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Best Scenic Motorcycle Routes in Colorado

February 6, 2014

One of the joys of riding motorcycles is the feeling of being so much closer to nature and so much more in touch with the world around you than when you’re cooped up in a car. To fully enjoy the thrill of driving down a good road through beautiful scenery, plan a trip to see some of Colorado’s most scenic routes. Colorado offers mountains, plains, rivers and valleys for you to ride through and explore, all with a good cross-section of historic byways for those with an interest in the past as well as an appreciation for the present. Here are a few of the best scenic motorcycle routes in Colorado.

Flat Tops Trail

This route runs through what used to be part of a Colorado forest reserve, which became one of the first units added to the National Forest system. Trapper Lake is in the center of the route, around which development has been banned for decades. As a result of the area’s long history of land preservation, most of the scenery along Flat Tops Trail is exquisitely pristine, and the road offers plenty of wildlife. Dotted across the area, however, are a range of working mines, ranches, and actively developed woodlands, which provides variety to the views along the trail.

Dinosaur Diamond Byway

Near the state border with Utah, the Dinosaur Diamond Byway passes through some of the richest fossil-embedded landscape in the world. Several of the most significant dinosaur fossil quarries are located in the area, as well as museums dedicated to dinosaur fossils and study. The landscape is forbidding, yet starkly beautiful, with the occasional uncovered million-year-old dinosaur fossil skeleton visible in the desert.

Top of the Rockies

This national scenic byway passes through Leadville, the highest incorporated community in the United States at 10,200 feet of elevation. However, Leadville still sits in the shadow of Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, Colorado’s two highest peaks, which each stand at over 14,000 feet. The Top of the Rockies byway offers unbeatable mountain scenery, passing close to these gigantic mountains, crossing over the continental divide twice, and finally following the Arkansas River nearly the whole way to its source.

Santa Fe Trail

Dropping into the lowlands, the Santa Fe Trail follows the wagon tracks of the original trade route across the prairie. The area crossed by this trail includes one of the last areas held by the Plains Indian tribes, and one of the first areas to see settlement by American pioneers along the course of the Arkansas River. While the Santa Fe trade route saw its heaviest use through the middle of the 19th century, on this modern scenic byway, you can still see much of the cultural impact of the many peoples who made this part of the country their home.

Colorado River Headwaters

This byway leads you up to the beginning of the Colorado River, which is the primary river system in the southwestern United States and continues on into Mexico before reaching the Pacific at the Bay of California. At its source, however, the Colorado is a fresh, sparkling mountain stream that crosses green meadows and falls through red rock gorges. The area bordered by the Colorado River Headwaters byway is a wonderful place for all kinds of outdoor recreation, including fishing, canoeing, rafting, and camping. The byway begins near one end of Colorado’s largest natural lakes and ends with a gravel road, which traverses the incredible Upper Gore Canyon.

West Elk Loop

This route takes you through mountain landscapes, which have been home to generations of Native American peoples as well as American settlers who first came to mine and later to farm. Numerous towns along this route demonstrate the diversity and durability of the people who have lived in this area, offering both natural beauty and a view of multiple different lifestyles in the shadows of the Rockies.

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