Fall Drives along Colorado Byways integrated with Colorado State Parks

September 27, 2013 - Statewide Transportation Plan - Peak to Peak Highway Open to all Traffic - DENVER – September brings a chill to the night air, an earlier sunset, and children back in school. Colorado is fortunate to have four distinct seasons, and this is the time of the year to get out and enjoy the fall colors.

In addition to driving for pleasure, this article offers travelers additional details about  Colorado state parks located just minutes from 11 Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways. Take full advantage of your journey by lengthening your stay or engaging in a new activity.

Although the average dates for peak colors have occurred in the northern part of the state, aspen viewing remains favorable through October 7 in the central areas of Colorado. The final opportunity to view fall colors will be in the southern areas from Oct. 8 to 16. Make sure to prepare for the trip and check ahead on the road conditions by visiting www.cotrip.org. Updates on where colors are changing across Colorado’s state parks can be found online by clicking the conditions tab and checking the fall colors box at https://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Pages/default.aspx

  1. Flat Tops Trail Scenic and Historic Byway – This scenic byway has pristine scenery and unmatchable wildlife viewing due to the long-standing history of conservation and multiple-use land management. An advisory in this area notifies visitors that beetle-killed trees are falling. For a unique experience, extend your travels along this byway by staying overnight in a tipi at Yampa River State Park.  Fishing and bird watching are also excellent pastimes here.
  2. Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic and Historic Byway – Located northwest of Grand Junction, this byway traverses high mountains and barren plateaus, with stops at two national monuments – Colorado and Dinosaur,  and two great rivers – the Colorado and Yampa. Although primarily known for its association to fossils, this byway has a rich connection with recreation through Highline Lake State Park, and the areas that make up James M Robb – Colorado River State Park, where camping, fishing, boating abound.
  3. Pawnee Pioneer Trails Scenic and Historic Byway – This 128-mile byway traverses the rugged Colorado Piedmont, a wide-open region anchored by the towering Pawnee Buttes and Pawnee National Grasslands.  When traveling this byway, stop at North Sterling State Park and pick up a copy of Park Bingo to see how many plants, animals and unique local sights you can spot. 
  4. PLEASE NOTE: Peak to Peak Scenic and Historic Byway – Colorado's oldest, established in 1918. The byway goes between Black Hawk and Estes Park and offers unmatched views of the Continental Divide and its dramatic fall colors. Despite the recent flooding in the area, the Peak to Peak segment of State Highways 119 and 72 are open to all traffic. As part of your trip, you can immerse yourself in the colors of the season at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, where views of the Continental Divide extend for 100 miles. And for a bit of unexpected luxury, treat your family to an overnight stay in the Harmsen Ranch Guest House, former home of the founders of the Jolly Rancher candy company.  It is available for rent right inside the park.
  5. West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway – The twin summits of Mount Sopris, near Carbondale, and the incomparable Black Canyon of the Gunnison anchor the ends of the West Elk Loop. Gunnison County is home to Kebler Pass, which boasts the largest aspen grove in North America and is a favorite for photographers. Kebler Pass is unpaved.
  6. Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway – This paved, 57-mile route parallels the Continental Divide at the foot of the Sawatch Range, the highest concentration of 14,000+ foot peaks in the country. The greater part parallels the Arkansas River, the most commercially rafted river in the nation, a world-class kayaking destination, and one of the state's premier trout fishing resources. This byway contains the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, with access to some of Colorado’s best fishing and camping at one of six campgrounds located along the 150 mile stretch of river.
  7. Frontier Pathways National Scenic and Historic Byway – Interested in biking a byway? Begin this aspen-laden ride west of Pueblo on Colorado 96. The Frontier Pathways route climbs into the Wet Mountains and descends into the Wet Mountain Valley, passing aspens blazing in autumn color along the way. Check out the scenery around Pueblo Lake State Park by bike. Visitors can bike along the river to the Nature Center and catch the extensive system of trails that go throughout the park and the city of Pueblo. The single track trail system behind Arkansas Point Campground offers several degrees of difficulty for mountain bikers of all ages.
  8. San Juan Skyway National Scenic and Historic Byway – An All-American Road that is a 236 mile loop. Travel the "road to the sky" which offers views from the towering 14,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountains to rolling hillsides speckled with ancient Indian pueblo ruins. Two state parks are found close to this byway. Go on a hike to Dynamite Cabin at Mancos State Park, or fly fish at Ridgway State Park.
  9. Gold Belt Tour National Scenic and Historic Byway – This is a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway and a National Scenic Byway. Drive the Gold Belt Tour and retrace the historic travel routes connecting the Cripple Creek and Victor Mining District, site of the world's largest gold rush. On Sept. 28 and  29, the 2 Mile High Club's annual aspen tour event will begin at the Cripple Creek District Museum. Tours are offered on a first come, first served basis. Aspen tours are free, but donations are appreciated. Proceeds from the Aspen Tours are used to pay for the care of Cripple Creek's free-roaming donkey herd. Northeast of the Gold Belt Tour is Mueller State Park, where you can take an aspen hike or an elk bugling hike this month.
  10. Santa Fe Trail – The byway, which comprises a 188-mile portion of the trail, 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. The Mountain Branch of the trail traveled through today’s Trinidad and crossed Raton Pass, a mountain gap used by Native Americans for centuries. The byway's midpoint is Bent's Old Fort, once a trading post and cultural melting pot, now a National Historic Site. Stop for a picnic along the shores of John Martin Reservoir State Park. You also may be able to check off some birds on your bird watching list with 373 species found at the park.
  11. Highway of the Legends –  This scenic and historic byway is the perfect detour for those exploring southern Colorado. The lore of this area is vivid, swirling in the spiritual myths of the American Indians and the history of their clashes with Spanish explorers. Like much of Colorado, where the promises of fortune led, trouble followed and tales of outlaws “settling their differences” are common. Along this byway, you will find Lathrop State Park, which has a nine-hole golf course, and Trinidad Lake State Park. Sights at Trinidad Lake range from open vistas to grasslands, forests, cliffs and ponds. Plus the Long's Canyon trail provides one of the best examples of the geologic K-T Boundary anywhere in the country, attracting geologists from afar.

Travelers can plan their journey by requesting a Bicycling and Scenic Byways map. These are available in  Colorado Welcome Centers or by emailing [email protected]. In addition, most Scenic Byways offer brochures, maps, websites and roadside interpretive signs to help the tourist understand the area’s history. Some of the Byways offer driving tours, local maps, and publications. And several are working on mobile apps to share their information through new technology. The Colorado Byways program has a dedicated “Colorado Byways” channel on the mobile app Tagwhat© offering close to 500 stories. Find more adventures for fall activities and viewing by visiting State Parks Fall Colors page at https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/View-Fall-Colors.aspx.

Eleven of Colorado’s 25 byways are designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as America’s Byways®, which gives Colorado more national designations than any other state.  Colorado also has 42 state parks.