Sometimes it’s nice to take a leisurely drive with no destination in mind. And thankfully, Northern Colorado is perfect for exploring on wheel, as our roads wind through mountain peaks, lakes and gorgeous rock formations.
Hit the road and drive along one of these scenic drives in Northern Colorado, from shorter routes you can complete in a couple of hours to multi-state loops covering more than 500 miles. These highways and byways allow you to experience the very best of our state — from the comfort and safety of your car.
And if you need some entertainment along the way, hit play on one of these podcasts produced right here in NoCo. Happy trails!
Driving along the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road is one of the best ways to experience Rocky Mountain National Park — and see the Continental Divide as it cuts through Colorado. Built between 1929 and 1939, this historic trail cresting at 12,209 feet is the highest continuous paved road in elevation in the country. Trail Ridge Road travels from Estes Park to Grand Lake, passing by Horseshoe Park, glacier-carved valleys, towering peaks and sparkling lakes. Make sure you make a stop at Many Parks Curve, which offers views of Horseshoe, Moraine and Estes parks. Trail Ridge Road is only open between late May and late October because of snowfall during the winter.Set featured image
Flat Tops Scenic Byway is a 82-mile route extending west from the tiny town of Yampa to Meeker, a charming town filled with history. Along the way, you’ll encounter Yampa River, which is the longest free-flowing, dam-free river in Colorado, the forested Flat Tops Wilderness Area, Vaughn Lake, and other natural wonders. You have plenty of opportunities to take some detours, including a trip to Trappers Lake, which is the second-largest natural lake in Colorado after Grand Lake. Allow about 5 hours to accommodate side trips.
Starting in Fort Collins, 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 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 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.
Experience one of the mightiest rivers in North America with a drive along the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway, an 80-mile road between Rocky Mountain National Park and State Bridge. You’ll pass through the gorgeous Gore Canyon, wide-open ranchland, and Grand Lake with peaks towering overhead. There are several potential stopping points along the way, including the town of State Bridge, the town of Hot Sulphur Springs, which has plenty of hot springs, and Granby. And of course, end up at Rocky Mountain National Park for a day of exploring. Allow 3 hours to travel along the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway.
The history of this byway dates back to the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth and left their mark in the form of fossils and footprints. The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway is 512 miles long, extending through the states of Colorado and Utah in a loop. The easternmost point of the route begins in Grand Junction and heads toward Fruita, then north along SH-139, before reaching the town of Rangely, which is home to the Rangely Outdoor Museum and the colorful Cañon Pintado (“painted canyon”). The byway then reaches the small town of Dinosaur, which is the crown jewel of the byway, and home to the Dinosaur National Monument, where you can explore a sandstone wall embedded with more than 2,000 dinosaur bones. From Dinosaur, you’ll head west to cross the border in Utah. The loop takes 2–3 days to complete, but you can do the Colorado portion in well under a day.
The Pawnee Pioneer Trails Scenic and Historic Byway extends a total of 128 miles through Northeast Colorado’s expansive prairie landscape. Start in the town of Ault and head east along CO-14, passing through dry and hardy plains that don’t receive rain because of a “rain shadow” effect. Then pass by Pawnee Buttes, two massive mesas towering 250 feet tall that you can access by hiking trail. Next, you’ll pass through Sterling, the largest town in the northeast corner of Colorado, then head to Fort Morgan. You can complete the route either by heading back through the national grassland traveling north on CO-52 or by retracing your steps. The route takes about 3 hours to complete.
Extending from Rocky Mountain National Park to Central City, Peak to Peak Highway 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!
…But please do come back. What scenic drives in Northern Colorado are we missing out on? Let us know in the comments below.