Rocky Mountain Splendours
It inspired “America The Beautiful” and John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High.” It enticed millions of pioneers to push on through to start new lives surrounded by scenic beauty. The spectacular scenery of the Rocky Mountains is best enjoyed in Colorado and surrounds. Rugged peaks stretch for hundreds of miles, thrusting as high as 14,000 feet into the air. Pike’s Peak can be seen shooting out of the landscape miles before the mountain comes into full view. Scenic drives that are truly the “roads less travelled” take you through the best scenery. Colorado, particularly, has made a point of carefully preserving the scenic routes in its midst. Alongside the beauty, you’ll find a collection of interesting history, from the Wild West and ghost towns to ancestral Native American settlements. It’s all here for you to enjoy, but plan to slow down and savor the meandering drives and out of the way places. Return home, refreshed and relaxed, having visited a different time and place.
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Grand Junction
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Upon arrival in Denver, collect your hire car at the airport and stay for 1 night in a convenient Downtown hotel. Alternatively take a taxi to your hotel and collect your car in the morning on Day 2. For decades, Denver was the stuff of legends. In the wild, wild west, Bat Masterson, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, gunslingers, gamblers, gold miners, saloons, cattlemen and sheriffs all competed for a piece of the action. Today, Denver gets its name the “Mile High City”, from the brass cap positioned exactly one mile high on the Capitol steps. The city was so sure it would be a success that the Historical Society was founded in 1879 to record the details. Soon after, a cattle exchange, banking and energy began contributing to prosperity. An incredible amount of early architecture still exists, because nearly from the beginning, Denver was built for permanence.
You can introduce yourself to Denver on a walking tour of the 16th Street Mall and downtown Denver. You’ll pass the Colorado History Museum, Denver Art Museum (yes, it all stands up!), the US Mint, Larimer Square, the historic Brown Palace hotel and more. Great places like the Coyote Ugly Bar are comingled with the rest. Get back to nature at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Botanical Gardens with 32,000 plants. Go to LODO( Lower Downtown) for arts, entertainment and great restaurants. You’re in store for your first taste of Rocky Mountain Splendour on the Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway that provides access to foothills scenery surrounding Denver. The two roads of the byway, Bear Creek Canyon Scenic Mountain Drive and the Lariat Trail Scenic Mountain Drive are both on the National Register of Historic Places. The 36-mile loop through Morrison, Evergreen and Golden has maintained its historic authenticity over time.
Depart Denver this morning and head South to the lovely city of Colorado Springs. Two scenic byways let you explore the area around Colorado Springs. No matter where you begin your tour of the Collegiate Peaks Byway, you will be ushered into one of Colorado's most scenically spectacular, historically rich and recreationally diverse areas. This paved 57-mile route parallels the Continental Divide at the foot of the Sawatch Range, the highest concentration of 14,000+ foot peaks in the country. The greater part follows the Arkansas River, the most commercially rafted river in the nation, a world-class kayaking destination, and one of the state's premier trout fishing resources. The byway offers unfolding views of impressive peaks, intermittent stretches of lush riverside, fishing and boater access points, national forests and public lands, active ranches, and a variety of natural hot springs, all combining to define the scenic, recreational and geological contrasts that are the Upper Arkansas River Valley. The state gemstone, the aquamarine, is mined on Mt. Antero. The classic mining towns of Vicksburg, Winfield and St. Elmo are accessible from the byway, and the communities of Poncha Springs and Buena Vista are historically rich and vibrant, while the town of Salida boasts the largest historic district in the state.
Simply driving the Gold Belt Tour in Colorado is an adventure in itself. While following historic railroad and stagecoach routes leading you to North America's greatest gold camps, you will find yourself traversing between narrow canyon walls and along excitingly steep drop-offs. Although the area is no longer bustling with the activities of the gold rush, you can still "strike it rich" with views of outstanding scenery and limitless recreational activities. As you drive the byway, watch for the hundreds of historic gold mines that surround the communities along the way. Get a real feel for the gold rush days when you visit Victor's National Historic District and Cripple Creek, the historical hub of the mining district and a National Historic Landmark. Most of the buildings built in the early 1900s have been restored to their original likeness, and will give you an authentic look at what life must have been like on the road to riches. Once you've discovered gold mining of the past, visit Victor's new active gold mine. See for yourself the toil and backbreaking labor that went into gold mining in the 1890s and how technology has improved the miner's endeavors today.
