Overview of Colorado's National Scenic Byways

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway - Overview
Colorado, Utah


The Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway provides a unique and unparalleled opportunity for visitors to experience the thrilling story of dinosaurs with the science and the history of discovery behind them. The route combines opportunities to see dinosaur bones still in the ground being excavated and dinosaur bones being prepared by paleontologists for museums. Museums all along the Byway display both reconstructed skeletons and fleshed-out recreations of dinosaurs found in the area.


In between and sometimes overlapping the dinosaur sites are areas of major archaeological interest. This two-state Byway on the northern edge of the Colorado Plateau is in the same country that was occupied by prehistoric Native Americans who saw the many rock cliffs of the area as ideal surfaces for their petroglyphs and pictographs. Some of the finest examples and densest concentrations of this rock art in North America are located along or near the Byway corridor.



Along the Byway there are many opportunities for visitors to take a breather from the abundance of dinosaur sites to enjoy recreation opportunities. Hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing, and many other activities can be enjoyed on the acres of public lands in the corridor. River rafting and kayaking suitable for all levels can be arranged on the Green, Yampa, and Colorado rivers. Horse-back riding, llama-assisted pack trips, and even mule and goat pack trips can also be arranged with private operators in the area.


Unique, red, gray, and green rock formations, forested mountain passes, canyons, cliffs, rivers, and plateaus can all be enjoyed along the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway. Wide-open spaces and miles of unobstructed views are the reward for those who travel the Byway.

Length: 486 miles
Driving Time: 2 - 3 days

Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway - Overview

During the winter of 1806, Lt. Zebulon Pike nearly froze to death in the Wet Mountain Valley within sight of the peak now bearing his name. Undaunted, 19th-century settlers soon followed, taking advantage of the valley’s good soil and climate to build new lives.




Find a microcosm of the history of the West in this one pastoral valley. Follow in the footsteps of American Indians, trappers, explorers, traders, settlers, miners, and farmers. Each left their unique mark here. Relive frontier history in this pastoral paradise by visiting many of Colorado’s finest high-country ranches and farmsteads (some dating back to the 1840’s), trading posts, and stage stops. Or pursue adventure in nearby Hardscrabble Canyon, the white-capped Sangre de Cristos mountains, or the sharp mesas and hogbacks that flank the Arkansas River. You find scenic beauty and Old West history in abundance on the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway!


Length: 103 miles
Driving Time: 3.5 hours

Gold Belt Tour Scenic and Historic Byway - Overview

Simply driving the Gold Belt Tour in Colorado is an adventure in itself. While following historic railroad and stagecoach routes leading you to North America’s greatest gold camps, you will find yourself traversing between narrow canyon walls and along excitingly steep drop-offs. While the area is no longer bustling with the activities of the gold rush, you can still “strike it rich” with views of outstanding scenery and limitless recreational activities.




A Look at the Golden Era

As you drive the Byway, watch for the hundreds of historic gold mines that surround the communities along the way. Get a real feel for the gold rush days when you visit Victor’s National Historic District and Cripple Creek, the historical hub of the mining district and a National Historic Landmark. Most of the buildings built in the early 1900s have been restored to their original likeness, and will give you an authentic look at what life must have been like on the road to riches. Once you’ve discovered gold mining of the past, visit Victor’s new active gold mine. See for yourself the toil and backbreaking labor that went into gold mining in the 1890s and how technology has improved the miner’s endeavors today.

Recreational Riches

You’ll find plenty of recreational opportunities on the Gold Belt Tour. If you love the great outdoors, this is the place to be. Enjoy some great fishing, camping, and hiking areas. Or take advantage of the dirt roads for mountain biking and horseback riding.




Length: 131 miles
Driving Time: 5 hours

Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway - Overview

Travelers craving release from the momentum of mediocrity can truly transcend the world in the unusual beauty of the Grand Mesa. The 63-mile route rises through the narrow canyon of Plateau Creek to the cool evergreen forests of the mesa top, called Thunder Mountain by the Utes. Poised atop Land’s End Overlook, you’ll see the Grand Valley unfolding more than a mile below in splashes of golden rubble and vibrant foliage. Hike through dense alpine forests, ski spotless wintry slopes, or fish sparkling streams pouring into 300 lakes adjacent to the Byway. Rise above the world and learn why the Grand Mesa is called “the alpine oasis in the sapphire sky.”


