Hit the Road with These Unbelievably Scenic Drives in Colorado

Colorado is a driving state. In fact, there are so many scenic drives in Colorado, you honestly can’t go far without bumping into a scenic byway sign.

I’ve spent the past 12 years driving through this beautiful state. Over the years, I’ve amassed a list of the most scenic drives in Colorado and how to get there.

These drives all offer jaw-dropping vistas, so be sure to pack your camera and be prepared to switch drivers in order to let everyone enjoy the view!

Not to mention, you’ll find several of these kick-ass drives at one of the many beautiful Colorado road trip stops.

If you’re looking for fantastic drives in Colorado, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve lived here for 12 years and as a full-time writer for the outdoors, I’ve made it my mission to comb the most beautiful places in Colorado every week.

It’s my mission to empower you to explore Colorado like a local, not a tourist. You won’t find better info on the best scenic drives in Colorado anywhere else on the web.

The Best Scenic Drives in Colorado

These scenic drives can be added to any Colorado itinerary. I’ve broken down this list of the best scenic drives in Colorado by region to help you plan the ultimate Colorado road trip or find a scenic drive near you. In this local guide, you’ll find:

  • When is the best time to visit Colorado for scenic driving?
  • Awesome recommendations for incredibly scenic Colorado drives
  • Scenic drives near Denver
  • The approximate mileage and time (one way for non-loops) for each drive
  • Things to do and points of interest nearby
  • A quick guide to driving in Colorado
  • Additional Colorado adventure resources

When is the Best Time to Visit Colorado for Scenic Driving

You can drive a lot of these routes year-round. However, many of the high passes close from late fall through late spring. So if you want to make the most of mountain driving, summer is the best time to visit Colorado if driving is your mission.

In the winter, you can tackle a lot of the scenic drives near Denver, scenic driving in the Four Corners Region, and along the western slope.

Fall makes for a beautiful time to visit Colorado – especially if you’re into the changing leaves. Many of the most beautiful places in Colorado for fall colors are along scenic driving routes.

scenic drives in colorado

A Map of the Best Scenic Drives in Colorado

You can find drool-worthy scenic drives throughout Colorado. Here’s a map of the best scenic drives to get you oriented.

map of scenic drives in colorado
For an interactive version, click here.

Scenic Drives Near Denver

You don’t have to go far from the Mile High City to find a spectacularly scenic drive. In fact, you can even squeeze a scenic drive into your weekend Denver itinerary. There are many amazingly scenic drives near Denver you don’t want to miss!

1. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Arguably one of the most famous scenic drives in Colorado, Trail Ridge Road is a must-do activity in Colorado. Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, this high-alpine drive delivers on views. It’s a $25 fee to enter the park.

Local Tip: This road is unmaintained and closes from mid-October until mid-June. Check for up-to-date conditions.

Time (one way): 1 hr 45 minutes
Mileage (one way): 48 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Rocky Mountain National Park hiking trails, scenic vistas, and plenty of wildlife viewing

Related: The Insider’s Guide to Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park

hiking in rocky mountain national park

2. The Poudre Canyon Near Fort Collins

As the longest scenic byway on the list, the Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway stretches 101 miles from Fort Collins deep into the northern Rockies of Colorado. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, but the road is pretty windy. Take the road partway, or use it as a way to get to the Never Summer Mountains.

Time (one way): 3 hours
Mileage (one way): 101 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Raft the Poudre River, rock climb in Poudre Canyon, camp, and hike.

3. Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Drive the highest paved road in the United States on this classic scenic drive in Colorado. Mount Evans Scenic Byway slithers its way to the top of Mount Evans, a famous Colorado 14er located just 40 minutes outside of downtown Denver reaching a hight of 14,264 feet above sea level! Take care to acclimatize properly, as I’ve even gotten altitude sickness on the drive up.

The road is open from the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend until the first weekend in October and there’s a fee of $10 per vehicle

Pro Tip: People frequently bike this road and there are no guardrails so share some space.

Time (one way): 1 hour 30 minutes
Mileage (one way): 28 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Scope out the views from a 14,000-foot peak, road bike, scenic fall driving.

