Exploring Colorado: Road Trip Routes


With its towering peaks, rolling plains, and red rock canyons, Colorado road trip routes offer some of the most spectacular and diverse scenery in the United States. Crisscrossing this beautiful landscape are scenic byways and adventurous routes that offer road trip opportunities ranging from leisurely drives through quaint towns to national park trips to hair-raising excursions up precarious mountain passes.

Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, historical sites, local culture, or seasonal attractions, Colorado’s roads present memorable experiences around every bend. From world-famous routes like the Million Dollar Highway and Trail Ridge Road to off-the-beaten-path excursions to old mining towns and prehistoric landmarks, an unforgettable journey awaits when you hit the open roads of Colorful Colorado.


  • Colorado's scenic drives offer stunning mountain vistas, historical sites, outdoor adventures, wildlife viewing, and roadside attractions.
  • Famous routes include the Million Dollar Highway, Trail Ridge Road, San Juan Skyway, and Pikes Peak Highway.
  • Lesser-known gems wind through old mining towns, ghost towns, wine regions, and dinosaur fossil sites.
  • The diverse terrain and ecosystems support many activities and sights – from high alpine tundra to red rock canyons.
  • Every season offers its own unique sights, from fall foliage to winter wonderlands.

Overview of Colorado’s Scenic Drives

Crisscrossing Colorado’s diverse topography, scenic drives offer travelers breathtaking vistas and unique roadside attractions. Famous routes climb high mountain passes and wind through national parks and forests. Meanwhile, under-the-radar routes trace histories of mining booms and busts, stopping at former boom towns fading back into the landscape.

From the lofty heights of the Rocky Mountains to the plunging Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Pristine wilderness and vibrant outdoor culture make Colorado an adventure lover’s paradise. Scenic drives make the most of the state’s assets, serving up nonstop sights on journeys through quaint mountain towns, over soaring passes, and into stunning national parks and forests.

Local Experiences and Culture

Beyond Colorado’s famous sites, a wealth of authentic local experiences and cultural encounters await discovery on scenic byways. Routing through colorful mountain hamlets like Telluride, Crested Butte, Estes Park, Manitou Springs, and Steamboat Springs, road trips open doors to Arts and Crafts fairs, rodeos, beer festivals, and more. Travelers can try gold panning in old mining towns, explore Victorian architecture in preserved railroad towns, or shop for Native American art from the Ute and Apache tribes.

Historical reenactments bring frontier forts and 1800s homesteads to life. And scenic routes to Mesa Verde and other sites feature ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. For agricultural experiences, drives winding through North Park and the San Luis Valley offer insider views into cattle ranching and potato farming.

Scenic Byways and Natural Landscapes

From Rocky Mountain peaks to red rock canyons, Colorado’s landscapes astound. The 63-mile Trail Ridge Road passes through Rocky Mountain National Park, crosses the Continental Divide, and travels through three distinct ecosystems as it climbs over 12,000 feet. The San Juan Skyway loops through the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests, hitting highlights like the narrow, cliff-hugging Million Dollar Highway. Bear Lake Corridor is another can’t-miss, since it’s the most popular scenic drive through Rocky Mountain National Park.

For mountain majesty, Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway climbs to 14,264 feet for panoramic views. In northern Colorado, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway offers stunning vistas of the Front Range. The West Elk Loop winds through the West Elk Mountains, passing alpine lakes and the nation’s largest larch tree groves.

Not to be outdone, routes like the Silver Thread Scenic Byway cut through red rock canyon country, while the Pawnee Pioneer Trails take in wide open grassland vistas and pioneer town history. Near Denver, the picturesque Lariat Loop takes you to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater.

Colorado’s scenic drives showcase the state’s diverse beauty, from high mountain peaks to sand dunes and slot canyons.

Adventure and Outdoor Activities

With nature’s playground at your fingertips, Colorado roads facilitate endless outdoor adventures – from hiking and biking to rafting, fishing, skiing, and more. National parks and forests offer trails for all abilities. Experienced hikers can challenge one of Colorado’s 54 fourteeners, while sightseers can stroll wildflower-filled meadows. Adrenaline junkies can find white-knuckle rafting on the Arkansas River or mountain biking down Telluride’s acclaimed trails.

Zipping over mountain passes like Independence Pass on the Continental Divide route or climbing narrow, cliff-hugging roads like the Million Dollar Highway kick road trip adventures up a notch. The 486-mile Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway follows the Continental Divide Trail, treating travelers to wildlife viewing and sparkling streams. With nature’s playground all around, adventure is never far from the state’s scenic drives.

Historical and Cultural Landmarks

From Ancient Puebloan sites like Mesa Verde to Victorian railroad towns like Alamosa, Colorado’s backroads lead to historical and cultural treasures. The 236-mile Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway follows wagon ruts and frontier forts along the legendary Santa Fe Trail. The Silver Thread Scenic Byway winds through the San Juan Mountains mining country in southwest Colorado, passing remnants of the state’s gold and silver boom eras.

Other roads lead to petroglyph sites, Ute Indian museums, and once-bustling mining towns fading back into the landscape. The Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway approaches Dinosaur National Monument, where over 1,500 dinosaur bones are embedded in an exposed sandstone wall. The Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway tours Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites like the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area.

Seasonal Attractions and Events

The changing seasons paint Colorado’s landscapes in stunning hues and usher in unique seasonal events. Summer wildflowers and fall foliage create living works of art in the mountains. Winter blankets mountain peaks in glistening snow and lures skiers. And spring sends rapids raging and wildlife emerging with newborns in tow.

Festivals celebrating harvests, holidays, and milestones like ski season openings pepper the calendar. Scenic drives grant insider views of the action, like the sixty-peak fall foliage display along the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway. Or glimpse winter’s arrival on the Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway (formerly Mount Evans), when mountain goats descend from icy heights, and motorists can ski the road’s edge. From golden aspen groves to snow-dusted pines, the seasons showcase Colorado’s beauty.

Wildlife and Natural Reserves

With ecosystems ranging from high peaks to canyon floors, Colorado drives provide front-row seats for viewing diverse wildlife in their natural habitats. The Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway traces the state’s namesake river through forests and meadows filled with moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and more. At Mesa Verde National Park, motorists may spot mule deer or rare black bears amid the cliff dwellings. The Pawnee Pioneer Trails approaches bluff-top nesting grounds for hawks, eagles, and falcons.

From a safe distance, sightseers may even glimpse some of Colorado’s endangered species, like the Canadian lynx. Respecting park guidelines, road trippers can enjoy premier wildlife viewing opportunities across the state.

Culinary and Wine Experiences

Scenic drives also steer foodies to farm-to-table dining experiences, award-winning vineyards, craft breweries, and producers of Colorado mainstays like Palisade peaches and Rocky Ford cantaloupe. The Colorado Fruit and Wine Byway winds through Palisade’s vineyards and orchards, with farm stands and wine tastings beckoning along the way. Along the San Juan Skyway, Durango and Telluride boast top-rated farm-to-table restaurants and craft breweries to refuel road trippers.


The following FAQs provide information to help you plan your Colorado road trip itinerary for the experience you want..

What are the top 5 most scenic drives in Colorado?

The top 5 most scenic drives are:

1. Trail Ridge Road

2. Million Dollar Highway

3. Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway

4. San Juan Skyway,

5. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway

What is the most dangerous road in Colorado?

The Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton is one of Colorado’s most perilous roads. Hugging steep cliffs without guardrails, it leaves little room for error.

Where can you see the best fall foliage in Colorado?

The Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway near Cedaredge traverses towering stands of vibrant aspens that glow gold in fall. Cripple Creek’s Phantom Canyon Road also provides gorgeous fall vistas.

Is there a scenic drive with hot springs along the way?

Yes, the 800-mile Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop will take you on a journey to visit 23 natural hot springs in western Colorado.

Is there a scenic route to see Colorado National Monument?

The 23-mile Rim Rock Drive gives you not-to-be-missed views of the scenery of Colorado National Monument. Be aware that the road gets pretty narrow in some spots!

What is the highest paved road in Colorado?

At 14,264 feet, Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in Colorado and the second highest in the US.

Where can you see ancient cliff dwellings in Colorado?

Mesa Verde National Park has 600 preserved cliff dwellings built by ancestral Puebloan peoples. Also, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument contains over 6,000 archaeological sites. Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway will get you to both destinations.

Avatar photo

About the author

Simone Weisman

My deep appreciation for nature and active living strongly aligns with the vibrant outdoor culture of Colorado. My enjoyment of yoga, hiking, and exploring scenic trails provides me with a unique perspective that I bring to ReadyColorado.com. This personal passion enriches my ability to connect with and inspire our audience, whether they’re local residents or visitors seeking to explore all that Colorado has to offer.