If you’re frustrated by so-called “breathtaking vistas” that failed to strike and stun you, let the Grand Mesa awe and astonish you. Follow the Lands End Road along the rim of the world’s largest flat top mountain and discover all 360-degrees of singular alpine skyline. High altitude and clear alpine air invite visitors to look westward to clarion views of the La Sal Mountains, 60 miles to the west in Utah. Sharp-eyed visitors frequently look southward to the peaks of the San Juan Mountains, 90 miles away. With grand views of the vibrant valley and the rustic mountain ranges gilding the horizon, the Grand Mesa is waiting to leave you breathless and amazed.


Every season has its own glory along the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway. Enjoy a roadside picnic with family or friends in cool spring fields alive with a full spectrum of wildflowers. Fall brings crimson splashes and splatters of saffron to the valleys and mountains, while the mild climate encourages a variety of wildlife to wander in the dense forests of the Byway. Lose yourself in the nostalgia of summertime – why not show your children the same kind of fishing, canoeing, hiking, and sport that you loved as a kid? Spend a week on the shores of the seven Grand Mesa Lakes, where flower-touched fields, waterside campgrounds, and shady trails await you. With over 400 trails designed for snowmobiles, cross-country skiers, and snowboarders, the Grand Mesa is the winter wonderland of your dreams. Discover the grandeur of the Grand Mesa anytime of year, and you won’t be disappointed.


Length: 63 miles
Driving time: 2 hours

San Juan Skyway - Overview

Craving recreation at high elevation? Travel to the top of the world and back in time on the San Juan Skyway. Discover history and high times in the streets, gold mines, and railway stations of towns like Durango, Silverton, and Telluride. Enjoy rafting and water sports on the Animas River, or fish and boat on McPhee Lake, the second largest lake in Colorado. Join the many visitors who converge on the Byway each year for bluegrass, jazz, folk, and film festivals. The Skyway is your open invitation to five million acres of the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. Experience the ancestral homes of the Puebloan Indians at Mesa Verde, once voted the number one historic monument in the world. Enjoy it all on this 236-mile sampler of the best the southwest has to offer.


The sheer cliffs and rugged terrain of the Skyway boast some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet. See crashing waterfalls in the spring as the snow melts in the higher mountains. Wildflowers garnish the alpine forests in the summer months, where the gilded amber, bronze, and gold of the aspens delight autumn visitors. Winter brings a glistening blanket of snow to the Byway, perfect for quiet admiration or more active recreation.



The San Juan Skyway promises a fiesta for the senses any time of year. Skiing is one of the premier activities along the Byway, famous for its fresh powder and quality resorts. After the thaw, enjoy four-wheeling, bicycling, kayaking, dirt-biking, and motorcycle-touring with friends, or indulge in solitary backpacking, hunting, fishing, and photography in the lush landscape. There’s rest and relaxation, too. You can browse town shops, soak in historic hot springs, stay in a Victorian lodge, or sleep under the stars in a forest campground. This playground in the sky promises something for everyone in every season.


Dramatic scenery and tempting sports are perfectly matched by the riveting history of the region. Nestled in the mountains to the south, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park exemplify the complexity of the Ancestral Pueblos. Spanish conquistadores made their way through this area, and their discovery of gold in the Rocky Mountains changed the nature of the country forever. Learn hair-raising stories of struggling settlers and rough prospectors in the ghost towns and historic mines along the Byway. Historic shops and Edwardian inns await visitors to Durango, Silverton, and Telluride. Witness the power of progress at the railway depots and stations that turned these small outposts into roaring western whistle stops.