A local's guide to the most scenic drives in Colorado. Drives with amazing and unique mountain scenery including the best views in Colorado. #travel #colorado #inspiration

4. Peak-to-Peak Byway Near Lyons, Colorado

For big-time mountain views, take the scenic way into Estes Park via the Peak-to-Peak highway. This winding mountain road boasts plenty of natural beauty including inspiring mountain vistas and a bird’s eye view of Estes Park – one of the prettiest Colorado mountain towns.

Local Tip: Check out this drive for fall. The mix of aspens and pines makes it one of the most scenic fall drives in Colorado! Don’t forget to stop at one of the many beautiful hikes in Estes Park along the way.

Time (one way): 2 hours
Mileage (one way): 55 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Visit Rocky Mountain National Park, check out Estes Park and Nederland, hiking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, ski at Eldora Mountain, epic fall foliage.

5. Guanella Pass

As one of the best fall drives in Colorado, Guanella Pass is a must-do scenic drive in Colorado. It features golden aspens, babbling brooks, scenic lookouts, and stunning views of Mt. Bierstadt – one of the most beautiful 14ers near Denver.

The road winds its way from Georgetown to Grant, connecting I-70 to Highway 285. No special vehicle is required, although the road does close in winter.

Time (one way): 1 hour
Mileage (one way): 22 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Some dispersed camping along the road, summit one of the easier Colorado 14ers, wildlife viewing, hiking, picnic spots, scenic pullouts.

6. Jones Pass

Many people overlook Jones Pass in favor of other more popular roads, but this is still one of my favorite scenic drives in Colorado. You’ll want at least a crossover SUV to make the steep, bumpy incline to the top of the pass. Best done from a short window in July through September, the pass is actually usually covered in snow towards the top (don’t worry, it’s still worth it.

If you can pass over the Continental Divide, you’ll end up in Bobtail Creek. Most people opt to out-and-back the pass. It’s also mega-worth it to get out and climb to the top of the hill if the pass is covered in snow (often happens year-round) for unbeatable views of the mountains.

Time (one way): 1 hour if the pass is closed, 2 if it’s open
Mileage (one way): 13 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Excellent dispersed camping, hiking the Continental Divide Trail (at the top of the pass), ATVing, skiing, sunset views, alpine views, wildflowers

camping at Jones Pass

7. Lariat Loop Scenic Byway

If you live in Denver, chances are you’ve actually been on this route and not even known it. The route starts in Golden and goes up Lookout Mountain. Take note of the amazing views of Golden (best seen in the late spring, when the hillsides are lush and green).

Then you’ll connect with I-70 in Genesse until you exit at Evergreen Parkway and loop back towards town via Bear Creek Road. There are plenty of amazing hikes near Denver, charming small towns, and beautiful parks to explore.

Local Tip: Go in the morning for a chance to spot elk, ram, and other wildlife.

Time: 1 – 2 hours depending on stops
Mileage: 40 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Check out some hikes in Evergreen, catch a sunrise or sunset on Lookout Mountain, eat in Evergreen or Golden.

8. Pike’s Peak Highway

Dream of standing atop a 14,000-foot mountain, but don’t have the effort to hike? Just outside of Colorado Springs, you can drive to the top of a Colorado 14er along the Pike’s Peak Highway. One of the best scenic drives in Colorado, this epic adventure has plenty of hair-raising hairpin turns along the tarmac road to the summit.

Local Tip: There’s a $10 charge per person ($5 per child) to use the road.

Time (one way): 1 hour 30 minutes
Mileage (one way): 19 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Enjoy the epic views, grab a donut in the warming hut at the top, check out Santa’s Village at the base.

mountain drives near denver

9. The Gold Belt Loop

If you’re into history and natural beauty, then take the path of the settlers along the Gold Belt Scenic Loop. Part paved and part rugged 4WD road, you’ll get a real taste of southern Colorado along this loop connecting Cripple Creek to Canon City.

