Colorado is famous for its numerous outdoor activities. Want to hike a fourteener? Just pick from one of Colorado’s 54 peaks with summits over 14,000 feet. Want to go white water rafting instead? Colorado rivers have rapids suitable for everyone from the most inexperienced rafter to the most river savvy adventurer. But what about outdoor activities for people like my grandma, an 80 year old woman with high blood pressure whose daily walk to the mailbox is strenuous enough? It’s hard to image her summiting a fourteener or paddling down any kind of rapid. What do you do with people who are unable (or unwilling) to partake in more physical outdoor activities and yet want to enjoy the majestic, outdoor beauty of Colorado? You drive them of course. Colorado is blessed with numerous scenic drives all over the state where from the comfort of a car you can see the diversity and beauty of Colorado landscapes. Here are three of my favorite scenic drives in Colorado:
One of Colorado’s most accessible fourteeners is Mt. Evans, and it is also the closest fourteener to Denver only 50 miles west of the city. But it is not just its proximity to the state’s capital that makes it so accessible, it also has America’s highest paved road which ends within feet of the mountain’s 14,265 foot peak. Completed in 1927 the drive takes about two hours, more or less depending on how many of the scenic overlooks you choose to stop at during the trip up. Mount Goliath Natural Area with its 1600 year old bristlecone pines and Summit Lake, a good place to see mountain goats or bighorn sheep, are two of the most popular stops. The road ends near the top at the remains of the Crest House, a former restaurant and gift shop that burned down in the 1970s but whose ruins remain as a lookout. Visitors are free to explore the remnants of the structure or trek up the last leg of the trail to the summit of Mt. Evans. The view of the Rocky Mountains from the top is breathtaking, as is the drive back down due to the lack of guard rails along many stretches.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is an eight mile, scenic section of Highway 34 that cuts through Rocky Mountain National Park connecting Grand Lake (at the western entrance to RMNP) and Estes Park (at the eastern entrance to RMNP). Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous motorway in the U.S.A. reaching elevations of 12,183 feet, well over two miles above sea level. It gets its name from the path it follows along an old Ute Indian trail that hugs the mountain ridges and peaks. In addition to spectacular views of the park visitors can expect to see a plethora of wildlife including elk, deer, mountain goats, big horn sheep, moose, marmots, chipmunks, and birds during their drive. There are numerous places to pull-off during the drive whether to watch wildlife (Sheep Lake), have a picnic (Lake Irene), take a short walk (Many Curves Park), or learn about the history of the park (Alpine Visitor Center). Car trips along Trail Ridge Road can range from two hours to an entire day depending on how many stops are made and how long one chooses to linger on enjoying the scenery.
Connecting Denver to the southwest corner of the state, Highway 285 slices through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Along the 200 mile route visit Colorado landmarks like Coney Island, the restaurant shaped like a giant hotdog; enjoy aquatic adventures like rating on the Arkansas River or visiting Mt. Princeton Hot Springs; camp and hike in national forests; and end the journey in the San Luis Valley where the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado Gator Farm and the UFO Watchtower are all located.