Colorado Scenic Byway: Top of the Rockies & Leadville

Header Ads

Advertisements

Scenery reaches new heights on the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway in Colorado — Mount Elbert and Mount Massive are the tallest and second tallest peaks in the state. Follow the beginnings of the Arkansas River, and be sure to stop by one of the many lakes in the area and spend some time on Leadville's main street.

• Wedged between the world-class resort towns of Vail to the east and Beaver Creek to the west, the high-altitude town of Minturn finds itself in a unique position. It is a far cry from a resort town, but has certainly found its niche solidly in the quaintness of mountain life. There are no high-dollar spas or multimillion dollar restaurants here, just pure, simple Colorado. Nearby, the town of Vail lays claim to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum, which was created in tribute to the multitude of talented individuals who have taken to the slopes.

• Cross-country ski trails abound here. Try the 11-mile Shine Pass route — one of Colorado's top spots for spring wildflower viewing, including rosy paintbrush and lupine. And when the snow melts, you can drive or mountain bike this same lofty road. Either way, you'll be treated to phenomenal views of 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross. If you're in search of trout fishing, you'll find numerous mountain lakes in the area. Consider dropping a line at Missouri Lake, the closest lake to Red Cliff.

• At an altitude of 10,521 feet, Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States. Built on the shoulders of the silver boom, Leadville has a number of historic structures peppered throughout its quaint downtown. Of these sites, the still-functioning Tabor Opera House is perhaps the most well-known and visited. There's also the National Mining Museum, celebrates the town's silver-boom past and shows what life was like for the state's mining pioneers. If grandiose nature inspires you, just take a look around — the town is surrounded by five peaks that tower more than 14,000 feet: Mount Elbert (14,440 feet), Mount Massive (14,421 feet), Mount Democrat (14,148 feet), Mount Sherman (14,036 feet) and Mount Bross (14,172 feet).

• To the west of the town of Twin Lakes, La Plata Peak towers 14,336 feet into the clear blue sky, dominating the landscape. This small mountain town, tucked in the San Isabel National Forest is a snapshot of rural life deep in the Rocky Mountains. Here, locals know each other by name and share in outdoor pursuits ranging from hiking the national forest to fishing the nearby Twin Lakes Reservoir.

The History: Leadville's silver boom helped fuel the dynasty of the Guggenheims, and paved the way for others to make a fortune. Stop by the Tabor Opera House, the Matchless Mine and the Dexter Cabin for stories of colorful characters and insights into Colorado's mining boom days.

Distance: 82 miles
Suggested Time: Allow 2 hours

Colorado is home to 25 Scenic and Historic Byways, 11 of which are also federally designated America's Byways. Read about all 25 in our Quick Guide to Colorado's Scenic & Historic Byways or view our virtual Colorado Byways Guide. You can also visit the Colorado Department of Transportation's Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways site.

An old cabin in a field along the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway -  near Twin Lakes
An old cabin near Twin Lakes along the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway
Shops and restaurants line the streets in historic downtown Leadville, CO
Shops in Leadville's historic downtown
A snowy Mount Elbert on the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway - near Leadville, CO
Mount Elbert rises above Leadville on the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway

Things To Do

Related Trip Ideas

See All Trip Ideas