Stop at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument to see petrified redwoods and 34-million-year-old insects. Continue onwards to Cripple Creek – where prospectors tried their luck at searching for gold (today you can gamble at a casino if that’s your thing).

Shelf Road and Phantom Canyon provide ample off-road options for the intrepid traveler.

Time: 5.5 hours
Mileage: 131 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: 4-wheel driving, rock climbing at Shelf Road, the town of Victor, Cripple Creek, and Canon City.

Beautiful Roads in the Sawatch and Elk Mountains

The mountains around Buena Vista, Aspen, and Crested Butte boast some of the best scenery in the state. This area is littered with excellent camping, world-class hikes, and plenty of water-based activities. You’ll also find some of Colorado’s most scenic drives.

10. Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway

Just outside of Leadville you can squeeze your way between the tallest and second tallest peaks in Colorado. Mount Elbert (14,439 feet) and Mount Massive (14,429 feet) stand like iron gates along the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway. Snaking over Independence Pass, this is one of the highest byways, rarely dipping below 9,000 feet in elevation.

Time (one way): 2 hours
Mileage (one way): 82 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Hike the tallest mountain in Colorado, fish, SUPing, hiking, off-road driving, and pristine camping.

11. Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway in the Sawatch

If you’re looking for fantastic drives with a view, you’ve got to check out the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway. This paved road makes its way across the base of the Sawatch Range. This spectacular mountain range is home to more 14,000 foot peaks than any other range in the country, 14 to be exact. So take your time craning your neck towards the sky along this classic Colorado drive.

Time (one way): 1 hour 30 minutes
Mileage (one way): 57 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Check out Buena Vista, Leadville, and Salida. Go white water rafting, hiking, mountain biking, and enjoy some of Colorado’s best free camping.

most scenic drives in Colorado

12. West Elk Loop

More of a vacation loop than just a simpy scenic byway, the West Elk Loop travels through Carbondale (near Aspen), Paonia, Crawford, Gunnison and Crested Butte. It’s a long stretch of utterly scenic driving with plenty to see and do. Although you can smash it out in a day, I recommend taking the weekend to enjoy this scenic Colorado mountain drive.

Time (one way): 7 hours
Mileage (one way): 205 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Gunnison National Park, explore Aspen and the Maroon Bells, bike in Crested Butte. Enjoy world-class high alpine fishing, hiking, mountaineering, and camping.

13. Kebler Pass near Crested Butte

Spoil yourself with endless aspen groves along Kebler Pass. Make your way from Aspen to Crested Butte along this beautiful slice of road. This scenic byway is ideal between late June through early October. Since some of the road is dirt, it becomes impassable over winter.

Time (one way): 1 hour 30 minutes
Mileage (one way): 31 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Aspen viewing, fall foilage, wildflowers, excellent camping, hiking, ATV riding.

A local's guide to the most scenic drives in Colorado. Drives with amazing and unique mountain scenery including the best views in Colorado. #travel #colorado #inspiration

Fantastically Beautiful Drives in the San Juan Mountains

With their deep red soil, the San Juan Mountains evoke a sense of awe and magic. This region of Colorado is known for its unbeatable Jeep trails and off-road driving. Ther are also several 14,000-foot peaks to hike nearby.

14. The Million Dollar Highway near Ouray

This iconically beautiful drive is actually a part of the San Juan Skyway. The stretch of road between Ouray and Silverton is unbelievable and insanely scenic. It might be my favorite scenic drive in all of the US. Make your way across red-capped peaks and spot the mining operations that put this part of Colorado on the map. As one of the top things to do in Ouray, this drive is a must-see.

Time (one way): 1 hour
Mileage (one way): 25 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Camp, hike, Ice Lake Basin, check out the historic mountain towns of Ouray and Silverton.

things to do in ouray

15. The Alpine Loop in Silverton

For a true off-road adventure, make your way across the Scenic Loop in Silverton. The Alpine Loop makes its way across the San Juan Mountains passing through the towns of Lake City, Ouray, and Silverton. I recommend a 4WD, high-clearance vehicle with a short wheelbase for the entire journey, but you can still experience 2/3rds of the route in a 2-wheel-drive vehicle.

