Going on a scenic drive from Denver offers the opportunity to see some of the country’s most breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, along with the state’s Old West history and remnants from the Colorado Silver Boom of the 19th century. A scenic drive is an ideal way to experience the area’s nature and historical past from the comfort of your car, and can be a great start to a weekend trip or romantic getaway.
Top 15 scenic drives from Denver
1. Loveland Pass
This scenic drive, just over an hour from Denver, lasts about half a day and spans the continental divide that splits the nation’s watershed flow between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. High-elevation mountains at 11,990 feet above sea level make Loveland Pass a dramatic road trip any time of year.
2. Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway
Head a few hours west of Denver to explore the footsteps of ancient dinosaurs along 134 miles of the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway. Dramatic gorges serve as an incredible backdrop for dinosaur quarries and museums that are home to some of the world’s biggest prehistoric discoveries.
3. Trail Ridge Road
Running through Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road earns a spot on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to being the highest continuous paved road in the country. In addition to mountains and valleys, you’ll also see glacier peaks. Plus, this family-friendly drive only takes a few hours round trip.
4. Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway
The Lariat Loop connects the communities of Golden, Morrison and Evergreen, and can be accessed just 15 miles west of Denver. You’ll drive by Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, Buffalo Bill’s Grave and the state’s buffalo herd and ascend 1,300 feet up Lookout Mountain.
5. Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Drive
Just a short drive from Denver, this scenic drive is an easy day trip you won’t soon forget. While you can get out to bike or walk in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, you can also drive through an 11-mile stretch to see incredible wildlife, such as bison, deer and coyotes.
6. Georgetown Loop Railroad
Take a scenic drive from Denver to the Georgetown Loop Railroad to explore a historic silver mining town. While you’re there, grab a train ticket and ride across the Devil’s Gate High Bridge, which is situated 95 feet in the air over Clear Creek Gorge. Train and nature enthusiasts alike will love this destination.
7. Guanella Pass Scenic Byway
While beautiful all year round, the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway really shines during its autumnal show of spectacular aspen tree leaves. At only 22 miles long, you can travel the length of the pass in about an hour while stopping to see an abundance of wildlife.
8. Littleton Crabapple Route
Just south of Denver, the small town of Littleton bursts into bloom each spring thanks to 7,000 flowering, vibrant pink crabapple trees. The fragrant Littleton Crabapple Route runs for seven miles through the town, which has an informal goal of achieving a world record for the most crabapple trees per capita.
9. Rocky Mountain National Park
Aspen groves, lowland meadows and subalpine forests are just some of the biomes you’ll experience while driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. The park’s scenic route spans more than 160 miles, making this trip about four hours from Denver to Estes Park and back.
10. Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway
At 28 miles long, the Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway reaches an altitude of more than 14,000 feet. Start in Idaho Springs, CO, about 30 miles outside of Denver, and then continue the drive to check out views of the continental divide. You may also come across alpine wildflowers and wildlife, such as bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
11. Virginia Canyon Road
Want a thrill ride with gorgeous views? Virginia Canyon Road, just around 8.5 miles long, will give you a hair-raising adventure with its narrow lanes and steep drop-offs with no guardrail. The surrounding beauty is well worth the slow drive. Plus, you can stop off to see pieces of the past, including ghost towns and old mines.
12. Deer Creek Canyon to South Turkey Creek Canyon
This loop winds through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and lasts about an hour and a half with continuous driving. In addition to passing beautiful red rock formations, this scenic drive from Denver also takes you through quaint towns where you can grab lunch or do some shopping.
13. Pikes Peak Highway
This scenic drive is 19 miles long but often takes two to three hours round trip — even more if you stop often to enjoy the views as your car climbs more than 14,000 feet to the summit of Pikes Peak. In addition to stunning mountain views, you’ll see lakes and may be able to spot wildlife on your way up. If you’re traveling from May 26 through September 30, you’ll need to make a reservation and pay $2 to make the drive.
14. South Elk Creek Road
Explore South Elk Creek Road, which is about 40 miles outside of Denver. After enjoying the winding roads, you’ll end up in the town of Pine, home to Pine National Forest. It’s the perfect stop for a picnic or a hike before heading back to the car.
15. Peak to Peak Byway
Ideal in fall but beautiful all year long, the Peak to Peak Byway takes you from Estes Park to Clear Creek Canyon in a three-hour drive. It’s the state’s first scenic byway and passes through aspen groves and ghost towns.
Denver road trip tips
If you plan to hit the road for one of these scenic drives from Denver, follow these tips for a smooth trip.
Keep your gas tank full
Taking the scenic route naturally means that towns, and therefore gas stations, will be few and far between. Review your route before starting your road trip and make note of gas station locations so you can top off when needed and ensure you won’t get stuck in a remote area with an empty tank.
Pack food and water
Many people pack lunch so they can stop and picnic during a scenic drive, but you also want to make sure you have enough food and water for your entire journey, in case there aren’t any stores in the area. You may not plan to be on the road long after lunchtime, but between stopping at overlooks and taking a few scenic detours, it’s possible that your short road trip could turn into a much longer one, and you should be prepared just in case.
Cell phone reception can drop when you’re traveling through remote areas. And if you’re relying on your GPS to get you to your destination, you may be unpleasantly surprised when the directions cut out. To avoid getting lost, download or print directions so you’re always prepared. A related tip: bring a car charger to power up your devices.
Check the weather forecast
Stay up to date on the weather before and during your scenic drive from Denver. Sudden changes, such as heavy rains and spreading wildfires, can force a detour or prolonged stop. It’s better to delay your road trip for one day than to encounter adverse weather conditions in a remote area.
Avail can get you there
Start your scenic drive from Denver with Avail car sharing. Our neighborhood pick-up locations are self-service, so you can just book online, grab the keys and go – no lines, no waiting. Every trip with Avail is protected by Allstate insurance and includes a second driver and 24/7 roadside assistance, so you can explore with peace of mind.