to Peak Highway. We liked the Peak to Peak Highway but the best views are going to be on Trail Ridge Road, in my opinion. From near Mt. Ida you will be able to see the Never Summer Mountains. Also, if you are doing this after mid-October, route #1 is better because you won’t be able to cut across the park on Trail Ridge Road. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Paulo

        I finally did both roads: Peak to Peak wins hands down. Much more scenic, more places to visit along the way and Trail Ridge Road is very worth driving out and back in my opinion. I suppose Grand Lake is good for boating/fishing, I am not into either of them.

        US40 also meets with the Continental Divide Trail. I am a CDT short hikes enthusiast, but I would never trade Peak to Peak for it.

        1. Avatar for Julie Post

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