Local Tip: You’ll need a suitable off-road vehicle for Engineer Pass, Cinnamon Pass, and Mineral Creek.

Time (one way): 5 hours
Mileage (one way): 65 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: ATVing, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and exploring small mountain towns.

16. San Juan Skyway

Another long, yet scenic drive in Colorado, the San Juan Skyway stretches from Durango to Telluride to Silverton. To see the best this road has to offer, consider spending a weekend along the route. This drive boasts epic mountain scenery with plenty of classic San Juan Mountain views. The byway eventually stops at Dolores and overlaps with parts of the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway and includes Million Dollar Highway.

Time (one way): 6 hours
Mileage (one way): 236 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Visit Telluride, Telluride Via Ferrata, check out the Millon Dollar Highway (stretch between Silverton and Ouray), hike, camp, climb, and see Mesa Verde National Park.

Scenic Drives on the Western Slope

There’s a saying here in Colorado, “west slope, best slope.” It’s easy to see why this area of the state gets so much love, it’s utterly beautiful. There are plenty of scenic drives in the area, many of which don’t have the crowds you’ll find closer to Denver and the Front Range.

17. Trail of the Ancients

Located in the southwest part of the state near the Four Corners region, you’ll find one of the most historic scenic drives in the country. Check out the sites of Lowry Pueblo, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park

Time (one way): 3 hours
Mileage (one way): 114 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Four Corners, desert hiking, camping, and Native American heritage.

best scenic drives in colorado

18. Flat Tops Trail

Take in the enchanting, mountainous beauty of the Northwestern part of the state as you embark on one of the best scenic drives in Colorado from Yampa to Meeker.

Because it is this picturesque trail through the amazing river valleys of the Flat Tops Wilderness that inspired the US government to first preserve large-scale wilderness areas.

This is also one of Colorado’s least traveled roads so you’ll probably have this drive all to yourself.

Time (one way): 5 hours with side trips
Mileage (one way): 82 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Ripple Creek Pass, Trappers Lake, and Milk Creek.

19. Unaweep Canyon Outside of Grand Junction

Just outside of Grand Junction lies one of the most unbelievable drives in Colorado. Make your way through the Unaweep Tabegauche Scenic Byway and be utterly amazed as you transition from red sandstone walls to deep valleys with dramatic granite cliffs rising on either side. Stop in Ridgeway to admire the scenery.

Time (one way): 3 hours
Mileage (one way): 130 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Rock climb at Unaweep, scenic fall driving, hiking.

most beautiful drives in Colorado

20. Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway

Technically this byway covers territory in both Colorado and Utah. The entire loop is certainly a worthy road trip unto itself, but the segment in Colorado crosses through all sorts of areas of interest including Colorado National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument.

Time (one way): It can be done in a weekend, but a minimum of 4 nights is best – there’s lots to see!
Mileage (one way): 512 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Arches, and Canyonlands National Park.

21. Colorado River Headwaters

This is one of those scenic drives in Colorado that will take you along the stunning upper portions of the Colorado River and show you exactly how mountain men, rustic ranchers, and various other adventurous souls used to live nearly a century ago.

So, venture out into the northwest portion of the state and marvel at the area’s many natural landmarks like the vribrant yellow Gore Canyon and the majestic peaks that surround Grand Lake.

Time (one way): 3 hours
Mileage (one way): 80 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: State Bridge, Routt National Forest, White River National Forest, Arapaho National Forest, Hot Sulphur Springs, Granby, and Grand Lake.

Other Scenic Drives in Colorado

These scenic drives in Colorado span throughout the rest of the state. From the lush prairies near the Nebraska border to the ranching valleys of Trinidad in the south there is an adventure for every adventurer.

22. Highway of Legends

This short but sweet scenic drive takes off west of Walsenburg along Colorado Hwy 12. Head towards La Veta and scope out the eerie rock formations coming out of the southern Spanish Peaks. You’ll climb the side of these sacred mountains as you enter the Cokedale National Historic District.

