Must-See Scenic Byways in Colorado for Your Road Trip

If you’re looking for some of the best views in Colorado, in these cases, you don’t have to step out of your car. Colorado is home to 26 different scenic and historic byways, winding through mountain towns, atop peaks, down into valleys and through archeological sites. Eleven of the byways are also federally designated as America’s Byways, more than any other state in the nation.

This is a distinct group of 150 roads across the country. In addition, two of Colorado’s byways are considered All-American Roads. Ten are National Forest Scenic Byways. Two are Backcountry Byways, designed by the Bureau of Land Management.

What this means is Colorado’s byways are renowned on multiple levels and some of the most significant roads in the country. Beyond just great routes for road trips, these roads also help preserve Colorado’s history, culture, and environment.  

  • 01 of 04

    Trail Ridge Road

    Jeep driving on Trail Ridge Road
    ••• Trail Ridge Road. Andrew Peacock/Getty Images

    Trail Ridge Road is a popular tourist destination in warmer months that brings you far, far above Estes Park and deep into the Rocky Mountain National Park, even above treeline, where it’s too high for much to grow other than tundra.

    Trail Ridge is famous for being North America’s highest paved through-road. It will take you past the Continental Divide (a must-see in Colorado; that’s the split in the continent where water flows in two different directions, like being on the apex of a pointed roof) and connect you all the way to Grand Lake, another mountain town worth staying a few nights in.

    Trail Ridge is iconic and one of the most scenic spots in the state. It’s also a member of the National Register of Historic Places.

    Learn more about planning a road trip up Trail Ridge here. Don’t miss our insider’s guide on a lesser-traveled way to summit this famous byway.

  • 02 of 04

    Top of the Rockies

    Leadville, Colorado
    ••• Leadville is the highest incorporated city and the second highest incorporated municipality in the United States. Pawel Toczynski/Getty Images,

    If you’re up in the mountains visiting the popular resort towns of Vail or Beaver Creek, give the Top of the Rockies byway a whirl. This amazing road weaves past two of the state’s highest peaks, Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, as you drive between the high-altitude, mountain towns of Leadville (the highest incorporated city in the country, at 10,521 feet), Minturn, Twin Lakes and the ski town, Copper Mountain.

    See historic mining structures, mountain lakes, museums and get a breath of fresh air in quaint, humble, tiny towns that are an interesting juxtaposition to the wealthy, luxurious ski towns in the area.

    Bonus: You’ll also cross the Continental Divide three times.

  • 03 of 04

    Grand Mesa

    Grand Mesa
    ••• The night sky over Grand Mesa. B.E. Butler/Getty Images

    Whereas Trail Ridge brings you to the highest through-road in the nation and Top of the Rockies brings you to the highest incorporated city in the country, Grand Mesa will whisk you atop the world’s largest flattop mountain, the Land’s End Overlook — 6,000 feet above the valley.

    This is a side of Colorado many travelers aren’t aware of. Down south, between I-70 and Cedaredge, Grand Mesa passes through old forests, orchards, expansive vistas and an amazing 300-plus lakes.

    Although the overlook is closed during the winter, Grand Mesa will take you to the lesser-known ski resort, Powderhorn, which claims to have some of Colorado’s softest snow, natural runs, and short lines.

  • 04 of 04

    Mount Evans

    Mount Evans byway
    ••• The Mount Evans highway. Don Grall/Getty Images

    While Trail Ridge gets to boast it’s the highest, paved through-road in the country, the Mount Evans byway is the highest paved road in North America, hitting a crazy 14,262 feet at the top of Mount Evans.

    So even if you can’t actually climb a “fourteener” (that’s a mountain that surpasses 14,000 feet above sea level), you can still see the view from atop one, without ever breaking a sweat. (Well, that’s assuming these winding roads don’t make you sweat in fear. Prepare yourself for crazy switchbacks with no guardrails.) For perspective, this road goes higher than many clouds hover.

    The views will amaze you with mountain lakes, ancient trees and the potential to see some bighorn sheep.

    This beautiful road starts at Idaho Springs, a mountain town just west of Denver and not far from Blackhawk and Colorado’s casino pocket.