Highway of Legends Scenic Byway
Southeast Colorado, an undiscovered gem
|Mileage||80 miles (130 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||1 hour, 44 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.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||Colorado Highway 12|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Walsenburg, CO▼, La Veta, CO▼, Weston, CO▼, and Trinidad, CO▼|
4.5 average from 2 votes
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Take your time while exploring this legendary scenic drive as you travel from Walsenburg to Trinidad. Every curve unfolds impressive mountain views, some snow-capped, some forested or rocky, all jaw-dropping. A rich coal and gold mining history attracted immigrants from around the world that still flavors the region. Discover friendly communities, state parks, museums, unusual rock formations, and a bounty of outdoor recreation. Southeast Colorado is a captivating, undiscovered gem.
Walsenburg retains it’s Old West charm. Historic buildings line Main Street, now unique shops, antique stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. With nearby lodging options, Walsenburg makes a great base for exploring the region. Before beginning this scenic drive, don’t miss these highlights. The Walsenburg Mining Museum (M7) tells the story of the “city built on coal". Located in the old county jail originally built in 1896, examine artifacts, photographs, mining tools, equipment, and memorabilia. Learn about the Ludlow Massacre, when in 1914, striking coal miners were attacked at their tent colony by the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel and Iron Company guards. Among those killed were 2 women and 11 children. Also visit the Ludlow Memorial which was erected by the United Mine Workers of America near the tent site, just a half mile west of I-25. It is now a National Historic Landmark and a continuing reminder of the struggle for workers’ rights. The Museum of Friends (M8) features a collection of over 600 artworks donated by contemporary artists to the museum founders, along with a series of rotating exhibits. There is a small entrance fee.
The byway begins on US-160 West. Lathrop State Park (H1) was the first state park in Colorado, and the only one with golf course. The focal point are two lakes. Martin Lake offers a full range of water recreation as motor boats are permitted, perfect for water-skiing, jet-skiing, and tubing. Horseshoe Lake only permits non-motorized boats, making this a peaceful oasis for kayaks, canoes, and standup paddle-boarding. Both lakes offer a swimming beach, fishing, and simply stunning views of the Spanish Peaks. Camping is available at Pinon Campground or Yucca Campground. All Colorado Parks have a day-use entrance fee, or consider a Colorado State Park Pass.
La Veta is well-known for its Artist Colony, and you will discover numerous art galleries and studios featuring regional artists. You’ll also find lodging, several B&Bs, restaurants and shops. Visit the Fort Francisco Museum (M3). Originally a trading post constructed in 1862, the site now preserves the adobe fort and a collection of buildings including an 1890’s saloon, an 1876 log school house, an 1855 blacksmith shop, and more. Explore exhibits on Hispanic and Native American culture, ranching and coal mining, as well as a vast array of artifacts, a letter by Abraham Lincoln, photos, and arrowheads. Check the schedule for special events featuring demonstrations in adobe brick-making, wool-spinning, blacksmithing, and bread-baking. There is a small entrance fee, free for children under 12. Beautiful scenery and challenging climbs make cycling from La Veta to Trinidad a popular activity. The La Veta Library (A5) offers a unique bike check out service. Bikes can be checked out for 2 hours, or longer if no one is waiting. All you need is a library card or official identification. Is golf your game? Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, Grandote Peaks Golf Club (A2) offers 18-holes amid outstanding mountain views. Open spring to fall. Check the website for dates.
The byway continues on CO-12. Note the unique geologic formations, some 100-feet high, that radiate from Silver Mountain and West Spanish Peak. Known as the Great Dikes, they were created when thousands of feet of sedimentary rock eroded over time, revealing molten rock which is more resistant to erosion.
Birders rejoice! The Colorado Birding Trail follows the entire drive, and then some. Diverse habitats attract Dusky Grouse, Grace’s Warblers, Hepatic Tanagers, and roadrunners. Midway between La Veta and Cuchera is the dike formation Devils’ Stairsteps (V1), also a stop on the Colorado Birding Trail. Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons and other raptors can be observed here, along with great vantage points for photographing the rock formations. There is roadside parking, but please take caution when entering and exiting your vehicle. Other notable rock formations are Profile Rock to the east, and Goemmer Butte to the west.
The town of Cuchara is nestled at the base of Spanish Peaks. Bursting with Old West charm, the town features rustic boardwalks, hitching posts, and wooden storefronts.
The road forks at Cucharas Pass, the junction of CO-12 and 364/CR-46 with an addition to the byway that travels to Aguilar. Since the byway doesn’t loop, you can create your own loop by driving this road and then continuing to Trinidad, or vice versa. But no matter what you decide, do not miss this section. Besides the fact that winding switchbacks are fun to drive, the road travels over Cordova Pass an elevation of 11,248-feet, and through Apishapa Arch (H3) a tunnel carved through a volcanic dike. There are hiking and biking trails, and views that will require your camera batteries are fully-charged. Don’t miss the short interpretive trail to the Farley Flower Overlook Observation Site just 1/2 mile from beginning this road. Gorgeous views every season, but spring dazzles with meadows of colorful wildflowers. Note this road is not recommended for RV’s or trailers. At the Spanish Peaks State Wildlife Area (H4) observe wild turkey, antelope, beaver, and bears, as well as diverse plants, wildflowers, and mushrooms. There is camping and seasonal hunting.
We describe the rest of the drive continuing from Cucharas Pass to Trinidad on CO-12 South.
North Lake State Wildlife Area is open for boating, fishing, and hunting. Monument Lake (W3) is stocked with brown and cutthroat trout, kokanee salmon, and splake. It is open for fishing year-round. Nearby you’ll find many resorts with lodges, cabin rentals, and camping.
CO-12 travels through Stonewall Gap, a rocky outcropping part of the Dakota Sandstone formation. This section of the drive boasts sweeping views of the Purgatoire Valley, canyons, mountains, big skies, meandering streams, ranches, and elk. The small towns of Stonewall and Weston provide basic services and eateries.
Cokedale was established as a mining town in 1906. Now a National Historic District, miles of abandoned coke ovens still stand, reminiscent of ancient aqueducts.
Recreation at Trinidad Lake State Park (H2) is centered around Trinidad Lake, popular with anglers fishing for rainbow and brown trout, largemouth bass, walleye, crappie and bluegill. Enjoy motorized boating, sailing, canoeing, and kayaking. Ten miles of hiking trails explore unique geology, history, flora and fauna. Among them are an easy ADA accessible trail near the Visitor Center, a 3/4-mile hike to Long’s Canyon Watchable Wildlife Area which has two observation blinds that overlook wetlands, or the 4-mile Reilly Canyon Trail which travels to Cokedale. Practice your skills at the Archery Range. Camp here and watch the sunset over the flat top Fishers Peak.
Trinidad is the big city around here, offering modern amenities, services, lodging, and restaurants while retaining its past with hundreds of historic buildings. Stop at the Colorado Welcome Center (I1) which also features memorials dedicated to the men and women of Las Animas County who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Corazon de Trinidad is a certified Colorado Creative District, boasting over 150 artists working in a wide range of medium and creative expression. Explore galleries, studios, performances, and special events year-round. Don’t miss the A. R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art (M4). Focused on western art, the museum is home to the largest collection of Arthur Roy Mitchell’s iconic paintings of western scenes, as well as paintings by Harvey Thomas Dunn and Harold von Schmidt. Examine a fascinating collection of old west artifacts, Navajo rugs, American Indian pottery, Hispanic religious art and and historical photography, along with a series of rotating exhibits. There is an entrance fee. The Trinidad History Museum (M6) recants the story of Trinidad’s early mining and ranching days, and colorful characters including Kit Carson, Bat Masterson, Billy the Kid, and Mother Jones through exhibits, photographs and artifacts. Included is the Sante Fe Trail Museum, and nearby, the Hough-Baca House and Bloom Mansion. The two-story adobe Hough-Baca House was built in 1870, using Hispanic construction techniques and English design. The Bloom Mansion was built in 1882, and you can tour the parlor, dining room, and beautiful garden. A small entrance fee to visit the two historic homes includes an informative guided tour. A bronze statue of Kit Carson stands at nearby Kit Carson Park. Kids of all ages will love the Louden-Henritze Archaeology Museum (M5) located within the Trinidad State Junior College. The museum exhibits a local 1000-year old petrogylph, dioramas of Trincheran shelters, fossils, rock specimens and more. Take in a production at the Southern Colorado Repertory Theatre (A3), stroll the Purgatoire River Walk, or take the Trolley around town.
The drive ends in Trinidad, which is close to the border of New Mexico. Depending on which route you took, you can complete any sections of the byway you missed.