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5 Scenic Drives Near Denver For Year-Round Natural Beauty

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If you’re a resident of Colorado or are just visiting, then you know that one of the biggest draws of The Centennial State is its immense and vast beauty. The Rocky Mountains are truly spectacular, offering countless stunning views that will take anyone’s breath away.

Many people choose to explore these mountains on foot. Not everyone is a hiker, though, so for the rest of us, the best way to immerse oneself in it is by motor vehicle. Fortunately, numerous scenic drives near Denver will bring you deep into the mountains to experience all the breathtaking views.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best scenic drives near Denver. These picturesque drives will allow you to tour, relax, take photos, and view some of the best scenery Colorado and the United States offer.

Whether you drive your vehicle or rent one (I’ve had great luck with RentalCars.com), you’ll love everything you see. Read on to learn more, and get ready to get out there and see it for yourself.

TL;DR

Scenic Drive Distance from Denver (miles) Estimated Driving Time
Mount Evans Scenic Byway 60 1h 30m
Peak to Peak Highway 70 1h 40m
Trail Ridge Road 100 2h 15m
Guanella Pass Scenic Byway 56 1h 25m
Lariat Loop Scenic & Historic Byway 40 1h

1. Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Goat in Mount Evans Scenic Byway, one of the most scenic drives near Denver.
Danita Delimont / Adobe Stock
  • Distance from Denver: 40 minutes
  • Length of Drive: 49 miles
  • Estimated Driving Time: 2 hours

We’ll start with one of the best scenic drives in the entire state and one that should not be missed. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is 49 miles long; it begins in Idaho Springs and winds through thick forest to the top of Mount Blue Sky (formerly Mount Evans) at 14,410 feet.

This is the highest paved road in North America – beating the roadway at the top of Pikes Peak by a mere 25 feet of elevation – and it’s not for the faint of heart. You’ll find steep dropoffs from the road during the last third of your journey, so go slow and pay attention. The views along this route are incredible; after all, it was designed to be that way by famous American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

Due to snow and ice, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is usually only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year, and you’ll need a reservation through Recreation.gov to drive it. Schedule your trip now, although finding a last-minute reservation is not difficult.

This scenic drive is so worth it. You can also almost count on seeing wildlife along the way, including bighorn sheep, mountain goats, American pika, deer, foxes, birds, and more.

Read Also: Cabin Rentals Near Denver

2. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway

Peak to Peak Highway through the Rocky Mountains near Estes Park, Colorado
pabrady63 / Adobe Stock
  • Distance from Denver: 50 minutes
  • Length of Drive: 55 miles
  • Estimated Driving Time: 90 minutes

Another fantastic drive through the Rocky Mountains is the famous Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway. This 55-mile scenic drive was completed in 1918 and offers stunning views of the Continental Divide. It starts near Black Hawk and Central City, not far from Denver, and heads mostly due north to Estes Park.

Along the way, you’ll pass through the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. You’ll pass Eldora Ski Resort, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Best of all, this scenic drive is open year-round.

You might want to stop in the small town of Nederland for lunch; it’s adorable and welcoming. Truly, Nederland is the perfect example of a unique and charmingly quirky Colorado mountain town.

Since this scenic byway ends in Estes Park, it offers a perfect opportunity to continue your drive into Rocky Mountain National Park itself along Trail Ridge Road. It’s one of the best scenic drives anywhere – and once you drive it once, it will stay with you forever.

If you seek somewhere to stay in Estes Park to enjoy everything it has to offer. In the past, I’ve personally loved The Inn on Fall River and Fall River Cabins, and The Historic Crag’s Lodge is an excellent option as well.

See Related: The Ultimate Colorado Springs Itinerary

3. Trail Ridge Road

Summer view from Rainbow Curve, Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
marinzolich / Adobe Stock
  • Distance from Denver: 1.5 hours
  • Length of Drive: 48 miles
  • Estimated Driving Time: 2 hours

Trail Ridge Road is inside Rocky Mountain National Park, so you’ll need to pay the park entry fee to drive it and a reservation to enter the park most of the year. Planning is crucial here because you don’t want to miss this incredible drive. It’s only open in the summertime.

