When it comes to scenic byways, Colorado has some spectacular stretches. There’s the Million Dollar Highway—a white-knuckle corkscrew that winds from Silverton to Ouray in the state’s southwest—and Colorado’s highest paved state highway, Independence Pass, which connects Aspen to Twin Lakes over the Continental Divide. And there’s the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, the blissful 33-mile segment of Highway 24 that connects Minturn to Leadville, which offers off-the-map remoteness, outdoor adventure, funky mountain hamlets, and jaw-dropping vistas around every bend.
It’s worth noting that I started writing this piece long before the current pandemic, then worked through edits and updates during the stay-at-home order. Around the time when UNESCO World Heritage sites like Machu Picchu and the Sydney Opera House were offering virtual tours, I found reliving my time on the Top of the Rockies to be deeply therapeutic—although bittersweet knowing that nearly all of the small businesses mentioned in this piece were struggling for survival during a pandemic-induced tourism drought.
So while this guide was amended to reflect information available at press time, check in with any businesses before you go. My hope is that whenever you ditch the I-70 corridor for this magnificent back road, you feel the same sense of grandeur and escape it’s given to me over the years. With that in mind: Exit the highway at Dowd Junction, zero your odometer, then head south. And most importantly, enjoy the ride.