10 Scenic Drives Near Denver For Your Next Road Trip
Living in Denver, Colorado, has many perks, including easy access to nearby mountains and the awe-inspiring views that come with them. If you want to take a break from the Mile High City for a few hours without having a specific destination in mind, there are several scenic byways and mountain passes that take you through steep canyons, open meadows, and alpine environments—all under two hours!
While driving west on I-70 is a scenic drive of its own, we’ve compiled a list of 10 scenic Colorado drives near Denver, including the following scenic drives:
- Guanella Pass Scenic Byway
- Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
- Pikes Peak Highway
- Lookout Mountain Road
- Mount Evans Scenic Byway
- “Oh My God” Road
- Lariat Loop Scenic Byway
- Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway
- Cache la Poudre – North Park Scenic Byway
Time to hit the road!
1. Guanella Pass Scenic Byway
Guanella Pass Scenic Byway is a 22-mile sampler of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Head north from Grant and take in the views of Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans (14,065 feet and 14,265 feet, respectively) before heading through scenic spruce-, fir-, and aspen-filled forests until you reach the historic mining town of Georgetown.
The byway is paved, but it does close seasonally from the end of November until Memorial Day. The specific closing and opening dates depend on snow levels, so check before you head out.
It takes an hour and a half to reach the start of the byway depending on traffic and which route you choose to take, and the drive itself typically takes an hour to complete, making it one of the many perfect day trips from Denver.
2. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
The 55-mile Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is less than an hour away from Denver and is known for its incredible views of the Continental Divide and all the stops along the way, including Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
The route takes you from Estes Park to Blackhawk and I-70 and is a must-do in the fall when the vibrant colors of the aspens are in full display. Dating back to 1918, the route is Colorado’s oldest scenic byway.
Visit ghost towns, the historic Moffat Tunnel, and trailheads if you need to hop out and stretch your legs.
3. Pikes Peak Highway
Pikes Peak is one of the more popular fourteeners (mountains taller than 14,000 feet) to hike, but you can also conquer the mountain via car if you make the drive up Pikes Peak Highway. The 19-mile toll road starts in Cascade and takes drivers up to the summit of Pikes Peak. There are plenty of places to pull over to take in the breathtaking views and snap some photographs.
Don’t be surprised if you spot some of Colorado’s high alpine wildlife along the way. While you might be tempted to get closer to the curious animals you see, remember that it’s important to keep your distance to avoid any unfortunate interactions.
Due to the popularity of the mountain, reservations may be required to drive to the summit. Check the Pikes Peak Region Attractions website before you head out.
4. Lookout Mountain Road
Lookout Mountain is one of the closest scenic drives near Denver. Located 19 miles west of Denver in Golden, Lookout Mountain Road is famous for its twists and turns and steep elevation, gaining 1,300 feet in less than five miles.
Drivers are encouraged to keep their eyes peeled and watch their speed as they make their way up and down the mountain, as the road is very popular among cyclists and hikers crossing the road.
At the top, you’ll find the 7,379-foot summit of Lookout Mountain with panoramic views of Denver and everything around it, including the Continental Divide. There’s a big free parking lot at the top where you can park and walk around. Stop by the Buffalo Bill Museum and his grave, both of which are at the top of the mountain.
5. Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Touting the title of the highest paved road in North America, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is a 49-mile drive with some steep elevation gain. The route tops out at 14,130 feet, and from the highest point, you’ll be able to take in stunning views of the entire Front Range.
During your drive, you’ll get to see Colorado’s varied environments, from open meadows exploding with colorful wildflowers to glistening alpine lakes to shadowy spruce forests. Keep an eye out for wildlife, including pikas and rock-jumping mountain goats.
With elevation comes weather changes, so be aware that it’s particularly volatile in this area. Expect to see rain, intense wind, snow, lightning, and hail any day of the year.
6. “Oh My God” Road
The eight-mile-long “Oh My God” Road is not for the faint of heart. What this partially paved road lacks in distance, it makes up for in thrills—it’s barely big enough for two cars to pass and has washed-out shoulders, harrowing hairpin turns, and no guardrails.
The road starts in Idaho Springs and follows a steep canyon through historic mining country before ending in Central City. Along the way, you’ll see outdoor recreationists fishing, rock climbing, and kayaking and pass the ghost town of Russel Gulch. You might even spot a gold panner or two!
It’s a scenic drive, but due to the danger this road can present, you should only attempt to drive it if you have experience driving on difficult roads in high-stress situations.
7. Lariat Loop
The Lariat Loop is one of the 13 designated America’s Byways in Colorado. It’s a 40-mile loop that takes you through Golden, Morrison, and Evergreen, passing some of the area’s most popular and historic attractions along the way.
You can have multiple experiences on the Lariat Loop depending on what your interests are and whether you want a full- or half-day experience. One day, you can take the Lariat Loop to visit Lookout Mountain Nature Center, Coors Brewery, and Colorado Railroad Museum, and on another, you can stop by Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater, Dinosaur Ridge, and Morrison Natural History Museum.
8. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
Trail Ridge Road is located in Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the best national parks to visit close to Denver. This is a worthwhile drive and activity to pair with a visit to one of the nation’s most popular national parks.
This 48-mile road cuts through the park, allowing drivers and riders to see the beauty of the famed Colorado destination up close. You’ll spot wildlife meandering through scenic wildflower-filled meadows and forests as you climb to an elevation of 12,183 feet. (It’s the highest paved through-road in the country!)
Due to the popularity of the park, timed entry permit reservations are required to enter between the end of May and mid-October, so if you want to take this drive through the national park during that time, be sure to plan ahead.
9. Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway
The 115-mile Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway is about 100 miles from Denver depending on the route you take to get there, but the drive is beautiful before you even hit the official scenic byway start.
Once you’re on the route, you’ll cross the Continental Divide three times, get to see Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, and pass through storied Colorado destinations like Copper Mountain, Leadville, Minturn, Redcliff, Twin Lakes. As you travel through the area, you’ll be surrounded by some popular 13ers (mountains with peaks higher than 13,000 feet), including Grizzly Peak, Twining Peak, and Casco Peak.
The Independence Pass portion of the byway typically closes in November, so check conditions before you head out.
10. Cache la Poudre – North Park Scenic Byway
The Cache la Poudre – North Park Scenic Byway is a 101-mile long road that connects Fort Collins with Walden and runs through the Cache la Poudre River canyon and Colorado State Forest. Keep a look out for kayakers fighting rapids and bighorn sheep wandering through open meadows as you drive along the route.
When you reach Cameron Pass, you’ll have amazing views of the basin of North Park. You can access the byway by heading north on I-25 from Denver for 69 miles until you reach Fort Collins.
Tips from a local: Several of the routes above travel through the mountains, so before you head out, check online for road conditions and to see whether your route of choice is closed during the winter or open year-round.
Looking to move to Denver, Colorado?
Denver is a great road trip home base to have, and renting one of Landing’s fully furnished apartments with flexible lease terms makes it easy to explore the city and all of the scenic drives nearby. Learn more about what a Landing membership can do for you today!
Want to enjoy Denver’s beautiful mountain scenery without getting behind the wheel? Check out our blog, “Where to Find the Best Mountain Views in Denver.”