Gunnison / Crested Butte
The twin summits of Mount Sopris and the incomparable Black Canyon of the Gunnison anchor the ends of the West Elk Loop National Scenic Byway. This magnificent landscape has been home to uncounted generations of Native Americans, most recently the Utes. White settlers originally came in search of minerals and stayed to farm and ranch. The coke ovens at Redstone bear witness to the toil that built the communities of today. Carbondale, Hotchkiss, Crawford, Gunnison, Crested Butte, and other towns offer a slice of Colorado's rich history, varied lifestyles, and natural beauty. The route gives access to the White River and Gunnison National Forests, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, Curecanti National Recreational Area, and Crawford and Paonia State Parks.
West Elk Loop circles through a landscape known for its variety. Traveling through the Crystal River Valley, it traces canyon rims, winds next to rivers, dives into forests, and crosses fields. The region provides countless opportunities for recreation and natural sightseeing in a setting unlike any other. From state parks and national forests to the expansive Curecanti National Recreation Area, the route keeps a promise of beauty and diversity.
On your way to Durango, you can experience real Rocky Mountain Splendour on the San Juan Skyway Historic and Scenic Byway. Traveling the "road to the sky" offers views of the towering 14,000-foot San Juan Mountains speckled with ancient Indian pueblo ruins. The sheer cliffs and rugged terrain of the Skyway boast some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet. See crashing waterfalls in the spring as the snow melts in the higher mountains. Wildflowers garnish the alpine forests in the summer months, where the gilded amber, bronze, and gold of the aspens delight autumn visitors. Winter brings a glistening blanket of snow to the byway, perfect for quiet admiration or more active recreation.
Founded by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1880, Durango was once a young city surrounded by silver mining towns and the Wild West. Today the railroad still passes through here but the mining towns it was built to serve have long since been abandoned. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad now takes visitors up into the San Juan Mountains and Durango has settled in as a carefully preserved National Historic Landmark. If you think you’ve seen Durango before, it’s because it’s the picture perfect Old West town that has starred as the backdrop for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, City Slickers, Cliffhangers and many other movies. It’s so authentic that you might expect a gunslinger to step right into the street any minute. The nightly show at the Strater Hotel is right out of the old West.
Mesa Verde National Park
With such a short drive this morning from Durango you will have virtually the whole day to explore this interesting area of south western Colorado. Very near Durango, prepare to be awestruck as you explore Mesa Verde National Park, an expansive dugout area sheltered by massive rock cliffs covered with adobe brick dwellings that appear to be the individual home units of ancient cliff dwellers. The earliest inhabitants of Mesa Verde are believed to have settled here beginning in 550AD, transitioning from a nomadic existence to a farming lifestyle. Grab your sense of adventure as you go up and down ladders and through the tight spaces of Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling area. Be sure to take advantage of the many guided and self-guided tours available at Mesa Verde. Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House and Long House can only be toured with a guide. Purchase tickets for these tours at the Far View Visitor Center or at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, both of which are worth a visit for their excellent exhibits and orientation to the area. You may take self-guided tours of Spruce Tree House, Step House, Badger House and other sites on the Mesa Top. The Far View Sites Complex can also be toured independently. A 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road driving tour takes you through 700 years of Mesa Verde history to several scenic overlooks including Sun Point Overlook and Sun Temple.
Nearby Mesa Verde, the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway takes you through archaeological heartland of America while crossing the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. The Trail of the Ancients in Colorado and Utah takes you back to a time long before the United States existed, long before Spaniards came north from what is today Central America. Amazingly, some regions of the Colorado Plateau remain today much as they must have been in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Arid and mostly uninhabited, the terrain along the byway conceals secrets of bygone populations, vibrant people who came and went like snow in warm spring sunshine or tumbleweeds at the front of a desert storm. The byway travels through some of our country's most beautiful yet austere country, and it lends itself to contemplation and rejuvenation as well as recreational adventures.
On you way to Grand Junction today, you’ll be passing through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Black Canyon is a unique and spectacular canyon rising nearly 3,000 feet in some places, and narrowing to only 40 feet in others; no other canyon in North America combines the narrow opening, sheer walls, and startling depths that you’ll see here. Plummeting as much as 2,700 feet almost vertically from the rim, it is one of North America’s steepest, darkest and most rugged gorges. For millions of years the river cut through soft sedimentary layers, wearing down to the older and harder igneous layer about 2 million years ago. Since then, the river has eroded rock at the rate of about an inch per century, carving the precipitous Black Canyon. Begin your visit at the South Rim Visitor Center, where you can find maps, information and exhibits on this superlative landscape. The South Rim Drive from Tomichi Point to High Point has 12 stunning overlooks, including Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Painted Wall, and Sunset View. The seven-mile drive with stops takes 2-3 hours to complete. A variety of hiking trails through the park ranges from the easy Cedar Point Nature Trail to the strenuous North Rim Vista Trail, each offering its own perspective on the flora, fauna and geography of this exceptional area.
