Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
Through Roosevelt National Forest to Rocky Mountain National Park
|Mileage||59 miles (95 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||1 hour, 27 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 119, 7, and 72|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Black Hawk, CO▼, Central City, CO▼, Idaho Springs, CO▼, Empire, CO▼, North Colorado Springs, CO▼, Eldora, CO▼, Nederland, CO▼, Wondervu, CO▼, more...Eldorado Springs, CO▼, Ward, CO▼, Allenspark, CO▼, Estes Park, CO▼, Silver Spruce, CO▼, Loveland Heights, CO▼, and Waltonia, CO▼|
3.9 average from 206 votes
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Designated in 1918, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is Colorado’s oldest Scenic Byway. Admire extraordinary beauty as the curvy road winds its way through the Arapaho National Forest, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and Rocky Mountain National Park. Less than an hour from Denver, Boulder or Fort Collins, this drive is a perfect mountain getaway.
The scenic drive begins in Central City and travels to Estes Park. To reach Central City, take exit 243 off of I-70. Or for added fun, take exit 240 to Idaho Springs where you can take Virginia Canyon Road (T1). The gnarly road is reached by turning right onto Colorado Boulevard for a few blocks, take the slight left at Placer Street, the next left onto Canyon Street and right on Forest Road 279 (Virginia Canyon Road).
The twin towns of Central City and Black Hawk are lined with Victorian-era buildings reminiscent of a time long past. Established in 1859 when John Gregory found gold in the nearby hills, Central City was known as “the richest square mile on earth”. Many are still seeking treasure in the plethora of casinos and gaming halls here. Delve into the history of the region with a visit to the Gilpin County Historical Museum (M1) or the Central City Opera House built in 1878 and now a National Historic Landmark. Or take a gold mining tour and explore the ghost towns of nearby Apex and Nevadaville.
To the east of Black Hawk is Golden Gate Canyon State Park (H1) which features over 12,000 acres of forest, meadows, and rocky peaks ripe for outdoor adventure. There are hiking and biking trails for every level, fishing and picnic areas. Varied habitats provide homes for a number of wildlife including moose, bighorn sheep, fox, porcupine and birds. Make this an overnight stop with camping, cabins and yurts. Winter provides maintained trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Don’t miss Panorama Point, which as you can guess from its name, offers a spectacular panoramic view of the 14,264-foot tall Mount Evans, Denver, Roosevelt National Forest, and the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park.
CO-119 travels alongside the Arapaho National Forest. This pristine natural area was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt and named for the Native American tribe that hunted here. Partake in a wide range of activities such as fishing, kayaking, camping or mountain biking and hiking on 28 miles of trails. In winter enjoy snow-shoeing, snowmobiling and ice fishing.
Continuing north on CO-119 passing lodgepole forest for 18-miles, you arrive in Rollinsville. In 1873, John Rollins built a wagon road over the Continental Divide which in 1903 was acquired by John Moffat who then built a railroad over the mountain pass. A major engineering feat at the time, it included 33 tunnels along the route and was the highest American railroad. In 1956, Rollins Pass Road was converted into a trail with areas for hiking and off-road vehicles offering views of railway remnants, water towers, bridges and incredible scenery.
Back on CO-119, turn left onto CO-72 in the town of Nederland, adjacent the Barker Meadow Reservoir. Nederland is a picturesque mountain town with restaurants, unique shops, lodging and host to a range of festivals for every season. It also makes a great base for outdoor recreation. If you were to continue on CO-119, you reach Boulder Canyon, well-known for its rock climbing. To the east is Eldorado Mountain Resort (A2) a top destination for skiing, snowboarding, cross-country and snowshoeing boasting 300 inches of snow per year.
Heading north on CO-72, you will be greeted by the 13,000-foot high Indian Peaks. In the town of Ward, turn left onto Forest Road 112 to reach Brainard Lake Recreation Area (H2). Two mirror-like lakes reflect picture-perfect images of the peaks. Enjoy fishing for cutthroat, rainbow and brook trout in Red Rock and Brainard Lakes or take the Long Lake Trail for more incredible views. Camping is available with a permit.
Continuing through dense forest for 10 miles, turn left onto CO-7. Moments after, stop at the Mount Meeker Scenic Overlook (V1) for views of endless mountain peaks as you gaze upon Mount Meeker and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Continuing on CO-7, meadows open up, revealing more majestic mountain views and a chance to see some of the coyotes, deer and elk that call this area home.
In Allenspark, Chapel on the Rock (A3) blends in as part of the natural landscape sitting atop a massive granite rock and built from local stone. The St. Catherine of Siena Chapel is famed for a visit from Pope John Paul II who stayed here and walked the trails in 1993. The chapel is open to the public.
Back on CO-7, you will see the tallest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, the 14,255-foot Longs Peak. Longs Peak Trail (H3) is a moderately difficult 15-hour round-trip hike to the summit, and those adventurous enough will be rewarded with the grandest views of the Rocky Mountains.
Further up the road is the Enos Mills Cabin Museum (M2), on the Register of Historic Places. The original homestead cabin was built in 1885 by 15-year old Kansan Enos A. Mills, best known as the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park”. The park was officially established in 1915, due to his determination and here you can see some of his photography, books, as well as exhibits depicting his life. Mills climbed Longs Peak nearly 300 times.
Continuing north, the road descends as you pass Lily Lake (W1) once filled with lilies. Today, the lake is a popular stop for migratory birds, including ring-necked ducks, mallards, and Canadian geese. Enjoy a picnic while bird-watching and then stroll the easy, fully-accessible Lily Lake Loop Trail. A few other trails leave from here as well.
Our scenic drive comes to an end as you arrive in Estes Park, but the adventure continues through Rocky Mountain National Park, where snow-capped jagged peaks create a breathtaking backdrop for lakes, alpine flowers and forest. Inside the park are two awe-inspiring scenic drives — Trail Ridge Road, known for being the highest continuous paved road in the nation and Old Fall River Road which is primarily gravel, slow and winding as it explores the alpine landscape.