This short, yet fun drive delivers views and a glimpse into the Native American homelands of the Tarahumara tribe.

Time (one way): 2 hours
Mileage (one way): 82 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: views of the Spanish Peaks, unique rock formations, coal mine remnants.

23. Frontier Pathways

Another awesome scenic drive located in the southern mountains of Colorado, this trip takes you from Colorado City west through the stunning Sangre de Cristo mountain range into Westcliffe, then bounces back through the mountains to end at Pueblo.

What makes this scenic drive in Colorado so special is the unique history and plethora of side trips. Homesteads and ranches (including the oldest standing Spanish ranch in the American west) dot the landscape. The Ute natives used this route for trade and today it’s a scenic drive worth making at least once.

Time: 3.5 hours
Mileage: 103 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: mining towns, historic railroad, homestead, beautiful mountain scenery.

14. South Platte River Trail

A super-short, yet uber-historic scenic drive in Colorado the South Platte River Trail is actually an old Pony Express route. During the early summer, this is an excellent route as a stop on your way to nearby Lake McCounaughy, Nebraska.

Located just outside of the sleepy town of Julesburg, Colorado, this scenic drive is all about the old mail system and views of the South Platte River – a major water source for Colorado. If you’re looking for a slightly different adventure and for something to explore while you wait for the snow to melt in the high alpine, check out the South Platte River Trail and spend the weekend at Lake McCounaughy.

Time (one way): 30 minutes
Mileage (one way): 19 miles
Points of interest/Things to do: views of the South Platte River, fishing, camping, lake recreation.

scenic drives in colorado south platte

What Peaks Can You Drive to in Colorado?

There are several ways to reach the base of mountains in Colorado, but only a few of the most scenic drives in Colorado actually summit a mountain. The two peaks you can reach by passenger car are Pikes Peak and Mount Evans. Both have (paid) roads to the summit.

Other rough, 4×4 roads like Yankee Boy Basin,

Does Colorado Have Good Driving Roads?

The road in Colorado are quite well maintained. In early summer you might find some potholes, but all of the most scenic drives in Colorado that are paved stay maintained.

However, keep in mind, many of Colorado’s scenic drives are closed over winter. This is due to the difficulties of keeping roads snow-free at high altitudes. Famous routes like Trail Ridge Road close for winter. There is no set open or close date, so always check conditions before heading out.

If a road is unpaved, conditions can be hit or miss. In general, if no high clearance is required, but the road is unpaved, you’ll have plenty of washboard (small bumps) to contend with. Any route labeled high clearance, 4×4, 4WD, or a Jeep trail is a serious endeavor. These roads are typically not maintained and can be in bad shape for the inexperienced off-road driver.

Although many people flock to tackle scenic drives in Colorado that require high clearance, the average driver will find these roads to be pretty rough. For the avid 4×4 driver, there are plenty of challenges and adrenaline-inducing drops.

Never tackle these roads if there is snow (usually lasts until mid-June at least) and always read the latest reports for wash outs, snow, closures, and more.

Quick Tips for Driving in Colorado

In order to enjoy Colorado’s most scenic drives, you’ll want a little local driving knowledge under your belt. Here are a few quick tips for driving in Colorado:

Mountain traffic is real – plan accordingly and give yourself plenty of extra time to get from point A to point B, especially if you are traveling on I-70 or Highway 285.

The left lane is for passing. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of it all, but respect the local traffic laws and pull over if you’re causing a hold-up.

Colorado mountain roads can be very rough. Always make sure you have proper clearance if you’re going to travel on dirt.

Check out these Colo-radical resources for your next adventure.

Amazingly scenic drives in Colorado. A complete local guide to Colorado's scenic byways including the most photogenic areas of Colorado. Beautiful places to visit in Colorado. #travel #colorado #inspiration
Amazingly scenic drives in Colorado. A complete local guide to Colorado's scenic byways including the most photogenic areas of Colorado. Beautiful places to visit in Colorado. #travel #colorado #inspiration

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Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure. She'd rather be dirty than done up.