Encircle Colorado

Encircle Colorado: Your journey begins in Estes Park northwest of Boulder, includes the scenic towns of Vail, Leadville and Aspen and savors the stunning landscapes of Independence Pass and Colorado National Monument. You will relish every moment of your “Rocky Mountain High.”

Share this
View MAP

1 Bighorn Sheep Grazing in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado

The best way to sample the 415 square miles and 60 mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is by driving along the Trail Ridge Road (Highway 34). If you are adventurous, consider walking some of the 350 miles of trails. The lowlands are covered by lush grasslands and forests until they reach the tree line at 11,500 feet. The tallest mountain is Longs Peak at 14,259 feet. Along the way, you might see a herd of grazing bighorn sheep.

Trail Ridge Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

2 Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado is nestled in the Rocky Mountain’s eastern slope at an elevation of 5,430 feet. The metro population of this affluent yet laidback community is over 300,000. The majority of residents are under 50 years old. Boulder’s epicenter is The Pearl Street Mall between 11th and 15th Streets. This pedestrian-only section of downtown features plenty of boutique shops plus restaurants and entertainment. The four-block street has come a long way since it was established in the mid-19th century to supply gold prospectors and hunters plus served as their winter camp.

Broadway & Pearl St, Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

3 Hearts on a Swing Sculpture by George Lundeen in Boulder, Colorado

Boulder is blessed with outdoor public art ranging from murals to statues. My favorite is titled, “Hearts on a Swing.” The bronze statue of a relaxed young woman was created by George Lundeen, a noted sculptor of people from Loveland, Colorado. She welcomes visitors to the Pearl Street Mall at the Broadway entrance. Some locals believe she is the mysterious Pearl, the street’s namesake.

Broadway & Pearl St, Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

4 National State Bank Clock in Boulder, Colorado

This vintage, stained-glass clock along Pearl Street is attached to Boulder’s oldest commercial building. The Renaissance Revival design by F. G. Eberly and George Hyder was constructed in 1899 for the Buckingham Brothers Bank. Charles and Walter Buckingham founded the first financial services company in 1874, three years after the town was incorporated. When the name change in 1877, The National State Bank of Boulder began printing currency. Some of those notes are extremely valuable collectors’ items today.

1242 Pearl St., Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

5 Old County Courthouse in Boulder, Colorado

After a previous courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1932, it was replaced two years later on the same property with this Art Deco design by architect Glen H. Huntington. Notice how the buff sandstone radiates with a warm hue towards sunset. These blocks were formally part of a railroad bridge, an economy measure prompted by the Great Depression. The lawyers and judges have since moved out. This allowed the civil servants of the county government to move in.

1325 Pearl St, Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

6 Arnett-Fullen House in Boulder, Colorado

This vintage home on Pearl Street in Boulder was built in 1877 for Willamette Arnett, a local stock dealer. After he died in 1901 during the Yukon’s Klondike Gold Rush, the Victorian residence with the multi-colored slate roof was owned by the Fullen family. It later served as the offices for Historic Boulder, Inc. before again becoming a family home. This is a beautiful example of the city’s 1,300 landmark properties within 10 historic districts. Tours of notable buildings are available for architecture lovers. Believers of paranormal activities also enjoy this house’s haunted stories.

646 Pearl St., Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

7 Boulder Creek in Boulder, Colorado

Boulder Creek originates in the Rocky Mountains and flows over 31 miles before entering the South Boulder Creek. But first, the North and Middle Boulder forks conjoin near the city and cascade through downtown Boulder. Notice the huge rocks among this waterfall. They were the inspiration for naming this creek and subsequently the town of Boulder.

Eben G. Fine Park 101 Arapahoe Ave, Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

8 Old Main at University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado

Colorado became a state in 1876, the same year the University of Colorado Boulder was founded for 15 college students plus high schoolers. The following year, the first campus building was finished on a former cattle pasture. Architect E. H. Dimick was responsible for the Collegiate Gothic design of Old Main. This iconic building is listed by the U. S. National Register of Historic Places and is the centerpiece of the Norlin Quadrangle Historic District. Also called the Old Main Chapel, it now houses the dean, the College of Arts and Sciences and the CU Heritage Center. This is the university’s history museum.

1600 Pleasant St, Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

9 Old Buckingham Library Now University of Colorado Theater in Boulder, Colorado

A magazine ranked Boulder, Colorado, as the happiest U.S. city. One reason may be their annual naked pumpkin run and marijuana 4:20 events. The latter occurs on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. It is an excellent school with a gorgeous blend of modern and historic facilities. One example is the old Buckingham Library. When it opened in 1904, the facility had 30,000 volumes managed by librarian Alfred Whitaker. The building is now the University Theater.

261 UCB, Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

10 Guggenheim Law Building at University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado

Prior to 1909, law students at the University of Colorado Boulder attended class in the Hale Science Building. But thanks to a sizable donation by Senator Simon Guggenheim, this neoclassical law school building opened in 1909 as part of the city’s semi-centennial celebration. The Guggenheim Building currently serves CU’s Geography Department.

Guggenheim Geography, Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

11 Macky Auditorium at University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado

Andrew J. Macky was a main benefactor for building the University of Colorado Boulder’s performing arts venue. He was a prospector during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in the mid-1800s and the founder of the First National Bank of Boulder. Macky Auditorium was finished in 1923 and is part of the Norlin Quadrangle Historic District. Distinguished quests who have performed here include Eleanor Roosevelt, Dalai Lama, Benny Goodman and Harry Belafonte. Macky Auditorium Concert Hall is also home to the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra.

285 University Ave, Boulder, CO 80309
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

12 Norlin Library at University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado

The Norlin Library and the Norlin Quadrangle were named in honor of Dr. George Norlin. He began his career at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1899 as a professor of Greek and literature. From 1917 until 1939, he was CU’s president. He is credited with tripling enrollment during his tenure and establishing the foundation for the school’s excellence. CU is now the state’s largest university with over 32,000 students. Inscribed above this entrance is a paraphrased quote by Roman philosopher Marcus Cicero. “Who knows only his own generation remains always a child.”

1720 Pleasant St, Boulder, CO 80302
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

13 Smiling Male Caricature Mural by Jessevale at University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado

Near the corner of 15th and Broadway is an entrance to the University of Colorado in Boulder. There you will find this smiling caricature wearing a gold T-shirt, one of the school’s colors. Perhaps it represents one of the fraternity boys who live nearby. The artist’s name is Jessevale.

15th St. & Broadway, Boulder, CO 80309
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

14 Gore Creek Running through Vail, Colorado

Serious snow skiers eventually make a run to Vail, Colorado. It started as a village in 1996, four years after the Vail Ski Resort opened. It is now the largest ski area in North America. Also running through this town is Gore Creek. Its stony bed drains part of the Rocky Mountains and joins the Eagle River just after its trip through Vail.

S Frontage Rd E & Vail Valley Dr, Vail, CO 81657
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

15 Scenic Beauty along Interstate 70 near Vail, Colorado

Heading west out of Vail on Interstate 70 is a delightful drive through the White River National Forest. In the wintertime, tourists flock to this area for its abundance of ski slopes and resorts. During the rest of the year, visitors marvel at its tree-lined valleys, snow-capped mountains and adjacent creeks and rivers.

River Edge, US-24 & US-6, Avon, CO 81620
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

16 Snow-capped Rocky Mountains near Vail, Colorado

From Interstate 70 take U. S. Route 24 south towards Leadville to experience why this road through the Rockies it is affectionately called the Fourteeners Highway. If you bypass Leadville, then near the town of Buena Vista you will see no less than ten mountain summits over 14,000 feet. This includes the Collegiate Peaks named Mounts Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale and Princeton.

Ski Cooper, 232 County Road 29, Leadville, CO 80461
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

17 Horace Tabor Opera House in Leadville, Colorado

In 1877, a prospector in Colorado’s Silver Boom named Horace Tabor founded and began growing Slabtown as an accommodation for miners. Soon after it was renamed Leadville, the town’s population mushroomed into Colorado’s second largest with over 5,000 residents. Meanwhile, the “Leadville Silver King” became one of the state’s richest men. In 1879, he built this opulent opera house, a lasting memory of his lavish lifestyle. But all good things come to an end. After the Panic of 1893 and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act limiting the government’s acquisition of silver, Talbot lost his riches and Leadville shriveled to its current population of about 2,600 people. Shows are still performed in this historic theater venue.

120 W 8th St Leadville, CO 80461
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

18 The Old Church in Leadville, Colorado

The Historic District of Leadville is a delightful place to stretch your legs during your southern drive on Highway 24. There are about 20 landmarks on either side of Harrison Avenue running through downtown. Many of these buildings date back to the late-19th century when this was a prosperous mining town. One example is this Presbyterian Church with its red brick façade and lattice windows accented by a Gothic bell tower. The locals call it “The Old Church” because it was built in 1889.

108 W 8th St, Leadville, CO 80461
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

19 Old Malta Little Red Schoolhouse and Rocky Mountains near Leadville, Colorado

Leadville is noted for its high elevation (over 10,000 feet), the start of Colorado’s Silver Boom and the death of Buffalo Bill Cody. Just after leaving the “Two-Mile-High City’s” historic district and before reaching Malta, you are treated to this picturesque scene. In the background of this abandoned, little red school house is Mount Massive. At 14,428 feet, it is the Rocky Mountains’ second highest peak.

11234 US-24, Leadville, CO 80461
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

20 Introduction to Independence Pass, Colorado

Independence Pass is a 32-mile Scenic and Historic Byway located less than 20 miles either side of Leadville in the east and Aspen in the west. Highway 82 winds among glacier-formed valleys and snow-capped mountains. You will drive by gorgeous scenes like this one near Leadville. This is Twin Lakes with Mount Elbert in the background (Colorado’s tallest peak at 14,400 feet). Between the San Isabell and White River National Forests is the 12,095 summit of Independence Pass. Here you will stand at the top of the Continental Divide. This fabulous road is typically open from Memorial Day through early November. However, check U. S. Forest Service bulletins before you go.

6285 Co Rd 10 Twin Lakes, CO 81251
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

21 Red Shed and Weathervane at Independence Pass, Colorado

This highway maintenance shed with its antique weathervane is the rare operative building you will see along Independence Pass. However, in the Roaring Fork Valley, you can visit the remnants of ghost town including simple wood cabins, the Farewell Stamp Mill and a general store. These are all that is left of Independence, a miners’ settlement founded on July 4, 1879 at the start of the Colorado Gold Rush.

10361 CO-82, Twin Lakes, CO 81251
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

22 Lake Creek Flowing along Independence Pass, Colorado

Lake Creek follows your journey for about 12 miles along Highway 82 and through Independence Pass. During the springtime snow melt, the water rushes dramatically among the boulders and is flanked by fir trees and aspen groves. There are several good hiking trails in this area. Soon this stream disappears in your rearview mirror as you begin ascending while navigating switchback turns and a narrowing road with steep drop-offs.

82D & 82 Buena Vista, CO 81211
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

Alpine Tundra Zone at Independence Pass, Colorado

As the tree line transitions into barren rock at about 11,000 to 11,500 feet, you have reached the Alpine Tundra Ecosystem. Expect to see sparse vegetation except for patches of moss and some hardy flowering plants. During the next 1,000 feet of your ascent toward the top of Independence Pass, the temperature continues to drop accompanied by strong winds and increasing snowpacks. This landscape is incredible as you approach 2.3 miles above sea level!


23 Snowball Fight at Independence Pass, Colorado

The mid-point of Colorado’s most scenic drive is marked with a sign declaring: “Independence Pass, Elevation 12,095 Feet, Continental Divide.” Here you will understand what inspired John Denver to write, “Rocky Mountain High.” Also enjoy a quick snowball fight, even during the summer months. Now return to your car, turn up the heat – you will be cold – and begin your descent towards Aspen. Along the way, enjoy the splendor of White River National Forest plus Green Mountain (peaks at 6,854 feet) and Mount Shimer (elevation 12,340 feet), also called Sunshine Peak.

44610 CO-82, Almont, CO 81210
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

24 Horse and Buggy, Wheeler Opera House and Fountain in Aspen, Colorado

In 1879, one of the early partners of today’s Macy’s department store was Jerome Wheeler. Twenty years later, this Romanesque revival opera house was built in his honor in Aspen, Colorado. The fountain also bears his name because of his significant investments in the area during the late 19th century. The horse and buggy stands between the two landmarks.

320 E Hyman Ave, Aspen, CO 81611
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

25 Little Girl With Bonnet Next to Mill Street Fountain in Aspen, Colorado

John Denver’s songs about the beauty of Aspen, Colorado helped to propel it into a very popular resort town. Now it has the highest real estate costs in the country. Surprisingly, many of these multi-million-dollar homes are seasonal. Across from the Wheeler Opera House is a park called Aspen Mall. The centerpiece is the Mill Street Fountain, which is computerized to make the water dance at seemingly random intervals. It is extremely popular on hot days with children like this little girl.

S Mill St & E Hyman Ave., Aspen, CO 81611
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

Aspen, Colorado Composite of Two Photos

Two photos of Aspen, Colorado are: A grove of Aspen trees nicknamed quakies; and The Independence Square Hotel built in 1889.


26 Maroon Bells and Lake in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen, Colorado

The snow-capped and red-hue Maroon Bells are 14,000 foot sister peaks. The picturesque mounts are located in the 181,000 acres of Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen. In the glacial valley is Maroon Lake. During the spring, its frigid water provides gorgeous reflections of the mountains. The scenic area is also surrounded by meadows, wildflowers and aspen. Local residents include bighorn sheep, red fox, deer and an occasional black bear.

Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead, Aspen, CO 81611
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

27 Llama Guarding Farm near Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado

Most people think of a llama as a source of meat, a producer of wool, as a pack animal or sometimes as a pet. This particular camelid was guarding farm animals against predators (and photographers) near Maroon Bells in Aspen. Another misconception is their origin. They first appeared in the central plains of North America about 40 million years ago. Then they became extinct there after migrating to South America during the Ice Age. Today, there are about 150,000 domestic llamas in the United States.

Maroon Creek Rd & W Willow Creek Rd., Aspen, CO 81611
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

28 Winding Drive at Colorado National Monument, Colorado

The best 23 miles you might experience in Colorado is Rim Rock Drive. This winding path along the edge of the red-rock Monument Canyon is within Colorado National Monument. Hugging the Colorado Plateau are 19 overlooks. Each observation point provides a unique perspective of stone towers, deep cliff walls and sculptured sandstone. Entrances to this NPS Federal park are either near Fruita or Grand Junction. These towns are eight miles apart along Colorado State Highway 340.

Fruita Canyon View, 16 Rim Rock Dr, Fruita, CO 81521
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

29 Independence Monument at Colorado National Monument, Colorado

The most iconic sight at Colorado National Monument is this steeple named Independence Monument. The massive sandstone monolith reaches 450 feet into the air and is a looming challenge to experienced climbers. The first person to plant an American Flag at its peak was John Otto. His feat was accomplished in 1911 on July 4, hence the tower’s patriotic name. To make certain the moniker was lasting, Mr. Otto carved phrases from the Declaration of Independence at the base of the monument. He later became the park’s first ranger.

Independence Monument View, 17 Rim Rock Dr, Fruita, CO 81521
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

30 Ageless Rocks at Colorado National Monument, Colorado

Just as the rings of a tree convey its age, the layers of rock at Colorado National Monument whisper at the history they have seen. Some of the youngest geologic formations date from the Jurassic Period. That was 150 to 200 million years ago. The oldest are Precambian. This era occurred over 1.5 billion years in the past. You would have to be a geologist to know the difference. So just marvel at their stunning beauty as you drive by them.

Independence Monument View, 17 Rim Rock Dr, Fruita, CO 81521
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

31 Grand View Overlook of Monoliths at Colorado National Monument, Colorado

One spectacular panorama of Independence Monument is from the Grand View Overlook. Only the golden eagles and red-tail hawks have a better view of these towering monoliths. You have 801 people to thank for this scenic drive. The first was William Taft. The president leveraged the Antiquates Act in 1911 to make these 20,500 acres a national monument. The other 800 men created the Rim Rock Drive. The laborious project began during the Depression. It took 18 years to complete by 1950. Colorado National Monument is listed by the U. S. National Register of Historic Places.

Grand View, Rim Rock Dr, Grand Junction, CO 81507
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

32 Coke Ovens at Colorado National Monument, Colorado

These three rounded, sandstone domes are part of the Wingate formation colloquially known as the Coke Ovens. If you entered Colorado National Monument near Fruita, then by the time you finish savoring the picturesque landscape from the Coke Oven Overlook, your scenic ride is almost over. But what is your hurry? Why leave a good thing? There are over 80 campsites at the park plus plenty of hiking trails to suit any physical condition. The trailhead for one of the easiest, one-mile paths is a few steps from this view.

Coke Ovens Overlook, 1750 Rim Rock Dr, Fruita, CO 81521
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions