Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison Scenic Byways - Colorado Scenic Drives

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These Scenic Byways wander through forests, leading to trails and campgrounds. Scenic driving is the most popular form of recreation on the National Forest. There are six Scenic Byways on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. Byways through the Forests provide access to other activities, such as fishing, wildlife watching and four-wheeling.

The Forests have a number of trails that begin near Scenic Byways. Interpretive signs can be found throughout journeys on the Forests. Brochures and other educational materials explaining the wonders of nature and history of man are available at most Forest Service offices.

Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway

This route is a state and national scenic and historic byway, crossing the world's largest flattop mountain. It's a 55-mile journey from the orchards of the valley floor to the alpine meadows of its 11,000-foot summit. The trip can begin in Cedaredge at Pioneer Town or in Plateau Canyon where Highway 65 joins 1-70, 20 miles east of Grand Junction. The route is open all year long.

Excellent fishing, hiking and camping can be enjoyed along this byway. Some 300 lakes scattered across the Grand Mesa provide superb opportunities for anglers. Golden aspen shimmering in the fall provide an unequaled panoramic view. In the winter, the Mesa provides premier cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. It has 120 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and 70 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. It also provides access to the Sunlight to Powderhom snowmobile trail. Terrain on the Grand Mesa is open parks, forests and gently rolling hills, making it one of the finest places you'll find to cross-country ski. Powderhorn Ski Area is a popular spot with downhill skiers.

The byway will take you up through numerous ecological transitions, including pinon-juniper desert canyons, aspen foothills, lily ponds and alpine forests.

San Juan Skyway

This drive passes through millions of acres of the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests . See waterfalls in spring, wildflowers in summer, shimmering golden aspen in fall and a snowy wonderland in winter.

This loop through the San Juan Mountains follows 236 miles of maintained state highways on a journey from towering mountains and alpine forest to rolling vistas and ancient reins of Indian country. The route can be traveled most of the year. Winter travel may be slow and dangerous in the high country. If you are prepared to make this trip during winter, the snowcapped crags are spectacular.

The towns of Ouray, Montrose, Ridgway, Telluride, Rico, Dolores, Cortez, Mancos, Durango and Silverton all provide access to the San Juan Skyway.

The San Juan National Forest has audio-tapes, videotapes, books and brochures to interpret the history, ecology and geology along the way.

More on the San Juan Skyway.

Silver Thread Highway

Silver Thread winds for 75 miles through the breathtaking San Juan Mountains on the Gunnison and Rio Grande National Forests . This paved route travels through the quaint mining towns of Lake City, Creede and South Fork.

The byway climbs 11,000-foot Slumgullion Pass and crosses the Continental Divide. It crosses the Slumgullion Earthflow, a National Natural Landmark. The 700-year-old mud-flow is four miles long and 2,000 feet wide. Some sections are moving 28 feet a year. Decades ago, the earthflow dammed the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and created Lake San Cristobal. The three-square mile lake is the second largest natural lake in Colorado.

You can stop and visit the graves of people eaten by Alferd Packer, Colorado's infamous cannibal. The graves are located four miles south of Lake City at the base of Cannibal Plateau.

The Silver Thread is a byway for all seasons. Snowmobilers and cross-country skiers find excellent conditions in this area. There are more than 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in the Lake City area

Mountain scenery, ghost towns, wildlife and fishing are attractions along the byway. A moose or Bighorn sheep might be spotted.

Many trails are located along the Silver Thread Byway. La Garita, Big Blue and Weminuche Wilderness areas can be seen from the byway. North Clear Creek Falls are halfway between Lake City and Creede. Six Forest Service campgrounds are near the byway. The area has many guest ranches.

West Elk Loop

This 205-mile Colorado and National Forest Scenic Byway has a unique combination of geological, historical, recreational and scenic features. The Loop circles the West Elk Wilderness . It also passes between the West Elk Wilderness and Raggeds Wilderness , offering extraordinary scenic views. The loop includes a spur to Carbondale from Paonia.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Blue Mesa Reservoir and Crawford State Recreation Area and Paonia State Recreation Area also are on this route. There are two "designated" historic districts and many historic mining and railroad sites along this beautiful loop. Part of the loop, between the towns of Paonia and Hotchkiss, was traveled by Fathers Dominquez and Escalante in 1776 on their journey to find a route from Mexico over the mountains to church missions in California.

Recreation opportunities include Crested Butte ski area, and access to lots of fishing, as well as hiking, world class mountain biking and horse trails. Camping, wildlife watching, beating and snowmobiling also are popular activities in this area of the country.

The route is from Carbondale, over McClure Pass and Kebler Pass to Crested Butte. From Crested Butte (on Highway 135) it continues south to Gunnison and then west on U.S. 50 where it intersects with Colorado 92. It follows 92 over Black Mesa to Crawford and Hotchkiss. The route then heads northeast, past Paonia, over Colorado 133 back to Carbondale. During winter, Kebler Pass is closed. At this writing, Highway 133 is closed due to landslides. Please call the Paonia Ranger District at 31 to see if the road is open before planning your trip.

Alpine Loop

The Alpine Loop is a nationally famous four-wheel drive route. It was recently designated a Backcounty Scenic Byway by the Bureau of Land Management.

The loop is a series of old mining roads built in the late 1800s during the silver, gold, lead and zinc mining boom. It covers 65 miles between the towns of Lake City, Ouray and Silverton. The mute can be reached from any of the three towns. The road usually opens in June, depending on winter snow. It usually closes in late October. About two-thirds of the route is dirt road, suitable for two-wheel-drive vehicles. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is needed if you want to drive the entire route. It climbs both Engineer and Cinnamon passes.

Four-wheel drives can be rented in surrounding communities. Tours are offered for those who would rather sit back and enjoy the scenery. Ghost towns, abandoned mines and wildflowers can be seen along the way. There are three developed campgrounds, a picnic area and 10 restrooms on the loop. Alpine Loop is becoming increasingly popular with mountain bikers.

Special Feature. . .
Unaweep/Tabegauche Scenic Byway - Wild rivers, trails, historic towns—and oh, that scenery!

Rivers, streams and lakes along the way attract fishermen in search of trout. Many hiking trailheads are near the loop and there are several designated roads that off-road vehicle users love to explore.

Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway

This byway includes ancient structures built by Native American hunters and gatherers, petroglyphs, geological formations and waterfalls. A wooden water flume clinging to stone cliffs, and century-old coke ovens, left over from mining operations, can be viewed from the byway.

The route is a Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Scenic Byway, with a short segment on National Forest.

Several interpretive signs along the way explain the fascinating history of this area.

This by way is made up of Highways 141 and 145 and is located near the Colorado/Utah border. It's 133 miles long from White Water to Placerville. The northern end of the byway is 15 miles south of Grand Junction off Highway 50, at Whitewater. The southern end of the byway joins the San Juan Skyway at Placerville off Highway 62.

The entire way is paved and can be traveled by automobiles and high clearance recreational vehicles. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for side roads onto the Uncompahgre Plateau.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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