White River National Forest

Scenic Driving

The term "scenic driving" in the White River National Forest seems like an oxymoron. It's hard to imagine unscenic driving here. Even the Interstate 70, for bad or for worse, passes through dramatic Glenwood Canyon.

If you're in a two-wheel drive vehicle, the paved roads through the White River are the stuff of legend. Perhaps the most famous route is Independence Pass Road (Highway 82), which connects the Arkansas Valley with Aspen. It passes a real ghost town—Independence— always a hit with kids and the mystics in the bunch. More dramatically, the road passes over the highest pass in Colorado, namely 12,095-foot Independence Pass over the Sawatch Range. The Sawatch contains four of the five highest peaks in Colorado—get ready for a major thrill when you reach the top.

The 82-mile Flat Tops Trail, a National Scenic Byway, makes a good entry into the Flat Tops area of the White River Plateau, a region of deep sandstone canyons carved by countless rivers and streams. This route extends from Meeker to Yampa, following Rio Blanco County Road 8, Route NFR 16, and Routt County Road 17. You will have the opportunity to take a detour on Forest Road 205 to Trapper Lake, the "cradle of wilderness." This is perhaps the best starting point for hiking and fishing expeditions into the Flat Tops Wilderness. Back on the drive, the road passes over the 10,343-foot Ripple Pass and later 9,763-foot Dunckley Pass, for a stunning succession of great views. This drive is especially terrific in the fall when the Aspen are in color. But don't go too late—the drive closes after the first heavy snow fall.

Four-Wheel Driving
Gotta four-wheel drive and want to try it out? White River has some suitably rugged four-wheel drive areas, many of them old mining roads. The Lincoln Creek Road features an old mining cabin and a ghost town. But perhaps Pearl Pass is the most famous. This stretch of bump of grinds climbs the ridge between Aspen and Crested Butte. It is beloved by mountain bikers, too—so careful around those curves!

The Mill Creek Road gets you up above Vail Village and later to a mountaintop with 360-degree views. Hagerman Pass Road out of Carbondale has gotten good marks all around. This famous road features stunning views of the Rockies and is especially beloved by those who appreciate a good lake. And who doesn't?

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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