Here are three itineraries for scenic drives that will knock your socks off! Don’t be deceived by the drive time… you’ll be pulling over and snapping selfies all along the way! Stop in the Visitor Center for more maps and guides!
- Round-trip Distance: 36 miles
- Driving Time: 2 hours
At 12,126 feet in elevation, Cottonwood Pass is one of the highest U.S. mountain passes that is accessible by automobile, second only to Trail Ridge Road. The Continental Divide crosses at the saddle point of the pass, and snow melts to the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the pass and to the Pacific Ocean on the other side. Cottonwood Pass is closed in the winter due to heavy snowfall and avalanche danger; open dates are typically May to October.
From the stoplight in Buena Vista, go west on Main Street which turns into County Road 306; the road is paved to the top of the pass with several sharp curves as it climbs over timberline to the crest of the pass. There are high, open grassy ridges reaching north and south from the pass summit. This area is great for hiking and offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Sawatch Range, Collegiate Peaks and Taylor Park Reservoir. If you want to visit Taylor Park Reservoir, continue your drive west for 14 more miles.
Cottonwood Lake is located in the same direction from town as Cottonwood Pass. Cottonwood Lake is 9,552 feet in elevation and offers beautiful scenery. A multitude of outdoor activities are available at the lake, including fishing, camping, kayaking, hiking and 4-wheel drive adventures. Snowmobiling, cross country skiing, ice skating and ice fishing are great winter activities at Cottonwood Lake.
- Round trip Distance: 10 miles
- Driving Time: 30 minutes
This short drive, on Sleeping Indian Mountain east of Buena Vista, provides panoramic views of the town, Arkansas River Valley and towering 14,000+ ft. Collegiate Peaks.
From Johnson Village, at the intersection of State Highway 24 and Highway 285, travel west 2 miles up Trout Creek Pass, turn north onto (dirt) CR 304 to Collegiate Peaks Overlook, a Forest Service Fee Viewing Area with restrooms and picnic tables.
Continue north on CR 304 6-7 miles, stopping along the way to view the beautiful panoramic scenery of the Arkansas River Valley and Mt. Antero (14,269 ft.), Mt. Princeton (14,197 ft.), Mt. Yale (14,1960 ft.), Mt. Columbia (14,073 ft.) and Mt. Harvard (14,420 ft.), some of the highest peaks in Colorado. From CR 304 one can also access 4-wheel drive Trail 376A which provides access to many 4-wheel drive trails in the Fourmile Travel Management Area.
- One-way distance from U.S. Highway 24, west from Trout Creek Pass: 19 miles
- Driving time: under 30 minutes (excluding sightseeing)
One of the best known scenic drives in the Rockies is the Highway of the Fourteeners, a section of U.S. Highway 24, which passes a total of ten 14,000 foot peaks on either side of Buena Vista. There is no other stretch of highway in the United States where you will see this many of the highest peaks together nor be able to view them so closely. Photographers will love this drive, as there are so many different views for camera shots, and the big peaks are constantly changing mood and color with the seasons, various times of day, lighting and cloud conditions.
Heading west, U.S. Highway 24 from Colorado Springs and U.S. Highway 285 from Denver join at Antero Junction. Nearly one mile farther west the highway crests the hill of Trout Creek Pass, which is the beginning point for the mileages given below.
In the distance, directly above your car hood, the pointed summit of Mt. Princeton first appears, followed in succession to the right by Mt. Yale and Mt. Columbia. After 3/4 mile, just before the highway curves left, you’ll sight the sharp peak of Mt. Harvard (3rd highest peak in the Rockies), and to its right Mt. Missouri, Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford, all higher than 14,000 feet.
Two miles after Trout Creek Pass there is a handy road turn-out to the right for an excellent view of the very photogenic Buffalo Peaks to the northwest. Although not Fourteeners, they are beautiful mountains and a popular big game hunting area in the fall.
From the same turn-out the Castle Rock formation can also be viewed several miles ahead to the south, beyond the notch where the highway will cross Trout Creek.
After 3 to 3 1/2 miles there are turn-outs on both sides of the road, providing one of the best viewpoints of Buffalo Peaks, overlooking the broad grassland of Chubb Park.
At 5 miles on the left you pass the Castle Rock and the other Castle formations below it. At that point ahead you have the first full view of Mt. Princeton, a massive mountain with great shoulder peaks on each side of the summit.
On approaching the valley, you’ll experience the most spectacular view as you face the entire Collegiate Range, a wall of peaks from north to south. For the best viewpoint (at mile 10) signs will direct you to the right turn into the Scenic Overlook. A large panoramic sign identifies the 14,000 foot peaks and other points of interest across the valley. Make this scenic point with a covered picnic area a definite stop!
1.8 miles beyond the overlook at the bottom of the valley, you follow U.S. Highway 24 as it branches off to the right. As you head north, you’ll be parallel to the peaks on your left. Camera buffs: at certain seasons about 1 mile after US 24 turns right, look for small ponds in the meadow near the left side of the highway. When the surface is still, they become ideal reflection ponds for reflection shots of the peaks, especially in the bright pink cast of the sunrise each morning.
U.S. Highway 24 passes through Buena Vista and, after you travel for another 3 miles north of town, you’ll get a close up view as the road passes 3 or 4 miles from the Fourteeners. After Mt. Yale look for the beautiful view up North Cottonwood Basin to the Continental Divide, with the pointed Birthday Peak at the far end, standing on the Divide about 10 miles away.
Just north of town you have a close view of the avalanche fingers of Mt. Columbia, an unusual series of avalanche courses that fall vertically more than 2,000 feet. After Mt. Columbia, you’ll see Frenchman’s Creek which lies just before the great ridge that ascends west to the summit of Mt. Harvard. This point is the north and west end of the Highway of the Fourteeners tour.