Scenic Drives Near Denver
With a diverse landscape of snow-covered mountains, arid desert, and open plains, you don't have to drive far in Colorado to discover incredible scenery. If you're interested in seeing some of this beauty for yourself, consider one of the following Denver day trips. From panoramic views of canyons to twisting routes in the Rocky Mountains, you're sure to enjoy some incredible beauty. Load up the rental car and head out on a scenic drive Denver, Colorado
Drive time from Salt Lake City to National Parks: approximately 10 hours
Distance from Salt Lake City to National Parks: approximately 650 miles
Best car for this road trip: Full-Size SUV
1. Trail Ridge Road
The 48-mile long Trail Ridge Road is one of the most popular scenic byways in the country and one of the best mountain drives near Denver. This route begins in Estes Park before traveling around 20 miles through Rocky Mountain National Park. During the trip, you'll see incredible peaks and valleys of the mountains and you'll eventually cross the Continental Divide. You could also see elk, bighorn sheep, pikas, and marmots along the way. On a clear day, you'll be able to view Wyoming to the north and the Great Plains to the east.
The Trail Ridge Road eventually comes to an end in the small town of Grand Lake. If you need to stretch your legs when you arrive, you'll find a variety of recreational opportunities on and around Grand Lake, the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado. Keep in mind that the Trail Ridge Road is open to traffic from approximately Memorial Day through Columbus Day. After that time, the snow becomes too heavy to clear. Temporary closings can occur throughout the year, so verify that the site is open before your trip.
2. Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway
Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway is another drive near Denver you should consider if you want to see the Rocky Mountains. The route starts in Aspen and stretches for 75 miles through some lovely and historic land. During this Denver road trip, you can stop in the town of Leadville to learn more about mining history in the area.
From Leadville, you have your choice of heading to either Copper Mountain or Minturn. Copper Mountain is a large ski resort that offers various activities throughout the year, including skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, and a zipline. Minturn is known for its historic downtown that has a winery, galleries, and restaurants. Since the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway seldom drops below 9,000 feet, it's easy to see where its name came from why it's one of the best scenic drives near Denver.
3. Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Another great drive is the Mount Evans Scenic Byway that starts in Idaho Springs. This winding road stretches for 49 miles to take you to the peak of Mount Evans at 14,130 feet. Incredible heights make the Mount Evans Scenic Byway the highest paved road in North America. Along the way, you'll travel through a diverse landscape that includes everything from meadows to pine forests. You may see wildlife such as hawks, marmots, picas, and mountain goats.
Take the drive in the spring to see the colorful wildflowers that bloom in the meadows or travel the route in the fall to appreciate the vibrant colors of the leaves. Keep in mind that the route is open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and inclement weather during the winter can close the route. Plan to spend some time soaking in the Indian Hot Springs or checking out the historic Charlie Tayler Water Wheel built in 1893.
4. South Platte River Trail
There are also some great Denver day trips outside of the mountains. If you're interested in seeing something different, consider the South Platte River Trail, which will take you through some of Colorado's prairie in the eastern part of the state. The South Platte River Trail starts in Julesburg at the Colorado Welcome Center. From this point, a 19-mile loop offers a unique look at Western history.
You'll see markers for the Transcontinental Railroad, Lincoln Highway, and Fort Sedgwick. The original Julesburg town site is also found here, which was the location of Colorado's only Pony Express home station. The route has interpretive signage that will tell you more about each site. During the drive, you may also spot the occasional antelope, deer, or bald eagle.
5. Lariat Loop
The Lariat Loop was one of the first Denver scenic drives developed by the city. This route gets its name from the historic Lariat Trail. You'll discover plenty of spots along the way where you can take in amazing views of the mountains. You can begin the loop in the small city of Golden, Colorado, a former gold rush town now known for its museums and outdoor recreational opportunities. The loop also travels through the towns of Morrison, Kittredge, and Evergreen.
If you're looking for more places to get out and stretch your legs, the route will take you by the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave. The grave site is a short 1-mile hike from the museum and has exhibits about the history of Buffalo Bill's legacy. The loop also goes by Dinosaur Ridge. This National Natural Landmark is one of the top places in the world to see dinosaur tracks.
6. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
The Peak to Peak Scenic Byway starts in Black Hawk and goes for 55 miles to Estes Park. The route gives you an incredible view of the Continental Divide since it runs parallel nearly the entire way. This scenic byway passes through several ghost towns that died out when some of the gold mines stopped producing. You can still find active gold mines along the route that allow the public to pan for gold in the creeks.
You'll pass through many other towns such as Nederland, Ward, Raymond, Ferncliff, Allenspark, and Meeker Park. Autumn is an amazing time to travel the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway because the aspen trees change into a dazzling array of yellow, gold, orange, and brown.
7. Littleton Crabapple Route
More than 40 years ago, a beautification program was started that involved planting crabapple trees along the city streets. This was created by Vaughn Gardinier, former mayor of Littleton. Today, the community has more than 7,000 trees. To celebrate this effort, the city created the Littleton Crabapple Route, a 7-mile loop that travels through the streets with the most trees. While the drive is a lovely trip at any time of the year, it's especially beautiful in May when the crabapple trees are in full bloom.
If you're looking to discover the beauty of the Denver yourself, visiting these sites ensures a memorable scenic drive.
Scenic Drives Near Denver FAQs
How many scenic byways are in Colorado?
Colorado has a total of 26 byways designated as America's Byways by the United States Secretary of Transportation. This recognition gives the state the most national designations of scenic byways in the country.
When is the best time to travel the scenic drives?
Many of the best scenic drives near Denver are closed during the winter, so you'll need to plan your trip during the spring, summer, or fall. Also keep in mind that routes can occasionally close during these three seasons because of inclement weather or debris in travel lanes.
What is the best vehicle for mountain driving?
To make sure your vehicle has enough power to take on the steep mountain roads, we recommend using a full-size SUV for your drive. This will also give you plenty of space to bring everything you need for your road trip from Denver.
How hot does Colorado get?
Temperatures in Denver, Colorado usually peak during July and August, with the average high being between 86-88 degrees. The average low temperature throughout these months is around 54-56 degrees.