Top Scenic Drives in Southern Colorado
The call of the road can be strong for some adventurers, especially in a place like Colorado, where there are miles upon miles of stunning scenery and a new discovery around every curve. Southern Colorado is a particular favorite for travelers because the visual landscape can change so dramatically in just a few miles! We’ve got massive peaks, rolling plains and a lot of unique terrain in between, but you don’t have to drive for days to experience them all. In fact, you can go from the plains to the peaks in just a few hours, if you choose. We’ve got the list of three must-drive routes for road trip enthusiasts who need direction about where to get started. Feel free to deviate to the road less traveled at any time in your exploration – just don’t forget to fill up the gas tank first.
Gold Belt Tour Scenic and Historic Byway
There are many ways to drive the Gold Belt, including a couple routes that can take two days if you stop in and visit local attractions or double back to other branches. We’ve selected a shorter option that begins in the Pikes Peak region and includes options for stopping at a few unique places in Southern Colorado. You’ll start your journey on Highway 24 heading west into Cripple Creek. Your drive will take you through the popular Ute Pass and past towns like Cascade and Woodland Park. Scenery includes aspens, Pikes Peak, high plains and lots of mountain terrain. In Cripple Creek, you’ll find a lot of fun attractions like a real mine tour, open-air train ride and the chance to try your luck in one of the gaming establishments. From Cripple Creek you’ll dive deep into mountain scenery, trundling along the same routes gold miners once traveled to re-supply or cash in on their finds. Old mining structures dot the rolling hills that spread out before even more mountain views. Your route will eventually take you to Canon City, where you will find the world-famous Royal Gorge Bridge and options for white water rafting, lunching or wandering. Along the way back to Colorado Springs, you’ll drive though gorgeous canyons along running waters and pass by cool roadside attractions like the Bug Museum and its mighty beetle mascot.
Basic directions: Take Highway 24 west to Highway 67. Turn left on Highway 67 and follow it to Cripple Creek. In Cripple Creek, hop onto Teller County Road 1 and take that for eleven miles before turning left onto CR-11. You’ll go about 4 miles before turning left onto High Park Road. Take High Park for 18 miles and turn left onto CO-9 S. Travel another 8 miles and make a left on US-50 E to Canon City. Pick up Highway 115 in Canon City to bring yourself back to Colorado Springs. Please remember to utilize a map or GPS for plotting your route completely. These are basic directions to get you started.
Pikes Peak Highway
You’ll certainly get to view a lot of scenery from most any Colorado route, but none can take you higher than the Pikes Peak Highway. It is one of the most accessible routes to the top of a fourteener in North America, with a paved, two-lane highway, multiple pull-offs and a brand-new Summit House at the top just waiting to serve your fresh donuts. Your adventure begins by taking Highway 24 to the turn-off for the Pikes Peak Highway and Santa’s Workshop. From there, it’s a quick jaunt to the gate and you’re on your way. The highway only goes to the top of the summit and back, so it’s easy to know if you’re lost by whether you’re going uphill or downhill. The highway is a good 20 miles long and the scenic views are unparalleled. You’ll travel through multiple Colorado life zones, watching as the mountain terrain makes it tougher and tougher for flora and fauna to survive. Survive it does, though, and you’ll enjoy every mile of its valiant efforts. There are multiple places to stop on your way up and down and even some hiking trails for those who can’t get enough scenery just looking through the windows. Look for bighorn sheep, marmots, wildflowers and snow as you drive and mind the guardrail-free portions. At the top, you can see all the way into neighboring states, not to mention the entirety of the Pikes Peak region. There’s a visitor center with specialty, high-altitude donuts to refuel yourself for the way back down. Be a good friend to your brakes on the way back down and use lower gears and slow speeds. If you play it right, you won’t have to wait in time-out at the bottom for them to cool. After your Pikes Peak drive, you can head east on Highway 24 down into Manitou Springs, Old Colorado City, Downtown Colorado Springs and all parts beyond, or west to Cripple Creek, Victor, Divide, Florissant and even further into the Rockies.
Basic directions: If you are traveling in the summer, you must start by reserving a time online. Take Highway 24 west out of Colorado Springs. Follow directional signage and turn left off Highway 24 just past the town of Cascade. From there, you will travel to the gate, where you will pay admission or show payment and receive a map and instructions. The highway travels to the summit and back and typically takes 2-3 hours with round trip and stops. Please remember to utilize a map or GPS for plotting your route completely. These are basic directions to get you started.
Eleven Mile Canyon
Like the Pikes Peak Highway, the drive through Eleven Mile Canyon is an out and back once you get past the gate. Even better, the drive to get to Eleven Mile is just as lovely. Taking Highway 24 west out of Colorado Springs, the drive first passes through Woodland Park and Divide before cutting through the high plains. We’re talking prairie hills against the backdrop of mighty mountains. Cows and meandering streams. Or is it streams and meandering cows? In between these magical hills are giant outcroppings of boulders, sweeping vistas and more than a few opportunities to catch a glimpse of birds of prey, deer and adorable rodents (hopefully not in sight of the aforementioned birds). Then you’re on the road to Eleven Mile Canyon and it gets even better! This stunning drive takes you through a snug canyon filled with massive boulders, roaring waters and plenty of places to stop and hike, swim, fish or camp (camping requires reservations). The dirt road that leads the way is well-packed and easy to navigate in most cars – no need for an all-terrain vehicle unless you take one of the forest roads nearby for a quick excursion. The wildlife along this drive is typically small mammals and birds, but at the right time of day you may also be lucky enough to spot deer. Despite the canyon moniker, you will also be treated to rolling, grassy meadows and heavily forested areas. Eleven Mile really runs through the beauty checklist for scenic drivers. One of the best features is access to clean camp bathrooms and picnic sites located all along the river and tucked up into the forest. Families enjoy bringing floats to cruise calmer portions of the river and that’s fun to watch as you drive, too.
Basic directions: Take Highway 24 west past Divide toward Lake George – about 38 miles from Downtown Colorado Springs. Turn left on Colorado Road 96 and proceed to the gate. Pay your admission and you’re on your way. Follow the road to the dam and circle back. Feel free to explore the more rugged roads along Forest Road 393 near Wagon Tongue Gulch and Springer Gulch campground. Once you’re done you can also explore Eleven Mile Reservoir, the Florissant Fossil Beds or Spruce Grove Campground nearby.
We are fortunate that our cars can carry us all over in mere hours instead of the weeks and months it once took travelers on horseback or by wagon. Explore the Pikes Peak region like the pioneers wish they could have (fast and with AC) with these scenic Southern Colorado drives.