Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways

The State Publications Blog is excited to introduce a new series highlighting Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways!

An aerial view of a two-lane road cutting along a mountain ridge right about at tree line, with a high mountainous landscape visible in the background.
Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo from the National Parks Service.

Colorado is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States. One way to experience the state’s natural beauty is by taking a drive or bike ride on one of Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways. These designated roads take visitors through some of the state’s most awe-inspiring landscapes, from majestic mountains to winding canyons to fascinating historical sites.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) manages 26 designated byways spanning more than 2,500 miles across 48 of Colorado’s 65 counties. The byways range from paved two-lane highways to dirt roads that require four-wheel drive. They provide access to 23 state parks and about 50 historical and cultural sites. Check out a map and find details about each byway in CDOT’s Official Guide to the Scenic and Historic Byways; or, just follow the iconic columbine road signs!

Although there are many beautiful drives through Colorado, to be designated as a Colorado Scenic Byway, a road must meet certain requirements. These requirements are outlined in Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Commission’s 2017 strategic plan and include:

  • having exceptional and outstanding scenic, natural, recreational, cultural, or historical value;
  • being an existing route with public access;
  • having strong local support for the designation; and,
  • presenting a conceptual plan for the byway as part of the nomination process.

Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways are also part of the larger America’s Scenic Byways program. To be designated as an America’s Scenic Byway, a team must complete a 14-part Corridor Management Plan and demonstrate the byway meets at least one of the intrinsic qualities required (these qualities are also outlined in the strategic plan linked above). Thirteen of Colorado’s 26 byways have been designated as America’s Byways by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation – more than any other state! Two of these, the San Juan Skyway and Trail Ridge Road, are also designated as All-American Roads, the highest level awarded.

Exploring Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways by car or bicycle is a wonderful way to experience the state’s stunning landscapes, learn about its rich history and culture, and visit its unique small towns and communities. Whether you’re a seasoned road tripper or a first-time visitor, there’s a byway for everyone.

In each installment of this series, we’ll go into detail about one of Colorado’s 26 Scenic and Historic Byways, sharing information from our digital repository and the CDOT library. Keep your eyes peeled for our first byway feature coming your way soon!