This road is 48 miles long from end to end, but it will take you much longer than 48 minutes to drive it due to its low-speed limit, many curves, steep dropoffs, and numerous pull-offs where you’ll surely want to stop. It begins at the Fall River Road entrance near Estes Park and ends where you exit the park on the other side, near Grand Lake.

The Mount Evans Scenic Byway may be the highest paved road in North America, but Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road on our continent; its high point is 12,183 feet. Stop at the Alpine Visitor Center near the top to learn about flora and fauna at this elevation.

When you get out at an overlook – please stay on the trails. Life is fragile in the alpine tundra!

If you want to enhance your drive in this incredible national park, you might add a photo tour or a self-guided audio auto tour to amplify your adventure in a truly memorable way.

4. Guanella Pass Scenic Byway

Autumn view on Guanella Pass Road, Colorado
SNEHIT PHOTO / Adobe Stock
  • Distance from Denver: 50 minutes
  • Length of Drive: 22 miles
  • Estimated Driving Time: 1 hour

If you’re looking for a quick and relatively easy scenic drive near Denver with great views but no scary dropoffs, then you’ll love the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. This road begins in Georgetown, just off I-70, and ends where it meets Route 285 in Grant.

On this 22-mile drive, you’ll pass through several ecosystems, including wetlands, fields, forests, and more. Eventually, you’ll pop above the tree line and see spectacular views of Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, Mount Blue Sky, and Mount Bierstadt – all peaks over 14,000 feet.

However, unlike the drives mentioned above, Guanella Pass is somewhat tame if you’re a nervous driver. The road is paved, and there are curves, of course, but fewer are intense or terrifying than on the other drives described above.

This road is especially popular during the autumn season; it’s one of the best places to view fall foliage near Denver, and you’ll find it quite busy in September and October, even on weekdays. It also closes during the winter season around Thanksgiving, so be aware of that as well.

5. Lariat Loop Scenic & Historic Byway

A winding, wet mountain road amid autumn hues
Chris / Adobe Stock
  • Distance from Denver: 25 minutes
  • Length of Drive: 40 miles
  • Estimated Driving Time: 2 hours

The Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway is another great option for a road trip through the Rocky Mountains with excellent views—this 40-mile loop.

Coming from Denver, you can start in Morrison and follow it to Evergreen, Bergen Park, Golden, and back to Morrison. Although this route mostly covers an area considered “The Foothills,” you’ll still see lots of beauty along the way.

Further, this drive offers lots of opportunities to do and see more. It connects with the Mount Evans Scenic Byway at Bergen Park.

It also goes right by Lookout Mountain, a 7,377-foot peak with lots of lovely hiking trails around it. You can learn more about the area’s ecosystems at the Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve.

You could also stop at Buffalo Bill’s grave and pay homage to the grave of this storied American soldier, hunter, and showman. You could also visit the adjacent and associated museum and learn a bit about his life. This scenic route is quick, easy, and lovely, and you’ll enjoy the mountain views and the small towns you pass through on your way.

Read Also: Scenic Hiking Trails Near Denver

FAQs

How far are the scenic drives from Denver city center?

All of the above scenic drives are not far from Denver at all – you can get to the start point of most of them from the city in less than an hour. The only one that is a bit further out is Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park; it will take you about an hour and a half to reach Estes Park, but this is perhaps the most impressive drive of them all, so it’s worth it.

Are there services and facilities available on these routes?

You’ll find services and facilities along the way on most of these drives, but it’s always wise to gas up and get some snacks in advance. The drive to the top of Mount Blue Sky and Trail Ridge Road are exceptions; since these are inside fee areas, you won’t find gas along their routes, although there are plenty of bathrooms for you to use as needed.

What are the best times of the year to enjoy these scenic drives?

Colorado winters can be brutal, and snow and ice can appear out of nowhere. With this in mind, it’s best to undertake all these drives in nicer weather; plus, three of the five are closed in winter. They’re great in the spring and summer, and you’ll love the foliage you can view while driving them in the fall.

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