Length: 236 miles
Driving Time: 6 hours

Santa Fe Trail - Overview
Colorado, New Mexico

Explore the rich legacy of western expansion in Colorado and New Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail. This route transported many people across the West, and the resulting mesh of cultures and traditions will greet you at every turn. Participate in many colorful local festivals and visit museums honoring the many men and women who have lived and traveled in this area. Early Native American Indians, military personnel, ranchers, miners, and railroad passengers all have left their distinctive mark.



On a clear spring day at Fort Union National Monument in New Mexico, you can still discern the wagon-wheel ruts of the Santa Fe Trail winding their way across the prairie. Notice that the cultural legacies of this historic trade route, which saw its heaviest use between the 1820s and 1870s, remain just as distinct today. The Byway traverses one of the last strongholds of the nomadic Plains Indians and one of the first toeholds of Anglo-American pioneers who began homesteading along the Arkansas River in the 1860s. Many historic sites along the Trail were critical in the expansion of the West, places such such as Raton Pass, Bent’s Old Fort, Cimarron, Fort Union, Wagon Mound, Point of Rocks, McNeese Crossing, Las Vegas, Pecos and Santa Fe.


As you travel on the Santa Fe Trail, enjoy the variety of attractions and activities that the area offers. Celebrate the history of the area by visiting the many historic sites and museums, or fish, camp, hunt, or hike in the wide outdoors. Plan a trip to John Martin Reservoir, the largest body of water in southeastern Colorado, and experience the great recreational opportunities for travelers of the Santa Fe Trail.




Length: 184 miles
Driving Time: 4 hours

Top of the Rockies - Overview

With altitudes rarely falling below 9,000 feet, this Byway is worthy of its name. Travelers cross the 10,424-foot Tennessee Pass enroute to the booming mining town of Leadville, the highest incorporated community in the US. This historic town is the ideal resting place for mining buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Relive Leadville’s flagrant history by visiting the abandoned mines where Tabor, Guggenheim and May made their millions. Venture into the desolate Valley of the Ghosts, where fire ravaged three thriving Victorian towns. More physically adventurous travelers can choose from four-wheeling, mountain biking, horseback riding, or hiking on Colorado’s highest mountains, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, both reaching over 14,400 feet . The national forest surrounding Leadville is a Mecca for other outdoor activities such as snowmobiling, snowshoeing, fishing, golf and more!


Leadville’s history is spiced with stories of real people who made, and lost, fortunes. Andrew Carnegie, Susan B. Anthony, Doc Holliday, and the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown are just a few of the characters who crowd its past. With 70 acres of Landmark District brimming with Victorian charm and architecture, it’s no wonder Leadville is one of the ten Prettiest Painted Places in America. Admire Colorado’s heritage at the National Mining Hall of Fame, or brave the nearby ghost towns of Lake County.



As you explore this 75-mile route of towering peaks and broad valleys, keep your eyes peeled. Sharp eyes might spot robust wildlife, like the agile Big Horn Sheep, among the rocks. Slashes of gold, red, blue, and white wildflowers adorn the snowy mountainside each spring. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Elbert, the Twin Lakes area bursts with picture-perfect views of soaring peaks and lavish foliage around the state’s largest glaciated lake. Unique natural beauty and rich history are showcased perfectly in this living landscape.




Length: 75 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours

Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road - Overview

Winding through a national park encompassed by national forests, the Trail Ridge Road is arguably one of the most beautiful Byways in Colorado. Its many overlooks bestow stirring vistas of 415 square miles of the towering (14,000+ feet) Rockies.

The clear atmosphere of this alpine tundra makes your sight of the night sky an unforgettable experience. Constellations, planets, meteor showers, and phases of the moon are brighter than ever and seem just within your reach.


Because this is such a protected area, you have a splendid chance of spotting rarely-seen wildlife, including mountain sheep, moose, beaver, and ptarmigans, as well as marmots, pikas, eagles, peregrine falcons, elk, deer and coyote. For an exceptional treat, join wildflower enthusiasts in July when the alpine tundra wildflowers peak. There’s plenty of natural beauty on the Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road Scenic Byway!



Length: 48 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours

Back to Contents / Data Tables for Colorado National Scenic Byways Designation, Impact Survey: Part 1