Chaffee County is an extremely diverse area of Colorado holding a wealth of outdoor adventures, out of this world scenery, and friendly welcoming communities. Try these scenic drives to get a feel for what Chaffee County has to offer.
The Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway is an inspiring 57 miles full of breath-taking views of the largest concentration of 14ers in the country. The byway gets its name from the prominent Sawatch Range peaks named after Ivy League Universities: Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and Princeton.
Independence Pass is only open in the summer for scenic drives. Take Hwy 24 north along the Arkansas River, past the historic town of Granite. Turn left onto Hwy 82 and switchback your way to an elevation of 12,095 ft. The top of the pass offers restrooms and scenic mountain views from the overlook. You can turn back here or continue over the Continental Divide to Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale before heading over Kebler Pass (Open only in the summer) and through the historic mountain town and ski resort of Crested Butte.
Topping out at 12,126 feet, the Cottonwood Pass road, is also known as County Road 306. Cottonwood Pass connects with Taylor Reservoir, leading to Almont, Gunnison and Crested Butte, making it an excellent summer trip. During the winter, the road is closed, but the pass is groomed for winter activities and snowmobiling.
Highway 50 is a major east west route through the United States and it reaches its highest point on Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet. This beautiful drive just east of Salida, passes by lush ranches, historic mining towns, huge stands of aspen trees, and the Monarch Mountain ski area. Several trailheads along the way lead to alpine lakes and high mountain passes perfect for a hike or backpack. During the summer months a gift shop/snack bar at the top serves up refreshments and supplies. A scenic gondola rises another 500 feet to a viewing platform that confirms the statement posted on their sign, “No place in America has the view you will see from the top. Take cameras.”
History buffs will love this route which follows the original railroad grade for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad enroute to Salt Lake City from Denver in the late 1800’s. Beginning on County Road 200, off of Hwy 285, a few miles south of Poncha Springs, this graded dirt road passes a historic townsite and a beautiful alpine lake before topping out just below tree line at 10,842’.
Head east on US Hwy 50 along the Arkansas River. As you enter Bighorn Sheep Canyon, keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, whitewater rafters and kayakers and folks fishing along the 102 miles of Gold Medal Waters. When you come to US 24 and US 285, you’ll top out at 9,487’ on Trout Creek Pass. Upon the descent, you’ll find Chubb Park with its unique rock formations. Once the Collegiate Peaks reveal themselves, you’ll probably find yourself saying, Now THIS is Colorado!
This graded dirt road leads to lush meadows and expansive views of the Continental Divide. As the name suggests, it also happens to be one of the best places in Chaffee County to view the changing aspen trees during the Fall. From Hwy 285 along Trout Creek Pass take county roads 307, 187, & 185 to Bassam Park. Volcanic rock outcroppings blend into open meadows full of wildflowers perfect for a picnic. Spur roads lead to other interesting areas. The adventurous may wish to continue the trip over the ridge into Salida. Be advised though, this section can be rough and washed out in places.
© 2023 Chaffee County Visitors Bureau | All Rights Reserved