The 6 Best Scenic Backroad Drives in Colorado

The 6 Best Scenic Backroad Drives in Colorado

Colorado is known for its mountain peaks, stunning views, and year-around adventure. Skiing might rule the snow-covered slopes in the winter, but, when the snow melts away and the mountain passes open, there is a whole host of new adventures to be had. A popular activity during the Summer and Fall months is to explore the many backroads that wind their way through the mountain passes.


creed mining town backroad colorado
Old mines and ghost towns dot the mountain passes of Colorado.

Long ago these mountain slopes were the world of spectators and gold miners. All looking to strike gold or silver in the hills and get rich in the process. Mule and wagon roads began to be dug through the passes to link the mining sites to the ‘big towns’ nearby and the gold began to flow (sometimes). Today most of the mines are dead and in disrepair and the mining camps have turned to ghost towns, but the roads are still there to explore.


phantom canyon road backroad victor cripple creek colorado
Phantom Canyon Road,once a mining railroad, cuts through the rocks.

Many of the old mining roads and mountain backroads need a 4-wheel drive to traverse. Jeeps and ATVs can be easily rented in any area that has mountain adventures nearby, but sometimes you just want to explore on your own time, without the hassle of renting a vehicle. For this, I have put together a list of my 6 favorite backroad drives in Colorado that you do not need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to travel.


Backroad Drives

Gold Camp Road


gold camp road tunnel backroad colorado springs
One of the 7 tunnels that cut through the mountains along Gold Camp Road.

Located just southwest of Colorado Springs, this backroad drive can be done with any vehicle. Gold Camp Road, now a dirt road, was once the route of a railroad that linked Old Colorado City with the still profitable gold mining area of Cripple Creek and Victor. The first half of the road out of Colorado Springs has 7 tunnels dug through the mountain; all but 2 of them you are still able to drive through. There are also a few great pull-offs along the way that offer great views of the city. If you wish, you can take a short detour, after tunnel #2, to Helen Hunt Falls. It’s a small waterfall, but worth a quick stop.


helen hunt falls gold camp road colorado springs
Helen Hunt Falls is a small but beautiful waterfall just off Gold Camp Road.

If you wish to only see the tunnels and then loop back to Colorado Springs, then I would suggest turning onto Old Stage Road, right after tunnel #7, and taking it back into town. It also has some great views of the city. If that’s not the case, then you can follow Gold Camp Road all the way until it intersects with Lazy S Ranch Road, and then on to either Cripple Creek or Victor. Both are great old mining towns that have been kept relatively similar to the old mining days and are well worth a visit in their own rights.


Phantom Canyon Road


phantom canyon road cliff victor cripple creek colorado
Phantom Canyon Road running along the side of the canyon..

Located south of Victor, this 29.6 mile backroad drive can be done with any vehicle. Phantom Canyon Road, now a dirt road, is the original route of a railroad that once connected Cripple Creek with a string of mining towns south to Florence. Today, the towns have long vanished, but the road is still a very scenic drive. Along the road you will pass by the sites of the old mining towns, through two tunnels, across three bridges, and through the canyon, as well as possibly see several wildlife.


phantom canyon road backroad drone victor cripple creek colorado
Phantom Canyon Road as it enters the canyon from the north.

There are also a number of dispersed camping sites along the road, especially along the middle to southern portion. From the southern exit of Phantom Canyon Road, Royal Gorge is only 30 minutes east. If you drove the Gold Camp Road all the way to Victor, then you can continue south on Phantom Canyon Road to make a full backroad trip out of it.


Rampart Ridge Road


pikes peak rampart ridge road backroad colorado springs
View of Pikes Peak from the overlook on Rampart Ridge Road.

Rampart Ridge Road, located west of Colorado Springs, is a great drive if you want an amazing view of Pikes Peak. Leaving out of the Garden of the Gods, just before Balanced Rock, the road is a bit steep, but should be drivable by most cars. The road then becomes easier to travel. Rampart Ridge Road is a scenic road but its primary purpose as a drive is to stop at Ridgecrest Scenic Overlook and Pikes Peak Lookout. This lookout is just 18 miles out and might be one of the best viewpoints of Pikes Peak you will find.


You can continue to follow Rampart Ridge Road, if you wish, all the way until it connects with US 24 and then use the highway to travel past Pikes Peak and Manitou Springs on your way back to Colorado Springs. I would suggest returning the way you came though. The rest of the road is not as scenic and becomes severely wash boarded.


Last Dollar Road


wilson peak coors last dollar road backroad telluride colorado
Wilson Peak and Last Dollar Road winding away in the distance.

Last Dollar Road is considered one of Colorado’s most scenic drives and it does not disappoint. This 20-mile-long stretch of road between Telluride and Ridgway (sort of) can be done with a high clearance vehicle and a stomach for roadside cliffs. If the road is dry, you do not need a 4x4 vehicle to traverse the mountain pass and even a low clearance car drive both ends of the road before the climb into the mountain.


mountain flowers last dollar road backroad telluride colorado
Wild flowers along the northern end of Last Dollar Road.

Besides the commanding beauty throughout the drive, tree tunneled roads, and roadside outcrops that offer spectacular vista views, there are also a few popular culture sites as well. On the Telluride side of the road offers a stunning view of Wilson Peak, the image used for the Coors beer can. On the Ridgway side of Last Dollar Road is the Ross Ranch, from the original 1969 version of True Grit, starring John Wayne. The Telluride side of the mountain also has a lot of dispersed camping as well.


Yankee Boy Basin Road


yankee boy basin mountains backroads ouray colorado
Yankee Boy Basin has some amazing views.

One of the most popular activities in Ouray, Colorado during the summer is to rent a jeep or ATV and head out on one of the many mining roads in the mountains surrounding the city. Possibly the most popular of these roads is Yankee Boy Basin Road, named after the basin that sits at the base of seven mountains southwest of Ouray. Although many people use jeeps to drive up to the basin, if the roads are dry, all you really need is a high clearance vehicle (non 4x4).


snow yankee boy basin backroad ouray colorado
There was still snow, taller than the SUV, along Yankee Boy Basin Road.

The first half of the 9.3-mile drive to the basin is fairly easy, can be done with any vehicle, and has a few dispersed camping areas if you are looking for a place to camp outside of Ouray. The second half can get a bit more difficult, especially if there is returning traffic, but the views are completely worth it. Along the way there are a number of old mines (and one still in operation), babbling creek, mountain lake, and there are often times still snow.


Animas Forks


animas forks road river backroad silverton colorado
Animas Forks river and road as they wind through the pass.

Animas Forks, located 12 miles northeast of Silverton, Colorado, is another great scenic drive in Southwest Colorado. The drive is along the unimproved County Road 2 and can be done with only a high clearance vehicle (non 4x4) if the roads are dry. The road through a gully which follows the snow fed Animas River and if you watch the grassy slopes of the mountain sides you often have the chance to see some wildlife. Animas Forks itself is an old mining ghost town and, at 11,200 feet, it is one of the highest mining camps in the Western US.


log cabin animas forks backroad silverton colorado
An old log cabin on the way to Animas Forks.

Once at Animas Forks you follow County Road 2 further into the mountains to Engineers Pass or turn off one on of the other two roads for other adventures. In all, Animas forks is part of 65-miles of dirt roads that link old mining towns to Ouray, Silverton, and Lake City, but you will need 4-wheel drive to explore further. If you have time, I highly suggest exploring Silverton while you are in town. A ride on the Silverton-Durango steam engine train is also a great experience.


What is your favorite backroad drive in Colorado?


The 6 Best Scenic Backroad Drives in Colorado

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  1. Is it safe on these roads? Love the road trip drive but always afraid coz been watching horror movies.

  2. Too bad I've never made it to this part of the US. The sceneries look so beautiful and very serene. However, since I'm not driving, I wonder if I could go on a trip like this by bus.

    1. You could take a bus to some of the areas around these roads but not on them. These are dirt roads and buses do not travel them.


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