Top of the Rockies Road Trip

115 miles of scenic roads that rarely go below 9,000 feet in altitude. It’s the ultimate road trip outside of Denver, Colorado. Stephanie and I explored some of the highlights Top of the Rockies road has to offer. It’s beautiful.

It was an unexpected road trip. We were in Breckenridge with our rental vehicle and we knew we wanted to drive around but we had no idea where to go. We went to the helpful tourist help desk in Breckenridge and found a slew of options to choose from for road trips complete with guides and maps all within the area. We spotted the Top of the Rockies brochure and the images were enticing. An old school way of researching where to go.

It takes about three hours to drive the whole thing straight but with so many sights along the way, you need more time so you can stop. Our goal was to reach Twin Lakes which is near the end from top to bottom. We started our drive from Copper Mountain, the road on the right of the fork. It’s close from Breckenridge. This brought us all the way down to Leadville.

Top of the Rockies Map
Top of the Rockies Map courtesy of National Scenic Byway Committee website

Leadville

It’s North America’s highest incorporated city at over 10,430 feet in elevation. It was booming in the end 19th century with its silver and once had one of the worlds largest silver mining camps. Things have slowed down dramatically for Leadville since then and especially after the closing of a major mine in the 1980’s. Now Leadville is famous for its rich history in mining, the Boom Days festival, Leadville Trail 100 race, and other training activities because of its high altitude.

It’s a small city holding only over 2,500 people but it’s pleasant. We happened to have been driving around during a big race and saw probably hundreds of bikes on the road for miles all throughout the area. I can barely breathe in the car because of the altitude and these people are riding their bicycles for miles.

Leadville - Great Living @ 10,200

Hayden Meadows, Hayden Ranch, and more

Past Leadville to the south, you can spot Colorado’s two highest peaks Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. We were lucky to have such a clear day of blue skies and just a few clouds. The weather was perfect. We felt pretty lucky with the weather so we were taking it in as much as possible. Along the side of the roads were broken down ranches. I felt the urge to stop and check them out but for some reason, I didn’t. The rest of the ride was mostly empty and open roads. Impossible to get lost.

Top of the Rockies
Cyclists training on the Top of the Rockies outside of Leadville

Top of the Rockies

Top of the Rockies
Cyclists training on the Top of the Rockies outside of Leadville

Twin Lakes

Our final destination came with a very pleasant view of the mountains reflecting onto the water. We spent a good while here just taking in the scenery and relaxing. We could have kept going towards Aspen but we wanted to make sure we made it back to Breckenridge before dark. We missed out on Independence Pass Summit and Independence Ghost Town though. We’ll save it for another day.

Twin Lakes
Twin Lakes

On our way back, we went through the fork on the left side. We didn’t stop as often as we were earlier but the rest of the drive was still pleasant. The most impressive short stop we made along the left side was Steel Arched Bridge. Red Cliff, a small town right before the bridge, was also neat. It has only about 300 people for the whole town and old homes. Not much to see but it was okay for a quick drive around the few blocks the town has.

Top of the Rockies

Red Cliff
Red Cliff. To the left is the small town. I’m standing on the bridge.

Tips and Planning

  • Before you begin on the trip, I suggest filling up your tank. Leadville had one station I think. Best to drive prepared.
  • The drive was wonderful but I’d skip it if it was rainy or too cloudy.
  • Heavy snow can close down many of the roads. Check the Top of the Rockies website if Independence Pass is closed
  • It took us a total of about 6 hours with several stops. We were exhausted by the end of the day.
  • Not many food options on the road. Something I wish we had done was prepare a picnic for Twin Lakes.

We stayed at Breckenridge Lodge and Spa. The perfect location to start our road trip. Thank you Breckenridge and Spa for hosting us.

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