There’s nothing like a Sunday drive to blaze a leisurely trail along a resplendent road of nature’s treasures. Grab your sunglasses and driving gloves and take a spin along one of these soul-soothing expeditions.
Taking its names from the historic Lariat Trail, this drive is billed as “forty miles of western adventure.” The Lariat Loop was one of the first routes that Denver developed to promote more travel up to the mountains. The road connects a series of two dozen parks including Red Rock Amphitheater, Buffalo Bill’s Grave and the buffalo overlook, where you might get to see Denver’s herd of 40 roaming buffalo. Start in downtown Golden and take the serpentine drive up to Lookout Mountain. You’ll gain 1,300 feet in just 4.3 miles. At the 7,379-foot summit, enjoy your reward of sweeping views in every direction.
An excursion up Highway 6 through Clear Creek Canyon is especially spectacular in the fall, but it’s a popular drive year-round. This is one of the narrowest, steepest canyons in the state, drawing rock climbers, rafters, kayakers and fishermen year-round. Head towards Central City, a historic mining town that once had the largest gold rush boom town in Colorado. Look for signs for the Virginia Canyon Road, better known to locals as the “Oh My God Road”. Back in the day, stage coach passengers used to utter the expression as they marveled out their windows at the dramatic canyon drop offs.
As the highest paved road in North America, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway draws drivers for its winding curves and hairpin switchbacks. It’s referred to as the “road in the sky” because of the nearly 9,000 foot elevation change – you’ll eventually climb to some 14,000 feet above sea level, high above the tree lines. Take it slow, especially around Echo Lake Park. The road demands 100 percent concentration, and many areas have no guard rails. There are several lookout points along the way to enjoy stunning views of the Rockies, alpine lakes and plenty of wildlife. About a half-hour drive from Golden, the road begins at the junction of Interstate 70 and State Highway 103 near Idaho Springs. Give yourself about two hours for the actual drive. Note that drivers can only access the Byway between May and September.
If you’re looking for a joyride that’s more Colorado prairie than mountain road, the South Platte River Trail is the perfect diversion. At just 19 miles long, this quick jaunt takes you through Colorado’s only Pony Express station in Julesburg to the Lincoln Highway. The trail was used as a westward route for traders, fortune seekers and the 19th century settlers. West of the trail is Fort Sedgewick, which served as an important installation used to protect travelers and telegraph lines from Native American attacks.