DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado really is the most beautiful state in the country, and if you’ve never taken the time to appreciate it, then you’re truly missing out. There are 26 different scenic byways in Colorado that take you through many different historic sites and thousands of acres of incredible scenery. From panoramic vistas that highlight Colorado’s red rock canyons to the soaring Rocky Mountains to the calm and peaceful Colorado prairie, there are lots of different roads that you can take to enjoy a few hours of scenic bliss. Here are a few of the best, most scenic drives near Denver.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is one of the most iconic roads in the entire country. It’s the highest continuous road and the highest byway in the United States and is one of the few roads that is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The route starts out in Estes Park and ends in Grand Lake and meanders about 20 miles through Rocky Mountain National Park, where you can see stunning panoramas of glacier-carved peaks and valleys until you cross the Continental Divide. Near the end of the road (following several switchbacks) is a small trail that can take you into the town of Lulu City, an old, abandoned mining town that dates back to the 1880s. It’s a fascinating diversion, or you can stick to the road itself to get amazing views of Estes, Moraine and Horseshoe Parks. Be sure to check the weather, as snow often results in the road shutting down for safety. The road is also fully closed in the winter months.
The historic Lariat Loop was one of the very first routes that the City of Denver developed to help bring more Denverites up to the mountains, it connects the towns of Evergreen, Kittredge, Morrison, Idledale and Golden. The loop itself takes its name from the historic Lariat Trail and offers plenty of places to stop to admire Colorado’s stunning mountainous peaks. You’ll also head right by Buffalo Bill’s Museum and Grave, where you can stop for a short one-mile hike to the grave site, or you can just peruse the museum to stretch your legs a bit. The Lariat Loop is about 40 miles in length, so it’s the perfect two hour diversion for a sunny Sunday afternoon or a great way to show off the beauty of Colorado to some visiting friends or family.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Colorado is known for its fourteeners but you don’t have to be an avid hiker to take advantage of this one. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America, with amazing views of alpine lakes, huge granite walls and plenty of wildlife, including mountain goats and bighorn sheep. The road rises to 14,130 feet above sea level and you’ll drive high above the tree line. There are a lot of switchbacks and several parts of the road have no guard rails, so be sure to drive with caution. Once you near the top, it’s a short hike from the parking lot to the summit of Mount Evans, which is the perfect spot to get out of the car to admire the splendor of the gorgeous Rocky Mountains. Give yourself about two hours to drive this one. This is best as a summer adventure because snow will close the road for winter. It typically opens around Memorial Day, if crews can get it cleared.
South Platte River Trail
Not every scenic byway in Colorado is filled with mountain roads and switchbacks. The South Platte River Trail is all about the Colorado prairie and is packed with Western history, making it a fantastic drive for those looking for a quick diversion. This 19-mile loop takes you through Colorado’s only Pony Express station in Julesburg to the Lincoln Highway, passing the former location of Fort Sedgwick, which was established in 1864. As you drive the short byway, you’ll find lots of informative placards and even the Colorado Welcome Center in Julesburg so you can get all the history and information about this historic trail. Keep your eyes peeled and you may even see the occasional deer, antelope or even a bald eagle.
Top Of The Rockies
The Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway connects Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the two tallest peaks in Colorado. It starts out at the Arkansas River and winds through several different towns and scenic spots. When you need to stop to stretch your legs, stop off in Leadville which, at 10,521 feet, is the highest incorporated city in the country. There are lots of fascinating historic sights to see in Leadville, including the Tabor Opera House and the National Mining Museum. Or just enjoy the two-hour drive as you cross the Continental Divide three times as this road takes you from Leadville to Twin Lakes and Copper Mountain. Either way, you’ll find lots of beautiful views and several places to stop for some incredible photo opportunities.
The original version of this post appeared on CBSDenver.com in 2015 and was written by Deborah Flomberg at Examiner.