Home to the Rocky Mountains, world-class ski resorts, pristine mountain lakes, and vibrant city life, it’s no wonder why so many people decide to travel to Colorado!
If you really want to get a first-hand experience of the diverse landscape and appreciate the mountain-top vistas, it’s a good idea to check out some of the best scenic drives in Colorado. The state has tons of nationally and state-recognized byways, and in this guide, we’ve highlighted some of the most scenic roads in Colorado as well as travel tips for planning a successful drive.
Be sure to have your camera ready for the views you’ll get while traveling the narrow switch-back mountain roads and cruising along the edges of canyons on one of these routes!
1. Colorado Scenic Drives: Mount Evans Scenic Byway
- Distance: 50 miles (round-trip route)
- Time needed: 2-6 hours
If you’re looking for excellent drives in Colorado for mountain scenery, then it doesn’t get much better than Mount Evans Scenic Byway. This route is famous for being North America’s highest paved road, and the views certainly won’t disappoint!
At the highest point, the drive is 14,130 feet, where you’ll get a jaw-dropping vista of the Rocky Mountains.
This is also one of the best scenic drives near Denver since it begins just 60 miles outside the city. If you’re staying in Denver, it’s easy to turn Mount Evans Scenic Byway into a fun day-trip adventure.
Along the way, it’s definitely recommended to make a stop at Echo Lake. There are picnic tables next to this pristine alpine lake, or if you’re interested in more outdoor activities, you can hike or fish here as well.
When to go: This Colorado scenic byway is open year-round, but sometimes driving conditions in the winter can be challenging.
2. Colorado Scenic Drives: Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway
- Distance: 130 miles
- Time needed: 5 hours to 1 or more days
Not only a top drive in the state but also designated as a National Scenic Byway, this is one of the mountain roads in Colorado that will bring you on narrow switchback turns up to 12,095 feet into the Rocky Mountains.
Two of Colorado’s “fourteeners” (peaks over 14,000 feet) can be seen from this drive-Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. You’ll also cross over the Continental Divide several times for some incredible views on both sides of the Rockies and of the Arkansas River.
The section of this drive-through Independence Pass is only open seasonally, but this part is considered one of the most scenic roads in Colorado. Other parts remain open year-round, although there is always the chance of road closures in the winter on account of snow accumulation.
It would be easy to turn this Colorado scenic byway into several days of adventure. Three national forests (Pike, San Isabel, and White River) are all crossed in the drive, each of which has opportunities for camping, horseback riding, and fishing.
Notable cities along the way include Aspen, Leadville, Minturn, and Copper Mountain, which is one of Colorado’s top ski destinations in the winter.
When to go: Sections are open year-round but not at Independence Pass. Always check for road conditions and closures before starting.
3. Colorado Scenic Drives: San Juan Skyway/Million Dollar Highway
- Distance: 230 miles
- Time needed: 1-3 days
Without a doubt, one of the most scenic roads in Colorado, the San Juan Skyway is one of the most popular road-tripping destinations in the United States!
Looping through the San Juan Mountains, this drive will take you through Durango, parts of the Mesa Verde National Park, and the famous stretch of road called the “Million Dollar Highway” between the towns of Ouray and Silverton. No one really knows how the Million Dollar Highway got its name, but perhaps it’s simply because any of the views are worth a million dollars!
For most of the route, the drive is a two-lane road hugging close to the sides of the mountains. You’ll definitely want to slow down around corners, but the drive is well-maintained and open year-round.
Some of the towns, like Ouray also have interesting historic sites to visit where you can learn about early colonial settlers and mining projects in the region.
For a little side trip, visit the cliff dwellings of historical civilizations in Mesa Verde National Park. Some of these dwellings you can visit on your own, while others, like the Long House, must be part of a ranger-guided tour.
When to go: The drive is open year-round, but it’s recommended to check road conditions in winter.
4. Colorado Scenic Drives: Rim Rock Drive
- Distance: 23 miles
- Time needed: 1-4 hours, depending on stops
Rim Rock Drive is the road to take if you want to visit Colorado National Monument. This preserved area close to Grand Junction is the postcard face of the Wild West and one of the most scenic roads in Colorado, thanks to its canyons, sandstone towers, and iconic red rock landscape.
You may already be able to guess from the name the route that Rim Rock Drive will take you along the rims of the rocky canyons in the monument. Winding back and forth between the sandstone towers, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get out to take photographs, thanks to the numerous look-out points along the way.
The drive is short enough to be a fun afternoon excursion, or you can turn it into a day trip if you want to add on exploring one of the hiking trails along the way.
Keep in mind that although the road is well-maintained, sections are a bit challenging on account of the sheer cliff faces and narrow turns. This is also a popular cycling and motorbike route, and wild animals such as antelope or bighorn sheep will sometimes cross the road. As such, this isn’t the best Colorado drive if you’re afraid of heights.
