Our state is filled with stunning scenery, which features purple wildflowers during the spring, endless blue skies during the heat of summer, and golden aspens during the fall. But there’s nothing quite like Colorado during the winter, when our majestic mountain peaks are covered with bright white snow, our lakes and ponds freeze over, and our ever-present sunshine illuminates it all to create a magical, sparkly scene.
Experience the winter wonderland that is Colorado by embarking on one of these scenic drives, extending from short loops less than 10 miles to more ambitious routes covering upwards of 200 miles. Along the way, you’ll encounter views of snow-capped mountains, sparkling lakes, evergreen trees and more.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Before you hit the road, be sure to check the road conditions for the destination you have in mind and ensure your vehicle is equipped to handle snowy conditions safely. As we all know, Colorado weather can change in an instant, so be sure the conditions are safe and the roads are clear!
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Wisner, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
According to Only in Your State, Bear Lake Road is the most scenic drive you can take during the winter — and we tend to agree. This 10-mile road extends between Upper Beaver Meadows and Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, providing a destination you won’t want to miss — especially if you’re there during the winter. This gorgeous lake freezes in the winter, providing a winter wonderland worth admiring — or exploring by cross country ski, snowshoe or tube. Along the route leading to this lake, you’ll pass by Sprague Lake, a number of trailheads, mature trees and various mountain peaks. This year-round road is plowed during the winter months and is surprisingly smooth, including the 5+ miles of repaved and updated highway. But if you’re unsure, call 970-586-1206 for current road conditions before you head out.
Okay, okay — we know what you’re thinking. Pikes Peak Highway is a bit predictable. But hear us out! While this road west of Colorado Springs may be a popular tourist destination, it’s popular for a reason — and if you haven’t been yet, you’ll have to change that this winter. This 19-mile paved road climbs an elevation of 14,115 feet, and is one of the only mountain passes in Colorado surpassing 14,000 feet that is maintained all year long. This makes it an attainable winter drive that will bring you higher than all the others on this list. Make sure you stop at Crystal Reservoir and Devils Playground on the way up, and stretch your legs (and take in the snowy views) at the very top! If you still need convincing, here are five reasons you should drive Pikes Peak. Check the current road conditions on the Pikes Peak Twitter account.
Photo Courtesy of Mtn Air Lover’s View
Colorado is kind of known for its jaw-dropping collection of fourteeners and other inspiring mountain peaks. See a number of them along the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway, often called “the Avenue of Fourteeners.” This 57-mile road extends from Granite and heads south towards Salida, where it forms a loop returning to the original path. Along the way, you’ll pass by many 14,000+ foot peaks, including Mount Princeton, Mount Yale and Mount Harvard — hence the name “Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway.” During the winter, these peaks glitter with snow!
Extending from Rocky Mountain National Park to Central City, Peak to Peak Scenic Byway offers stunning mountain views and plenty of charming towns along the way. You’ll pass by Lily Lake and other natural wonders, like the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Nederland, which offers plenty of hiking in the warm months and cross-country skiing in the cold months. Make sure you take time to admire and take photos of Indian Peaks and Long Peaks at viewpoints on the side of the road. The ending point is Central City, an adorable town tucked away in the mountains, with colorful historic buildings, including the Victorian-era Central City Opera House. The 55-mile route takes about 2 hours to complete and is worth every minute!
We’ve included plenty of far-off destinations, so we had to include a nearby gem — one we are lucky to have in our own backyard. The Cache la Poudre–North Park Scenic and Historic Byway is a 101-mile route following the path settlers used to connect Colorado’s northern plains with the Green River settlement in Utah. The byway starts in Fort Collins and follows the powerful Cache la Poudre River for a large portion, connects to Cameron Pass, and eventually reaches the town of Walden. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the way, including Colorado’s state mammal, the bighorn sheep, which like to hide on south-facing slopes amongst rocks along the river. Allow about 3 hours to complete this scenic and renowned Northern Colorado drive — but be sure to stop for some inspiring river views along the way. This route provides a unique Northern Colorado winter experience complete with dense woods, snowy banks and a powerful, ice-cold river.
We included a portion of the San Juan Scenic Byway in our Ultimate 7-Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary, which was designed for the summer, but this 236-mile loop is also magical during the winter. Travel a portion of this long byway or complete the entire thing for a weekend adventure, stopping at the many mountain towns along the way. You’ll encounter Durango, Silverton, Telluride and Ouray, complemented by non-stop views of the rugged San Juan Mountains dusted with snow. Plan at least two days for this winter journey!
If you don’t have the time to make the full trek along the San Juan Scenic Byway, consider zeroing in on one of its most scenic and breathtaking stretches: The Million Dollar Highway. This 25-mile road extends along US-550 from the mountain towns of Silverton and Ouray, taking about 45 minutes to complete. IMPORTANT NOTE: Beware of treacherous weather and sharp turns, and be sure to check road conditions before you go and only drive this route if it’s clear and safe!
If the weather permits (and your car is outfitted for winter conditions), consider taking the scenic route along Loveland Pass, a 17.5-mile road extending from Silver Plume to Keystone. Reaching 11,991 feet in elevation, Loveland Pass is considered the highest mountain pass in the world that remains open during a snowy winter season. As such, the pass can be extremely treacherous, so it should not be attempted during or just following a heavy snowfall. But if the weather allows, this road is an extremely scenic winter wonderland, and one of the highest points you’ll reach this time of year! IMPORTANT NOTE: Check road conditions before you attempt to drive along Loveland Pass.
Reaching 11,541 feet, Hoosier Pass is a high mountain pass winding through the Rocky Mountains, providing an alternative route to Breckenridge from Denver, or to access other ski areas in the Rockies, including Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone. On this 2.8-mile route, you’ll take in views of the Mosquito Range, Mt. Lincoln, lakes, snow-covered trees and more. The pass is open all year long but can be closed during winter storms. Check road conditions for Hoosier Pass before you go!
Let us know what winter drives in Colorado you love the most. Comment below with your favorite(s)!