From late spring through fall, enjoy one of the finest stretches of road in all of Colorado and the US on the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway. This scenic byway, one of only 13 designated in Colorado, spans 115 miles and takes you through some of the most gorgeous scenery in the Centennial State. Top of the Rockies also more than lives up to its name, as it takes you over three high-altitude mountain passes and bringings you up close to some of Colorado's tallest mountain peaks.
During your stay at Copper Mountain it'll be more than worth taking a day trip to drive Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway. You'll visit other quaint mountain towns, uncover fascinating historic sites, and drive right through some of the most incredible wilderness on this continent. Below are some of the highlights of the trip.
Top of the Rockies Mountain Towns
In addition to starting nearby your home base at Copper Mountain, the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway goes through or closeby many other exiting Colorado mountain towns. Each of these towns has it's own unique Colorado flavor, but all come with a love of the outdoors, plenty of great places to shop and dine, and some captivating old west history.
Taking Colorado State Highway 91 and US Route 24 for just under 24 miles brings you to the town of Leadville. This tiny mountain town of around 2,600 people is the highest incorporated city in the US at an altitude of 10,5112 ft. In addition to the town's inate western charm, the scenery surrounding it is magnificent. Five Colorado 14ers surround the town, including the two tallest peaks in Colorado: Mt Elbert (14,440 ft) and Mt Massive (14,428 ft).
From Leadville, you have a choice in directions to take. You can either head northwest to the start of US Route 24, or continue following it south until you turn right and head west on Colorado State Highway 82. Starting with the former option, driving northwest on US-24 will take you through the small towns of Red Cliff and Midturn. Both are quieter towns than their more touristy resort neighbor, Vail, but they pack they're each nestled in equally beautiful mountain scenery.
As for the second option along Highway 82, that section spits out in the famous town of Aspen, CO. Aspen is a world-renowned hub for hiking and biking in the summer. During fall, the town's titular trees light up the mountain landscape with brillant golden leaves. For your day trip, Aspen also makes for the perfect lunch spot with it's many incredible local eateries to fill you up before heading back on scenic route to Copper Mountain.
Top of the Rockies Passes & Historic Sites
Between all the mountain towns along Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway there are a few high-altitude passes and old abanoned historic sites to come across.
The three mountain passes you'll encounter driving the entire scenic byway are the Fremont, Tennessee, and Independence. Of the three, Independence Pass on the Continnental Divide is the highest at 12,095 ft. Once you reach the top of any of these passes, we recommend stopping for a moment to take in the scenery as it's both physically and metaphorically breathtaking up there. Above timberline you can see for miles across the mountains and into the valleys below.
Closeby to Independence Pass and 16 miles from Aspen on Highway 82 is the Independence Ghost Town, one of Top of the Rockies many interesting historic sites. This now-scattered collection of old wooden homes was the first mining site in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Another historic spot that's located near Red Cliff on the US-24 section of the byway is Camp Hale National Historic Site. Camp Hale was the mountain and winter warfare training center for the US Army in World War II. Today, only remnants of the original facilities remain amongst the impressive scenery, but there are informational placards available with more information on what the camp was like all those years ago.
Learn more about the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway and see a map of the route on Colorado.com. Make sure to book your home base for the drive in a Copper Mountain vacation rental. Check out our rental homes and condos by clicking the button below.