Drive the Peak to Peak — it’s beautiful anytime of the year, but when fall colors are out, it’s spectacular! Combine this scenic drive with elk watching in Estes Park and an overnight in a classic mountain cabin, and you’ve got a fall trip to be remembered.
Stretching 55 miles from Estes Park to I-70, the Peak to Peak Highway is about a 3 hour drive.
Designated a Colorado Scenic Byway in 1918, it begins as CO Highway 7 in Estes Park. It passes Lily Mountain, Lily Lake, Twin Sisters, and Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park. Just past Allenspark it turns south on CO Highway 72 and goes to Nederland where it continues south on CO Highway 119, through Blackhawk, through Clear Creek Canyon and, down to I-70.
Stops along the Way
- Lily Lake – a beautiful roadside mountain lake with a short, flat trail around it. Enjoy majestic views of Longs Peak and Estes Cone
- Wild Basin – entrance to the southern part of Rocky Mountain Park, and wonderful day and backpack hikes into the Park. Visit Calypso Cascades cool, rushing waterfalls. In order to park at either Lily Lake or Wild Basin between May 26 and Oct 22, 2023 and between 9am and 2pm, a daily Timed Entry Permit for “the rest of the Park” is required.
- Meeker Park – Visit the White River Museum to learn about the Meeker Massacre of 1879, a clash that tragically set in motion the Ute Indian Tribe’s eventual removal from Colorado. The museum is open daily, year-round (except a few holidays) and has free admission.
- Allenspark – Stop at the picturesque St. Malo’s Chapel “The Chapel on the Rocks” for an inspiring moment at the foot of Longs Peak. Get coffee and a snack at the Tahosa Coffee Shop, located right on the grounds of Camp St. Malo. Shop for Native American jewelry, baskets, beadwork, pottery, and more at the historic Eagle Plume’s Trading Post.
- Ward – A great spot for a short and easy hike to stretch your legs is the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. The Long Lake and Mitchel Lake trailheads offer dog-friendly hikes.
- Nederland – this lively alpine town offers coffee shops, lunch spots, and a bustling farmer’s market each Sunday. You can also visit the Mining Museum to pan for gold!
- Black Hawk – if you want to test your luck at craps, roulette or slots this town is known for its multiple casinos, some that date back to Colorado’s gold rush.
There used to be many gold mines along Highways 72 and 119. The mine tailings (scrap rock from the mines that was dumped down the side of the mountain) are visible from the small town of Ward down past Blackhawk. Elevations range from 9.600′ at Ward down to 8,000′ at Blackhawk.
Weekend prospectors still dredge for golden flakes in the creeks. There are a few old mines along the way that allow the public to pan for gold in the creek. Kids love to pan for gold whether they find any or not.
First Scenic Byway in CO
Established over 100 years ago, this is Colorado’s first scenic byway.
It’s a lovely drive, passing interesting sites and places along the way, and makes a great day trip from Estes Park. St. Malo’s Chapel, built on a rocky outcrop, stands majestic in from of Mt. Meeker.
Gravel roads crossing the main highway lead to ghost towns at Hesse and Apex; others lead to high country lakes.
There are many aspen stands mixed in with evergreens. On a clear fall day, these golden trees set against the high peaks shine in the sun.