There are so many ways to experience the beauty of Colorado in Gunnison and Crested Butte. One of these is to take Colorado scenic drives through the region! A sightseeing drive might be a good option if you’re short on time. Even better, you could include one in your route on your way to bike or hike some of our 1200+ miles of trails on public lands. Driving also allows you to see more in a shorter amount of time. Along with incredible views, many Colorado scenic drives also have historical points of interest to stop at along the way. This is a fun way to experience a Colorado vacation. Fall is an especially good time to take Colorado scenic drives because of the colorful Aspen trees that turn golden. In the summer the mountains are green and dotted with colorful Colorado wildflowers.
Before you head out on your Colorado scenic drive trip, make sure you do some planning. Do some research and decide which route you want to take. Make sure you’re going in a season where the route will be open. Many of the mentioned roads are not open in the winter. To look at real-time road conditions around Crested Butte and Gunnison, check out our webcams and road conditions page. When you map it out, be sure to plan stops for gas, meals and places to stay. Many of these Colorado scenic drives also have overlooks you can pull off at to see the view and take pictures. Make sure you pack your phone charger to keep your phone ready for navigation and pictures. Bring water in a reusable bottle, binoculars, snacks, clothes to get out and explore in. Have some playlists or podcasts queued up, too.
Located just outside of Gunnison, Ohio Pass, also known as County Road 730, winds through the West Elk Mountains in Gunnison National Forest. This 23-mile drive will take you through ranches and give you views of the rugged Anthracite Range. Watch out for a rock formation called The Castles that resembles towers. Wildlife like elk and foxes can often be spotted from the road. This pass connects with Kebler Pass and can be taken to the town of Crested Butte.
This loop is 90 miles and takes you through Taylor Canyon, Almont, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Gunnison, Ohio City, Parlin, Sapinero, Sargents and Taylor Park. Along with amazing views this loop has a lot of ghost towns to stop at and explore. They include Abbeyville, Hillerton, Quartz, Tincup and Woodstock. These were once mining towns. Though they are not operational anymore, there are still some buildings standing from the mining days. Start in Gunnison and take Highway 50 East towards Parlin. Take a left on County Road 76, another left on County Road 742 and then complete the loop by taking Highway 135 South back to Gunnison.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is about 14 miles outside of Montrose, Colorado, and about an hour from Gunnison. Combined, the Black Canyon is the steepest and narrowest canyon in the U.S. Some portions of the inner canyon only receive 30 minutes of daylight a day because of the steepness and narrowness of the walls. Black Canyon is made of dark granite, with pink quartz veins running through it. The Gunnison River runs at the bottom. Popular activities in Black Canyon include hiking, rock climbing and wildlife viewing. From the South Rim Visitor Center, the drive along the South Rim Road to the end of the road is seven miles. There are twelve overlooks to stop at to take pictures and check out the view along the way. The North Rim Road has six overlooks and impressive views of the sheer vertical canyon walls. The North Rim is usually not as busy as the South Rim.
Starting in Gunnison, head north on Highway 135 and take a right on County Road 742. You’ll wind through Taylor Canyon and eventually pass Taylor Reservoir. Take a right onto County Road 306 to get on the pass. Keep an eye out for moose! Be sure to stop at the top of the Continental Divide and take in the view. After crossing the divide, you’ll head downhill to Buena Vista, Colorado. Cottonwood Pass is paved and passable for most vehicles. It is closed in winter. This is another good spot for leaf peeping aspens in the fall. This road can also be taken from Buena Vista to get to Gunnison.
Monarch Pass, part of US Highway 50, begins in the Salida/Poncha Springs area, crosses the Continental Divide and ends in Sargents. Highway 50 continues west to Gunnison or Montrose. From the opposite direction it can be used to reach Buena Vista, Colorado Springs and Denver. Though this pass is steep, it is well-maintained year-round (with occasional closures for snow) and passable for most vehicles. The views of the Sawatch mountain range from this road are spectacular. You will want to focus on the road while driving and stop at the summit, Monarch Crest, to safely take them in. At Monarch Crest there is a gift shop, restaurant, bathroom, and in the summer, a scenic tramway. There are also hiking and biking trails in the area. In the winter there are several places along Monarch Pass to access backcountry skiing in the Gunnison and San Isabel National Forests.
The Silver Thread Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 149, is an official Colorado Scenic Byway. This road is 117 miles long and follows a route steeped in Colorado mining history. It will take you through South Fork, Creede, Lake City and Gunnison. Along the way there are views of Heart Mountain, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Lake Fork Canyon and The Gate, which is two cliffs on either side of the highway that resemble a gateway. There are also historical stops such as the Alferd Packer Massacre Site and remains of the mining industry in Creede.
Colorado Scenic Drives Near Crested Butte
Kebler Pass can be reached by taking County Road 12 in Crested Butte. It ends in Paonia, Colorado with Highway 133. This road isn’t paved the whole way, but it is passable for most cars because of the gentle grades and gravel. Kebler Pass is home to one of the largest aspen groves in the U.S. Some of these aspens are massive in height and width, and they are truly impressive in the fall when they turn to shades of gold, red and orange. There are many opportunities for photography, hiking, biking and camping along the way. Lake Irwin and Lost Lake are also easily accessible from the road. Kebler Pass is also part of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway. Kebler Pass closes in winter.
The West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway is an official Colorado Scenic Byway. It is 205 miles long and takes you through Carbondale, Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford, Gunnison and Crested Butte on Highways 133, 135 and 92. You’ll experience stunning scenery of mountain peaks and wildflowers along with ranches and historic mining towns. It is also easy to take a detour to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Penny Hot Springs, a natural geothermal pool that is free to use, is also located in the Carbondale area.
This 26-mile loop is usually driven starting at Slate River Road (Forest Service Road 734) just outside Crested Butte. A vehicle with high clearance is necessary for this drive. Slate River Road goes up to the top of Paradise Divide and drops back down to Gothic/Schofield Pass Road (County Road 317). The loop can also be driven starting in the tiny town of Gothic and ending with Slate River Road.
Paradise Divide is known for stunning views of surrounding peaks, sunrises and sunsets, wildflowers and sparkling clear Emerald Lake, which is a great place to get out and stretch your legs. This loop also gives you the opportunity to drive through Gothic, where Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) has a field station. They have a visitor center and offer tours. This loop is closed in winter.
Many of these drives also offer opportunities for off-roading, OHV and 4×4. Please make sure all your vehicles are properly registered. Follow all regulations and road closures. If you have questions about regulations and closures, contact the National Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management in Gunnison. Popular routes include Paradise Divide and Taylor Park, which can be accessed from the Taylor Park Loop.
Remember to practice Leave No Trace on your scenic drive. Make sure you have a route mapped out to avoid getting lost or running out of gas. Stay on the road, and avoid driving through meadows or other places where cars aren’t allowed. If you get out to hike or look around, stay on the trail. Don’t litter; pack out all trash, even something that seems natural like an orange peel. Don’t collect rocks, flowers, sticks, feathers or any natural items as souvenirs. If you plan to build a campfire, purchase or collect all firewood in the area you’re having the fire. Bringing in firewood from somewhere else could result in introducing an invasive species. If you bring your dog along, keep it leashed on stops to avoid disturbing wildlife. Always pick up after your pet. Should you see any wildlife, observe from afar and do not approach it.
After your day of driving, you’ll need a place to rest your head. You have so many options for places to stay during your Colorado vacation to Crested Butte and Gunnison! From cozy inns and converted mining houses in Crested Butte, to ski-in/ski-out and resorts in Mt. Crested Butte, to riverside cabins in Almont, and traditional hotels in Gunnison, your lodging options are varied and numerous.
Looking for ideas of things to do or tips for your Colorado scenic drive trip to Gunnison and Crested Butte? Check out our blog!