Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway
A blend of many cultures and experiences
|Mileage||100 miles (161 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||1 hour, 43 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||Colorado Highways 165 and 96|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, pharmacies, etc.||Pueblo, CO▼, Colorado City, CO▼, Florence, CO▼, Pueblo West, CO▼, Querida, CO▼, Westcliffe, CO▼, Silver Cliff, CO▼, Lake Isabell, CO▼, more...and Rye, CO▼|
3.4 average from 62 votes
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The Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway celebrates the historic trail early pioneers used heading west over the Wet Mountains. Named for the amount of snow they receive in winter, the blue hue of the Wet Mountains gave hope to early prospectors.
The scenic drive begins in the city of Pueblo, home of the confluence of the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek. The city is just under 40 minutes south on I-25 of Colorado Springs and 2 hours south of Denver. This drive makes a great extension to the Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway.
Before leaving Pueblo, consider a stop at the El Pueblo History Museum (M1) which examines the culture and history of the Plains Native Americans, Mexican settlers, Europeans and miners. Visit a re-created 1840s adobe trading post and plaza and the excavation site of the original El Pueblo trading post abandoned after inhabitants were attacked by Utes and Jicarilla Apache. Or explore a splendid 37-room mansion built in 1893. The Rosemount Victoria House Museum features original Victorian furniture, an Egyptian mummy and more. The city of Pueblo itself is steeped in history. The Union Avenue Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or stroll the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk in the center of town, replete with art galleries, shops and restaurants. If you happen to be here late-September, don’t miss the annual Chile and Frijoles Festival where Pueblo’s best loved crops are celebrated. The 3-day event features food, cooking competitions, music and art and a lot of chiles.
Leaving the city behind, head west on CO-96 where you will soon arrive at Lake Pueblo State Park (W1). Surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo, Pikes Peak and Greenhorn mountain ranges, the lake is a year-round haven for water recreation including swimming, a 5-story waterslide, fishing and boating. There are many hiking and biking trails and camping opportunities.
Consider a quick side trip by heading east Country Road 399 to see the Jackson Hill Stage Stop (V1), where stagecoaches and miners would change for rested horses before continuing their trips. The photogenic wooden stage stop is currently in disrepair. Located on private property, the stop can be viewed from the road.
Moments after, the road climbs through pine forest and into Hardscrabble Canyon as it enters the San Isabel National Forest. Marvel at the jagged peaks of the Wet Mountains, rocky cliffs and delicate wildflowers. If you’re lucky, bighorn sheep and mule deer will welcome you.
The road heads west following Hardscrabble Creek. Rattlesnake Gulch is on your left and a steep trail, strewn with boulders and crags leads to a beautiful picnic spot above the canyon.
At the McKenzie Junction continue west on CO-96 towards the towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe.
Once a silver boom town in the late 1800s, today, less than 600 people live in Silver Cliff. Learn more about the town history at the Silver Cliff Museum (M4) located in the original Town Hall and Fire House. View period furnishings, household items, mining and fire-fighting equipment and much more. Entry is free, donations appreciated.
Blue skies, ranches, and expansive views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains welcome you to Westcliffe. An outdoor mecca, you'll find hiking and biking trails, fishing, horseback riding, off-roading, rock climbing, and more. In winter, get out the snowshoes, cross-country-skis or cruise miles of snowmobile trails. The 100-mile Rainbow Trail runs through the northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains from Westcliffe to Salida, offering ample opportunity for adventure for every level of ability. Westcliffe is a Dark Skies community, the first in Colorado, and the ninth in the world. Pack a blanket and your camera and join one of the stargazing events at the Smokey Jack Observatory (A3) at the southwest corner of The Bluff. Check their website for schedule. There are many music festivals and events including the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival and the Westcliffe Stampede Rodeo in July, the Wet Mountain Western Roundup in August, and the High Peaks Music Festival in September.
Listed on the National Historic Register, visit the Historic Beckwith Ranch (A2). A few buildings have been restored and are open for special events and weddings. Otherwise, you cannot enter the buildings. Stroll around the grounds for a glimpse of the past. The white clapboard buildings and red roofs with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background will make striking photos.
The drive backtracks to McKenzie Junction, where you should head south on CO-165.
You will pass Bishop’s Castle (A1), an incredible, quirky structure built completely by one man — Jim Bishop. Construction began in 1969 and is still ongoing. The Castle features a grand ballroom, stained glass windows and a dragon made from recycled metal hospital trays that shoots fire. The Castle is free but donations are requested.
Further up on CO-165 is the picturesque Lake Isabel (W2). Boats without motors are permitted and the lake is well-stocked for fishing. Enjoy the many hiking trails, picnic area and camping. In winter, there is ice fishing, skiing and tubing. Lake Isabel is contained within the Pike and San Isabel National Forests which requires an entrance fee covered by the America the Beautiful Pass. Continuing on CO-165 descends to the town of Rye and its northern Sonoran environment, to Colorado City, where the byway officially ends.
From here, continue the adventure on the Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway.