The first signs of fall are in the air in Boulder County, especially at the higher elevations near Ward, Jamestown, Allenspark and Nederland. The nights cool off quicker, there is dew on the grass in the mornings, and the trees in the high country are showing signs of changing. Now is the time to grab someone you love (or at least enjoy spending time with), a pumpkin spice latte (this is a must) and hit the road for a scenic drive through some of the Colorado’s most scenic areas. Here are my top 5 favorite scenic fall drives in Colorado.
1. Peak to Peak Highway.
The Peak to Peak highway (Hwy 72) is actually the oldest scenic byway in the state. It starts in the casino town of Blackhawk and wanders its way through or near old mining towns like Nederland and Ward to its final destination of Estes Park. I personally love to stop at the Long’s Peak viewing pull off near Twin Sisters Peak and take in views of the highest point in Boulder County, most northerly fourteen-thousand-foot peak (14er) in the Rocky Mountains, and one of the most grand, unique and impressive mountains anywhere in the world. This 55-mile drive takes you through some of Colorado’s most coveted public lands and ends at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).
Local’s Secret: Try heading up Left Hand Canyon Drive, through Ward, connect to Peak to Peak Hwy and then head toward RMNP.
2. Trail Ridge Road.
Trail Ridge Road is located in RMNP and is the highest continuous paved road in North America. It starts in Estes Park on the east side of RMNP and continues to Grand Lake on the west. You climb to more than 12,183 feet and look down over the beautiful valleys below. While you are in Rocky Mountain National Park during the fall you must stop, watch and listen to the elk as they bugle.
Local’s Secret: If you want to take the road less traveled, opt for Old Fall River Road up to RMNP’s Alpine Visitor’s Center. This is a one-way road that heads west through the Park. It is sure to give you some of the most beautiful views and is usually less busy than Trail Ridge Road. For a period of time it was the only auto road to RMNP’s high country and most people don’t even know it exits!
3. US 34 Big Thompson Canyon.
Highway 34 is my favorite way to travel to Estes Park any time of the year, but it is truly spectacular during the fall. Start your journey in Loveland, Colorado and head west, following the Big Thompson River. This route was routinely closed for reconstruction after the 2013 flood but it is open again year-round as of Spring, 2018. You could still be stopped for delays until reconstruction is complete (estimate to be December, 2018) but even with some delays the drive is still well worth it.
Local’s Secret: Looking to extend the drive? Turn west on Hwy 43 near Drake. Go through Glen Haven down to Estes Park. It’s a beautiful, secluded road with many Aspen groves.
4. San Juan Skyway.
The San Juan Skyway is also known as the Million Dollar Highway. It cuts through the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests and through the old mining towns of Durango, Silverton, Ouray and Ridgeway. This route, with all there is to see, can easily be broken down into two or three days. There are many jaw dropping cliffs and majestic vistas. It truly offers million-dollar views; this is the type of drive you will remember for a lifetime.
5. Cache La Poudre – North Park
Many people know there is a South Park, Colorado but did you know there is a Middle Park and a North Park? The Cache La Poudre Scenic Byway will take you to view the beauty of the lesser known North Park Valley where deer, elk and moose wander freely. This valley was named by French fur traders and little has changed in the landscape since. Take Hwy 14 west of Fort Collins and then north toward North Park.
Local’s Secret: Bring a pair of binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for big horn sheep. Fall is their mating season so you might be able to see two males butting heads.
Colorado is home of 26 scenic and historic byways so these 5 are just the beginning of your exploration of this beautiful state that we are so fortunate to call home.