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Four-by-four enthusiasts know the joy of navigating steep, rocky trails and traversing pulse-pounding shelf roads to access breathtaking scenic overlooks. However, you don’t always need a Jeep, Bronco, or 4Runner to reach them. Many of Colorado’s highest roads are actually covered in pavement so smooth, even a Prius (or a Tesla) can make the drive. Whether you’re looking for a passenger-car-friendly pulloff over 14,000 feet or just a pleasant scenic overlook less than half that high, we found five spots within roughly two hours of Denver that offer epic mountain, valley, and lake vistas. So pack up some snacks, ready your playlist, and hit the road.
If you haven’t driven Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park yet, you’re missing out on some of the best views in the state. This 48-mile highway, the highest continuous paved road in North America, stretches from Estes Park to Grand Lake, rising 4,000 feet to max out over 12,183 feet near Fall River Pass; it even crosses the Continental Divide, at Milner Pass. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the top, though. The scenic overlooks that dot the road are the best parts of the journey. Exhibit A: the Forest Canyon overlook, located about 10.9 miles west of the U.S. 36/U.S. 34 junction, on the left side of the road, at 11,716 feet. The pullout and short, paved trail, protected by low stone wall barriers, offers views of Forest Canyon, Hayden Gorge, and the Gorge Lakes thousands of feet below.
Trip Planner: Trail Ridge Road is closed seasonally, from mid-October to Memorial Day weekend, and you’ll need a reservation when it’s open. Go to the National Park Service’s Timed Entry Permit website for all the details, and make a reservation on recreation.gov.
Southwest of Golden, two scenic overlooks located along the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave parking lot on Lookout Mountain offer wilderness and city views. At the north end of the lot, take in a plethora of peaks, all conveniently pictured and labeled for you on an interpretive sign. Then, mosey over to the higher overlook, accessible by steps or a ramp, at the east side of the lot (left of the museum) for sweeping panoramas of North Table Mountain and South Table Mountain, the city of Golden, and downtown Denver. Both overlooks are wheelchair accessible, and you’ll find ADA-compliant bathrooms inside the cafe and gift shop. For a side of history with your ogling, head around the right side of the cafe, and take the paved trail to the grave of William Frederick Cody, aka “Buffalo Bill,” alongside his wife, Luisa Maud Cody. A wheelchair and stroller ramp around the left side goes all the way to the gravesite.
Trip Planner: Lookout Mountain Road is long, winding, and open and free year-round. It’s very popular with cyclists, so allow plenty of time going up and take care rounding the blind curves. While you’re on the mountain, continue up the road to Lookout Mountain Preserve and Nature Center and Boettcher Mansion, a 1917 historical estate that’s now hosts tours and social events.
South of Idaho Springs, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway climbs 7,000 feet of elevation in 14 miles, all the way to 14,130 feet—just 138 feet shy of the mountain’s 14,268-foot summit. Sections of the road are narrow, exposed, and unprotected by guardrails, meaning the drive demands attention and patience, but the payoff is huge: The summit area offers three scenic overlooks with views north, south, and east, and all are wheelchair- and stroller-accessible. On the southeast end of the large parking area, the remains of the stone-structure Crest House, once the highest business building in the United States, include ramps that lead to a viewing platform looking north and east to thirteeners North and South Arapaho Peak, James Peak, and a bevy of other Front Range mountains. On the south side of the parking area, to the right of the bathrooms, visit another overlook and spot fourteeners including the Front Range’s Mt. Bierstadt and Pikes Peak, the Tenmile Range’s Quandary Peak, and the Sawatch Range’s Mount of the Holy Cross. You might even be able to see the Sangre de Cristo Mountains 200 miles south. Finally, head to the “Summit of Mount Evans” sign at the east edge of the parking lot for a requisite selfie. Nearby, the third lookout offers similarly expansive views north and east.
Trip Planner: The Mount Evans Scenic Byway usually opens around Memorial Day weekend and closes after Labor Day, depending on snowfall, and is accessible by timed reservation only. Visit the U.S. Forest Service Mount Evans Recreation Area & Scenic Byway website for all the details, get your pass at recreation.gov, and prepare for a half-day excursion on the highest paved road in North America. If the altitude doesn’t get to you and you feel up for a 20-minute round-trip hike, locate the dirt trail on the north side of the lot and make your way to the true summit of Mt. Evans. There you’ll have 360-degree views—and probably a lot of company. It’s a popular spot.
If you want to make it to the top of a fourteener but are intimidated by the relatively harrowing drive up Mt. Evans, consider cruising Pikes Peak Highway, which rises for 19 miles from U.S. 24 west of Colorado Springs to the 14,115-foot summit of America’s Mountain. While you’ll still have breathtaking alpine views along the way, this route has less exposure, and the road is wider and well-maintained. Plus, the summit area of Pikes Peak was completely renovated in recent years and re-opened to passenger vehicles in 2021. A new state-of-the-art visitor center boasts interpretive exhibits, a cafe, and a gift shop—but the most impressive addition is wide, wheelchair-accessible wraparound decking with Instagram-worthy backdrops of mountains, valleys, and Colorado Springs far below.
Trip Planner: Pikes Peak Highway is open from the Friday before Memorial Day to Labor Day and, like many of Colorado’s popular places, is accessible by timed reservation only. Visit the City of Colorado Springs Pikes Peak website for more info, and check out their Tickets and Reservations website to reserve a time and purchase a required day-use ticket (from $15 per person). On busy days, you may be corralled partway up the road, into the parking lot at Devils Playground, until a spot up top becomes available. A trail at the edge of the lot leads to 13,058-foot Devils Playground Peak, the highpoint of Teller County. You’ll lose your place in line if you leave your car on the way up, but consider stretching your legs on the five- to 10-minute hike on your drive down.
When the rest of the high roads are snowpacked, impassable, and closed, view seekers are still welcome to visit 5,215-foot Liberty Point in west Pueblo. From 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week, you can take the easy street—specifically, South Liberty Point Boulevard—through a residential area to this beautiful spot overlooking Pueblo Reservoir. The Wet Mountains, including 12,353-foot Pueblo County highpoint Greenhorn Mountain, rise above the lake in the southwest sky. From the parking lot, you can hike down the paved path to a maze of concrete walkways and scenic overlooks, including the Liberty Point Memorial that honors victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Dirt and gravel paths drop sharply from the paved paths in several locations, so if you plan to traverse them, bring appropriate gear, clothing, and trekking poles.
Trip Planner: Access is free, and reservations are not required or accepted. Visit Pueblo County’s Parks & Recreation website for more details about Liberty Point. There are no bathrooms, gift shops, or cafes at Liberty Point, so take care of all your business in town before driving to the overlook.