The Mile High City is literally a mile above sea level, yet despite its lofty elevation, Denver isn’t actually in the mountains. Drivers heading west from the city, however, quickly find themselves in the foothills of the Front Range and ascending ever higher into the breathtaking Southern Rockies.
Covering nearly 900 miles, this lengthy but amazing road trip ties together some of Colorado’s most spectacular mountain scenery including the popular 232-mile high-altitude loop known as the San Juan Skyway. Beginning in Denver, the route follows surprisingly scenic I-70 to Grand Junction by way of the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel, which is more than 11,000 feet above sea level.
Once you reach the San Juan Skyway at Ridgway, this road trip really reaches for the stars, with many of the surrounding peaks exceeding 13,000 feet. As you drive, you’re treated to breathtaking vistas that include ponderosa pine forests, picturesque rock formations and jagged ridgelines reflected in deep blue lakes.
Beyond the San Juan Skyway, the route takes you to Colorado Springs by way of US 50, and into Curecanti National Recreation Area. Here you can take a break for photos along the shores of Blue Mesa Reservoir, one of the largest lakes in Colorado.
Beginning in cosmopolitan Denver with all its urban diversions and fun things to do, this road trip follows scenic US 36 through Boulder to Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Another trip you might be interested in is AAA’s Trail Ridge Scenic Road
, the national park’s main road. Winding 62 miles along mountainsides and crossing the Continental Divide, the incredibly scenic byway is lined with pullouts for your picture-taking pleasure.
From Estes Park to Nederland, the route includes the Peak to Peak Highway, one of the state’s oldest scenic byways and one of the best places to enjoy autumn colors thanks to the glorious aspen trees that line the way. (For another fantastic trip that covers a portion of this same route, read Peak to Peak Scenic Byway: Lyons to Estes Park
The road trip ends in Boulder, where Pearl Street offers a pedestrian-friendly place to shop in quirky stores and fashionable boutiques as well as sample a wide variety of cuisines. Visible from Pearl Street, the nearby Flatirons are a series of slanted sandstone formations accessible via hiking trails that offer yet another way to experience the Centennial State’s rugged beauty.
Both of these road trips depart from Denver and head west into the mountains, visiting some of the state’s most famous ski resorts. Aspen, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Winter Park are all cold weather playgrounds you’re likely to have heard of, whether you’re a skier or a snowboarder or just someone who loves curling up by a fire in comfy lodges or soaking in hot tubs or mineral springs on a snowy day. Of course it goes without saying that the drives themselves serve up some amazing mountain scenery that includes former mining towns, swift-flowing rivers popular for white-water rafting and snow-capped mountain crags.
If you’re looking for thrilling high-elevation driving, then this is the route for you. This trip departs Denver heading southwest along the Rocky Mountain Front Range into areas that are both rugged and sometimes desolate. You’ll see lush meadows, dry plateaus and soaring peaks as you navigate this forbidding but awesome territory. Among the highlights are Royal Gorge Bridge and Park near Cañon City where you can stroll along a suspension bridge spanning 1,200-foot-deep Royal Gorge, and if you’re really adventurous you can even zipline across the chasm.