When to go: The drive is open year-round, but temporary closures can happen because of rock falls or winter weather.
5. Colorado Scenic Drives: Pikes Peak Highway Scenic Drive
- Distance: 40 miles (round trip route)
- Time needed: 2-6 hours
Pikes Peak is one of Colorado’s most famous fourteeners and stands at a towering 14,115 feet. This is also one of the best scenic drives near Colorado Springs, since the route begins just outside of the city.
The Pikes Peak Scenic Highway takes you to the very summit of the mountain, where not only will you get views of Colorado but also into nearby states like Utah and Arizona if the day is clear!
At the base of the drive near the outskirts of Colorado Springs, you’ll need to pay a small entrance fee at the toll house to access the drive. At busier times of the year, sometimes reservations are required, so be sure to check in advance if you want to include this Colorado scenic drive in your road trip itinerary.
Along the way, there are several hiking trails, such as Barr Trail and the Devils Playground, which have pull-off access points where you can park. Fishing is also popular in one of the three mountain lakes you’ll pass climbing up the mountain.
At the top of the drive, there’s a visitor center with a gift shop and restaurants where you can enjoy a well-earned meal overlooking the mountains. Keep in mind, though, that there aren’t any gas stations, so make sure you’ve got a full tank before heading out.
When to go: The drive is open year-round but can sometimes be closed for a period of time on account of weather or rock falls.
6. Colorado Scenic Drives: Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
- Distance: 55 miles
- Time needed: 3-5 hours
The Peak to Peak scenic byway is one of the top scenic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park, and although the name suggests just two mountains, you’ll really be traveling around several notable peaks. It also happens to be the oldest designated scenic byway in Colorado!
Perhaps the most noteworthy is the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak. There are several places to stop on the drive to get some great photos of this mountain, such as the iconic St. Malo’s Chapel, also known as “The Chapel of the Rocks” in Allenspark.
Not only will you get spectacular mountain scenery on this Colorado drive, but you’ll also pass through several fascinating historic towns. Nederland is a great place to stop to grab a bite to eat at one of the local coffee shops and stop by the Mining Museum. Families can visit the iconic Carousel of Happiness which is known for its historic hand-carved figurines.
This scenic drive connects Central City with Estes Park, which are both great places to stop to spend the night. Along the way, there are also opportunities for hiking, visiting alpine lakes, camping, and fishing if you’re looking to add more adventure to the drive.
When to go: Fall is considered a particularly spectacular season for this Colorado scenic byway thanks to the bright autumn foliage. The drive is open year-round, but winter can sometimes have more challenging road conditions.
7. Colorado Scenic Drives: Flat Tops Trail Byway
- Distance: 82 miles
- Time needed: 2-6 hours, depending on stops
Traversing the Flat Tops Wilderness, this is a great scenic drive in Colorado if you’re hoping to explore some of the lesser-traveled roads in the state.
The drive connects the small towns of Yampa and Meeker, both of which are known for their outdoor activities, such as fishing on the Yampa River. Meeker is also famous for its annual Meeker Classic Sheep Dog Championship Trials, which usually take place in early fall.
Keep in mind that most of this drive is on a gravel road, which is excellent if you’re hoping to experience a more secluded and off-road feeling than you’ll have on other scenic drives in Colorado. There also aren’t any places to stop to gas up along the way, so make sure you start out with a full tank and snacks and drinks for the drive.
When to go: Spring through fall are the easiest times of year to drive this Colorado byway, but winter also gives you a chance to check out excellent snowshoeing and snowmobiling areas.
8. Colorado Scenic Drives: Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway
- Distance: 103 miles
- Time needed: 3 hours to 1 day
As the name of this drive might suggest, this is one of the scenic highways in Colorado that combines both the history and natural beauty of the state. Much of the road follows the original traveling routes of settlers and Native Americans who moved westward.
Along the way you’ll also pass through charming historic towns like Westcliffe and Wetmore which are known for being early mining towns with quaint downtown areas where you can find local shops and Victorian-style buildings.
Make sure you plan for a stop at the iconic Bishop Castle, nicknamed “The Largest One-Man Construction Project in the Country.” This 160-foot-tall castle was built by Jim Bishop and is located just off Highway 165 along the drive. It’s free to visit and a great spot to get some photos of your road trip through Colorado!
This drive is short enough to do in an afternoon, but there are enough interesting spots that you could easily turn into a two- or three-day trip if you want to stop and camp or spend a night at a mountain cabin.
When to go: Any time of year is good to drive this route but be sure to check for road conditions especially in winter.
More Driving Inspiration In the Rocky Mountain Region
If you’re looking to hit the road in Colorado and beyond through the country’s west and Southwest, you may also be interested in:
- Our epic Denver to Grand Canyon Itinerary – cross the Rocky Mountains and take in the Utah Mighty 5 and the natural wonders of northern Arizona
- Don’t miss these 10 incredible scenic driving route ideas through Arizona
© Family Road Trip