Approaching Grand Junction, you’ll see the Colorado National Monument rising more than 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. Magnificent views fromRim Rock Drive, stretch from the colorful sheer-walled canyons and fascinating rock sculptures to the distantColorado RiverValley, the purple-gray Book Cliffs, and the huge flat-topped mountain called Grand Mesa. Many animals including mule deer, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and desert big horn sheep, live, nest, and hunt within its boundaries, Time permitting, follow the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway along the rim of the world's largest flat-top mountain for 360-degrees views of singular alpine skyline or take Highway 141 to the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. InGrand Junction, stretch your legs at the Dinosaur Journey, which is part of the Museum of Western Colorado and the Museum of Western Colorado. Due to it’s sunny climate, the area is also well known for growing fruits of all kinds – including peaches, cherries and apples. At the turn of the century, many local orchards also began growing grapes, which they eventually used to make wine. Today the heart of the Colorado wine industry is right here in Grand Junction, with The Grand Valley region producing wonderful, high-quality wines in a spectacular setting. With several intimate, accessible and altogether charming vineyards, a tour through the heart of Colorado wine country is a must do any level of enthusiast.
Plan to experience Colorado’s natural history in Steamboat Springs, located in the ancient summer hunting grounds of the Ute Indians in the idyllic Yampa Valley. Take in stunning views of the surrounding rugged peaks and deep forest as you relax in the natural mineral hot springs (hence “Steamboat Springs”) that the Ute Indians visited as “medicine springs” for centuries. The hot springs have been the town’s greatest attractions since its founding in the mid-1880s, drawing gold miners from Hahn’s Peak by stage coach and later train travelers from around the country. Old Town Hot Springs, in the middle of town, is now a modern facility that includes lap and relaxation pools and water slides. The rock-lined pools of Strawberry Park Hot Springs, just outside town on the edge of the Routt National Forest are perhaps the most beautiful natural springs in the state.
This authentic small western town that began as a self-sufficient wilderness frontier village evolved into a farming-ranching-mining community that eventually became the cultural center of northwest Colorado. The Perry Mansfield Camp, now in its 86th year, is the oldest performing arts center in the country. In 1914, Carl Howelsen, the “flying Norseman” of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame, arrived and introduced the town’s residents to ski jumping, spawning a new recreational industry and adding a resort element to the town’s cultural and historic character. Take a self-guided tour of historic downtown Steamboat Springs, beginning at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, to learn the stories of the town’s early settlers and the significance of its historic buildings. Steamboat Springs today is an ideal year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The Routt National Forest provides an incredible backdrop for biking, hiking and fishing. Also nearby are the 283-foot Fish Creek Falls, the rugged Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, and the gorgeous Steamboat and Pearl lakes.
Estes Park & The Rocky Mountain National Park
Departing Steamboat this morning and north east via Boulder towards Estes Park. The valley of Estes Park inspires outdoor adventures from hiking Rocky Mountain National Park's 350 miles of alpine trails to whitewater rafting the Cache La Poudra River. Rocky Mountain National Park is a living showcase of grandeur with countless breathtaking vistas ranging from 8,000 to 14,259 feet. You’ll find delicate alpine flowers, clear lakes, rushing mountain waters, bighorn sheep, ptarmigan, coyote, and elk. Keep your camera at the ready!
Winding through the forests and mountains of the Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road encompasses over 50 miles of beautiful landscapes. Stop at the overlooks that line the byway for magnificent yet different vistas of the Rocky Mountains, which here tower over 14,000 feet. Take a short five-minute stroll at the Forest Canyon Overlook and marvel at the view of Forest Canyon, Hayden Gorge, and Gorge Lakes. Stand on the roof of the Rockies at Rock Cut. Pull over at Rainbow Curve, elevated over two miles above sea level to see trees transformed by long, repeated exposure to the harsh winds, ice, and the grit of this severe environment. At Milner Pass, the byway meets the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which crosses approximately 3,100 miles ranging from the Canada-Montana border to the Mexico-New Mexico border. At elevations over 10,000 feet, this trail offers spectacular views of the Rockies and the meadows that lie at their base.
Denver & Home
You will not want to depart Colorado and leave this wonderful scenery behind. Not to worry, Denver is a great gateway for all kinds of places in the American Rockies. Plan to return and have another Rocky Mountain High! Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a last morning in Colorado Springs before you head back to the Mile High City of Denver in time to catch your direct overnight flight home.
- Direct return flights from London (Please ask about other departure airports)
- 14 nights hotel accommodation and room tax
- Fully insured compact car hire (larger vehicles are available)
- A detailed and comprehensive travel pack with driving instructions and maps
Daily departures from May to September.