Colorado's Scenic Byways
Discover a lesser-known side of Colorado as you journey its National Scenic Byways with experts, exploring natural monuments, local museums, mining history and welcoming mountain towns.
Rating (5)
Program No. 20907RJ
8 days
Starts at
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8 days
7 nights
18 meals
7 B 5 L 6 D
Check-in, Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
Denver, CO
Holiday Inn Denver Cherry Creek

Activity note: Hotel check-in available from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Check-in at hotel between 3 and 5 pm followed by 6 pm required welcome dinner and orientation. Meet in Lobby at 6 pm. Orientation and welcome dinner, introductory lecture and information.

Dinner: In the hotel dining room, we’ll dine with a buffet including coffee, tea, lemonade, and water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Orientation. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. Periods in the schedule labeled “Free Time” and “At Leisure” offer opportunities to make the program more meaningful and memorable while going out to explore on your own, engaging in available activities independently, making new friends among fellow Road Scholars, or simply relaxing. The Group Leader will always be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. On the Road programs are journeys that take participants to multiple study sites in a region with a number of overnight stays. Lectures, talks, discussions, field trips, and on-board commentary amplify the program theme. Some journeys involve great distances and may take hours, others are much shorter. Long or short, On the Road journeys are learning experiences that make the most of our time together. Throughout the program, at some stops we will go on short (100 yards) walks at scenic pull-offs. Some stops we will be getting off the motorcoach to take pictures and stretch legs. Some stops will also have leaders speaking to the group. (NOTE: there is no way to predict/describe all stops for each day because it will vary depending upon time of day, distance and time requirements, weather, group needs, etc.) Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Denver, Cache la Poudre - North Park Scenic Byway, Craig
Craig, CO
Best Western Plus Deer Park Hotel and Suites

Activity note: Walking about one mile total for the day; gravel or paved paths with minimal stairs. Driving approx. 300 miles total; about 3 hours in both morning and afternoon with stops.

Breakfast: At the hotel restaurant, we’ll have a plated breakfast including juices, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: We’ll begin by checking out of the hotel and boarding our motorcoach to travel to Fort Collins, then west on the Cache la Poudre – North Park Scenic Byway. This Byway provides a glimpse of Colorado “pre-interstate and pre-ski resort” legacy. Native Americans traversed Poudre Canyon, as did the fur trappers of the early 1800’s, followed by miners and lumbermen. The highlight of the east side of the Byway is Colorado’s only designated Wild & Scenic River – the Cache la Poudre. Vegetation on the east side is a little lusher with cottonwoods along the river and pine forests as elevations increase. The Byway tops out on Cameron Pass at an elevation of about 10,250 feet. The west side drops into North Park and is an entirely different world of sagebrush, grass and expansive views. North Park unfolds at an elevation of 8,100 feet in a basin carved by Ice Age glaciers. The Medicine Bow and Never Summer Mountains ring the park. The valley is home to some of Colorado’s oldest ranches, raising livestock and hay. The Byway ends Walden, a town with a population of about 600, while Jackson County is home to about 1,400 residents total. Along the way, our expert Group Leader will provide commentary on the local area and its definitive characteristics. We’ll also make stops en route at scenic pull-offs to take advantage of the views.

Lunch: At a locally owned restaurant in Walden, we’ll have a plated lunch including coffee, tea, and water.

Afternoon: Participants will travel through Steamboat Springs (population 12,000), one of Colorado’s first ski areas, and onward to Craig, a ranching and coal mining town on the edge of western Colorado. After checking into our hotel, we will drive a short distance to the Wyman Museum where we will enjoy this unique family-run museum. The founder and family patriarch Lou Wyman has collected artifacts portraying one hundred years of Colorado history to provide a glimpse into life in Colorado over that time. Local docents will provide commentary while here before allowing time for independent exploration in the museum.

Dinner: At the museum, we will enjoy a special buffet dinner hosted by the Wyman family, including coffee, tea, and water.

Evening: Our speaker from the museum will tell us about the family homestead, growing up in the Yampa Valley, and changing life in the area. Afterwards, we’ll travel to the hotel for the rest of the evening at leisure.

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway & National Monuments, Palisade
Palisade, CO
Wine Country Inn

Activity note: Walking about 1&1/2 miles total for the day; gravel or paved paths, steps and inclines at National Monument. Driving approx. 300 miles total; about 3 hours in both morning and afternoon with stops.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we’ll have a hot buffet with choice of breads, cereal, fruit, hot eggs, hot breakfast meat, other hot items, yogurt, juice, and coffee.

Morning: We’ll start out by traveling west from Craig on US Highway 50 to Dinosaur National Monument. After being closed for over 5 years the Quarry Exhibit Hall located over the world famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry has reopened. The exhibit hall allows visitors to view the wall of approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones. The facility also features exhibits on life during the late Jurassic Period. A Park Ranger will explain the importance of the park and the conflicts with encroaching oil and natural gas production in the area. The Yampa and Green Rivers join deep within the National Monument. Local legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were frequent visitors of the Bassett sisters whose family homesteaded in what has now become part of the National Monument. On the other hand, Dinosaur National Monument's cultural history dates back at least 10,000 years. Indian rock art reveals evidence of the first people who resided here. The Fremont Indians lived in the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument 800 - 1,200 years ago. Following the Fremont were the Ute and Shoshone. Spanish explorers crossed the region in the 1700s. In the 1800s, settlers from Europe and the eastern United States arrived in the area and left their mark on the landscape with their homesteads. The Yampa and Green Rivers provide water for survival in the arid country. Those who had access to the rivers and a constant flow of water survived, while others dried up with drought and moved away. Now, many of the remains of homesteads are found alongside the Indian art work of the past.

Lunch: At a local museum in Rangely, we’ll have a catered buffet lunch including coffee, tea, lemonade, and water. We will have time to view the unique exhibit.

Afternoon: We’ll Continue on the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic byway through mountains and rugged valleys to Colorado National Monument. The Monument celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011. The amazing geology of the Colorado Plateau begins here with the red rock formations that extend into Utah and northern Arizona. Between 1912 and 1921 Grand Valley residents completed the Serpents Trail which was the first motorized route into the Monument. The 23 mile long Rim Rock Drive was constructed by CCC and WPA workers in the 1930’s. We descend from the Monument into the Grand Valley known for its orchards and vineyards. In the late 1800s, settlers drew water from the Colorado River to irrigate their vineyards. To survive during Prohibition, they planted peaches, apricots, pears and apples. In more recent years, vineyards have replaced the older orchards and grape production is now a mainstay of the economy. En route, our journey will be illuminated by expert commentary provided by our Group Leader focusing on the human and natural history, as well as stops at scenic pull-off viewpoints. Upon arrival in Palisade, we’ll check into our inn in the heart of Grand Valley.

Dinner: At the inn, we’ll be treated to a special plated dinner and wine paring. The menu will include locally produced “farm to fork” products and each course will be pared with wines produced from the local vineyards. The inn will also provide a speaker who will explain the foods and wines as we eat. Coffee, tea, water also provided.

Evening: At leisure. You may wish to enjoy the grounds and scenery around the inn.

Unaweep Tabeguache & San Juan Skyway Scenic Byways, Montrose
Montrose, CO
Red Arrow Inn and Suites

Activity note: Walking about 2 miles total for the day gravel or paved paths, steps and inclines at National Park. Driving approx. 300 miles total; about 3 hours in both morning and afternoon with stops.

Breakfast: At the inn, we’ll have a hot buffet with choice of breads, cereal, fruit, eggs, breakfast meats, yogurt, and a variety of other items including juice, milk, coffee, tea, and water.

Morning: Setting out from the inn, we’ll travel south along the Unaweep Tabeguache and the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byways until we arrive in Gateway, a tiny community where the geology changes dramatically. While in this remote town we’ll visit the Auto Museum, built by the Owner of Discovery Channel, which houses one of the finest collections of American automobiles in existence today. Take some time to explore these historical exhibits independently. Leaving Gateway, we’ll stop en-route high above the Dolores River where courageous men built the “Hanging Flume” in the late 1800s to aid in their mining endeavors. Water from the river was carried by the flume to be used for hydraulic mining of placer gold. This engineering marvel has been the recipient of many engineering awards. In 2012, a 48 foot section of the flume was repaired and/or reconstructed. Those working on it, with modern equipment, are even more baffled by the engineering feat accomplished by the original builders. The real mining story, however, is in the radium, vanadium and uranium found in the area. Radium from here was shipped to Madame Curie for her experiments in France; in the 1930s and through WWII vanadium was shipped from this area to be used in hardening of steel; and 60% of the uranium used during the Manhattan Project of WWII came from the Uncompahgre Plateau. Remnants of the uranium boom of the 1950s still remain along the route, and uranium exploration is once again drawing interest. Markers along the way point out that the Dominguez-Escalante Spanish Expedition who traveled through area in 1776 provided extensive written diaries about the area and gave place names that exist today. We’ll learn en route from our Group Leader about the unique cultural and natural history of the area through expert commentary.

Lunch: Stopping in the town Naturita, we’ll have a buffet lunch including coffee, tea, lemonade, and water. Lunch is served at the Rimrocker Museum of Western Montrose County. Local residents will visit with participants during lunch as well as in the Museum.

Afternoon: At the end of the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway, we will join the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. Our destination will be Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Often described as the Crown Jewel in the state byway system, San Juan Skyway‘s surrounding landscape ranges from limitless alpine forests and pristine mountains to fertile valleys and ancient apartment complexes. It is as old as the most famous mining camps and as modern as the latest condominium developments. Today, we travel the portion of the San Juan Skyway past one of the most photographed places in Colorado – the Sneffels Range of the San Juan Mountains, with peaks over 14,000 feet. We’ll leave the Byway to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in the mid-afternoon. A Park Ranger or volunteer will explain to us details of the canyon’s geology and natural history. To provide real context to the geological information we are learning, we’ll drive along the rim making some stops to see the present state these tectonic processes are in. We’ll continue to Montrose and check into our hotel upon arrival late afternoon.

Dinner: At a local steakhouse in Montrose, we’ll dine tonight with a plated meal including coffee, tea, lemonade, and water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure.

Million Dollar Hwy, Ignacio, Ute Heritage Center
Ignacio, CO
Sky Ute Lodge

Activity note: Walking about 1 mile total for the day gravel or paved paths with minimal stairs; periods of standing in museum. Driving approx. 140 miles total; about 2.5 hours in the morning with stops.

Breakfast: At the motel, we’ll have a buffet with a variety of choices including breads, cereal, fruit, waffles, other hot items, yogurt, juice, milk, coffee, tea, and water.

Morning: Our route along the Million Dollar Highway to Ignacio will bring us through the spectacular scenery of the San Juan mountains and through the historic mining towns of Ouray and Silverton. This famous highway, marked on maps and by road signs as US-550, is loaded with sublime natural scenery as it runs south from the Umcompahgre River ranchlands around Montrose to the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The “Million Dollar” tag is generally applied to the 25 steep and twisting miles that link Ouray and Silverton, a pair of remote gold and silver mining communities, but it’s also an appropriate nickname for the entire 110 miles of US-550 that link US-50 with Ouray and Durango. The history of the Million Dollar Highway is rife with legend. The route was first blazed by the “Pathfinder of the San Juans,” a five-foot-tall Russian immigrant named Otto Mears who was working as a U.S. mail carrier between Silverton and Telluride. By 1882 Mears had created a lucrative toll road that he parlayed into a sizable empire of roads and railroads, but his original hand-carved route through the mountains formed the basis of today’s Million Dollar Highway. Even the origin of the “Million Dollar” name is clouded in myth. Some say it was first used after an early traveler, complaining of the vertigo-inducing steepness of the route, said, “I wouldn't go that way again if you paid me a million dollars.” Others claim that it derives simply from the actual cost of paving the route in the 1930s. Another explanation is also the most likely: When the highway was first constructed, the builders used gravel discarded by nearby gold and silver mines, only to find out later that this dirt was actually rich in ore and worth an estimated “million dollars.” Our Group Leader will offer expert commentary on the human and natural history of the regions as we drive and make stops at scenic locations. We arrive in Ignacio in time for lunch.

Lunch: At the hotel, we’ll have a plated lunch including coffee, tea, lemonade, and water; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: We’ll then walk about 200 yards to the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum where we will join an Ute Tribal docent for an expert-led exploration of the facility. The program will help us learn about the Southern Ute Indians history and culture, both past and present, as we make our way through the beautiful museum. We will walk back to the hotel and check in.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like at the various hotel restaurants. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure. Take some time for relaxation and reflection on a busy day.

Silver Thread Scenic Byway, Creede Mining Museum, Gunnison
Gunnison, CO
Comfort Inn Gunnison

Activity note: Walking about 2 miles total for the day gravel or paved paths, steps and inclines at Mining Museum and in Creede. Driving approx. 230 miles total; about 2.5 hours in both morning and afternoon with stops.

Breakfast: At the lodge, we’ll have a hot buffet with choice of breads, cereal, fruit, eggs, breakfast meats, yogurt, and a variety of other items including juice, milk, coffee, tea, and water.

Morning: Along the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, we’ll travel through Colorado’s two least populated mountain counties with a combined population of about 1,500 people as we pass beautiful areas of natural wonders, all with rich geology. Geologists believe three eras of volcanic eruptions created the Byway’s terrain. One eruption about 26 million years ago, labeled the La Garita, is believed to be the single largest volcanic eruption in Earth’s history. The caldera is about 45 miles across and we’ll drive through part of it on the byway until our arrival in Creede. Located in a narrow mountain canyon at an elevation of 8,844 feet, silver was discovered here in 1889 and mining since became the area's main industry through the years until 1985. Creede now has a population of about 300 residents. After the mines closed in the 1980s it has depended entirely on tourism for survival. In its heyday, Creede was one of the roughest mining towns in Colorado. Robert Ford, who shot Jesse James, was the “boss.” He ran the saloons and brothels until he met his demise at the wrong end of a shotgun. Harsh cold and snowy winters were hard on fire trucks and the town needed a place to keep trucks so they would start in the winter. The concept for an underground facility began in 1976, when a local miner proposed building an underground fire station where the temperature remains 50 degrees year round. This project was so well accepted that in 1990 local citizens decided to build a community center and mining museum underground with the fire trucks, which we will visit while here. While the museum has never been used for the commercial production of silver, it was 'mined' from solid rock and is an authentic example of the methods and techniques used in the 'boom' days of Creede, Colorado. Local former miners are the docents who will provide the intriguing story of mining in the San Juan Mountains.

Lunch: On your own in Creede to explore the local fare. There are several very small family owned restaurants where participants can visit with local residents while dining.

Afternoon: We’ll then continue on the Byway following the Rio Grande River lined with willows and boggy meadows which provide perfect habitat for moose. Stopping at a cluster of waterfalls on North and South Clear Creeks, we’ll see the North Clear Creek Falls drop of about 100 feet from the edge of the sand colored volcanic tuff to the boulders below. It is possible to get views from several angles at this excellent photo stop. Carrying on, the Byway continues to the summit of Spring Creek Pass and enters dense spruce fir forests. The Slumgullion Earthflow is another geologic wonder on this Byway and has been designated as a National Natural Landmark. The huge multi-colored earth flow (slide) occurred about 700 years ago when the cliff face collapsed and ran downhill. It moved significantly again about 350 years ago. The United States Geologic Survey (USGS) tracks the movement of the slide. We’ll also see a marker on the road marking the Alferd Packer massacre site that took place in the winter of 1873. Our Group Leader will tell us the interesting story of how Packer set out with several companions on a prospecting venture, became lost during snowstorms, and were forced to spend the winter in the mountains near Lake City. Only Packer stumbled out alive in the spring. Eventually, however, darker details surrounding these events began to surface. The tiny (population 375) town of Lake City is the only incorporated town in Hinsdale County. It was a mining and transportation center in the 19th century. The entire town is on the National Historic Register. This is the perfect community for a stop to independently explore the Victorian buildings housing unique locally owned shops. We will arrive at our hotel in Gunnison in the late afternoon.

Dinner: At a local restaurant in Gunnison, we’ll dine on a plated meal including coffee, tea, lemonade, and water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Gunnison is home of Western State College on the Gunnison River and in the heart of rich farming and ranching country; it’s also frequently recorded as one of the coldest places in the U.S.

Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway, Denver
Denver, CO
Holiday Inn Denver Cherry Creek

Activity note: Walking about 1/2 mile total for the day gravel or paved paths, some stairs and inclines. Driving approx. 200 miles total; about 2.5 hours in both morning and afternoon with stops.

Breakfast: At the motel, we’ll have a buffet with a variety of choices including breads, cereal, fruit, waffles, other hot items, yogurt, juice, milk, coffee, tea, and water.

Morning: Leaving Gunnison, a short drive along U.S. 50 will take us to Colorado Highway 114 traveling over Cochetopa and North Pass to the historic San Luis Valley and the town of Saguache. This scenic drive is a true back road of Colorado through the best of Colorado Ranch Country. Upon arrival in Saguache, we’ll visit the Saguache County Museum where local docents will lead us through this slice of small town America and share stories from early settlers of Saguache County, many of whom played a large role in the settlement of Colorado. The Museum is in three small buildings: A home built in 1870, the adobe school built in 1874 and the 1908 jail. Among the interesting items are a 38-star American flag; 1908 defibrillator; an antique gun collection; a Clariona reed pipe purchased at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair; an amazing collection of Indian rugs, ancient baskets and pottery; a mineral collection; a 1908 fire wagon and hose cart. After our visit, we’ll drive along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and over Poncha Pass to our lunch stop in Salida.

Lunch: Lunch at a local family owned restaurant.

Afternoon: Leaving Salida as we travel North on the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway on Highway US 285, the west side of our route will be lined with 6 peaks measuring over 14,000 feet in elevation, 3 of which are named Mt. Princeton, Mt. Yale, and Mt. Harvard - the "Collegiate Peaks." Turning east we’ll enter the open space of South Park and the mining town of Fairplay. After our motorcoach climbs above the Park and crosses Kenosha Pass, we’ll drive down a beautiful canyon into the Mile High City of Denver for check-in at our hotel. Started in 1859 by gold seekers who were rushing to the Rockies, Denver has evolved in to a diverse, sophisticated city. Our Group Leader will offer expert commentary on the human and natural history of the regions as we drive and make stops at scenic locations.

Dinner: At the hotel restaurant, we’ll gather for our farewell plated meal including coffee, tea, lemonade, and water; other beverages available for purchase. Share some of your favorite experiences from the program with new Road Scholar friends.

Evening: At leisure. Be sure to prepare for check-out and departures in the morning.

Program Concludes
Denver, CO

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 10:00 a.m.

Breakfast: At the hotel restaurant, we’ll have a full plated breakfast including juices, coffee, tea, water. This concludes our program.

Morning: We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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