Colorado is renowned for its picturesque scenic byways that wind through magnificent mountain landscapes. Among these, the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway stands out as one of the most breathtaking routes to explore.
Whether you crave awe-inspiring vistas of majestic peaks towering over 14,000 feet or the thrilling possibility of encountering bighorn sheep or moose, the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway delivers an unforgettable experience.
Despite its relatively compact nature, this scenic byway offers an abundance of natural beauty, diverse terrain, and good ole fashioned, road trip excitement.
Below, I’ll break down the scenic drive for you so that when you decide to give it a try, you’ll be ready to maximize your time and see everything that it has to offer!
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What is the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway?
The renowned Guanella Pass Scenic Byway is 22-mile stretch of highway, extending from Georgetown to Grant, between the South Platte and Clear Creek watersheds.
This meandering pathway leads explorers through dense woodlands of spruce, fir, aspen, and pine, gradually ascending above the treeline to unveil breathtaking panoramas of majestic peaks like Mount Bierstadt.
Along the way, you’ll also be treated to stunning vistas of Clear Lake and have the opportunity to encounter magnificent wildlife such as moose and bighorn sheep.
How long does it take to do the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway?
The amount of time it’s going to take you to complete the scenic byway depends on how many stops you plan on taking. But generally speaking, it’s going to take you about one hour to do the one-way journey.
What’s the best time of year to drive the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway?
The best time of the year to do the Guanella Pass Scenic Bywayis going to be during the fall color change which is typically early October.
We did the scenic drive during the summer which was a fantastic time. Lots of the mountain peaks were still wearing their snowy crowns and the aspens’ vibrant green hues made for pretty stunning scenery and were a feast for the eyes.
Since there are lots of large aspen grows along this byway this means that during the fall, it’s probably one of the best scenic byways to traverse.
Although you can easily find aspens throughout the route, there are special signs that put you on notice when a golden spectacle awaits.
But winter travelers be aware, the road is closed from around Thanksgiving time to Memorial Day, so don’t count on this being open all year round.
Is there wildlife to encounter along the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway?
During your drive along the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, you’ll have the chance to encounter various wildlife, which is certainly one of the route’s highlights.
While taking in the breathtaking scenic drive, we were fortunate to come across one of the most coveted wildlife sightings: a majestic bull moose!
We also encountered some beautiful deer alongside the road.
Other fascinating wildlife you might encounter include bighorn sheep and there are some signs that point out where they might be seen perched high on rocky ledges or traversing steep terrain with ease.
What sites are on the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway?
In contrast to other scenic byways that traverse multiple towns, the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway predominantly immerses you in nature’s awe-inspiring beauty. It gives you a true Colorado experience.
Along the route, you will encounter picturesque lakes and trailheads, and for the most part, you will find yourself far removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization.
The byway starts off with a great overlook of Georgetown, once known as the “Silver Queen of the Rockies.”
From this vantage point, you are treated to a panoramic view that showcases both the town’s historic structures and the shimmering Georgetown Lake, setting the stage for your unforgettable road trip.
As soon as you head south from historic Georgetown, you’ll encounter a couple of extremely scenic bodies of water.
The first is Green Lake which is a pretty stunning lake although it is bordered by private property and the owners make it very clear that trespassing is not allowed (albeit with creative no trespassing signs).
However, just a short distance beyond Green Lake, you’ll discover a cherished destination for outdoor enthusiasts: Clear Lake. This stunning lake attracts visitors who seek to indulge in activities such as kayaking, fishing, and immersing themselves in the great outdoors.
The Xcel Energy Cabin Creek Hydroelectric power plant comes up next which is it another interesting spot to check out.
After a while you will arrive at the Guanella Pass Campground which is also where you will find the Silver Dollar Lake Trailhead. This is a really popular hiking area which takes you to the stunning Silver Dollar Lake.
After some switchbacks you’ll see the Bierstadt Trailhead. At this point, you find yourself in the heart of the most visually captivating stretch of the byway and it might be hard for you to move on. It was such a beautiful spot. (They also have bathrooms.)
This is where you can hike one of the “easier” 14ers in Colorado: Mount Bierstadt. With the elevation, altitude, and mileage, it’s still not an easy hike by any means but for those wanting to conquer a14er without serious climbing or scrambling, this is a good contender.
You’ll then come across Duck Lake which is once again another lake surrounded by private property.
As you continue to head south, you’ll encounter several more campgrounds and trail heads. The scenery on the southern portion of the scenic byway, after you pass through the summit area, is not quite as glorious.
However, it’s still really beautiful and you’ll discover gems like the cool waterfall right by the road at the Scott Gomer creek access and trail.
Continuing along the route, you will encounter several inviting turnouts near the Geneva Creek, providing an opportunity to pause, unwind, and embrace tranquility. These turnouts beckon you to step out of your vehicle and find solace on one of the bridges that gracefully span the creek.
Eventually you will end up at the junction with US Highway 285 which is the end of the scenic byway.
If you’re working up an appetite then I would highly suggest stopping at The Shaggy Sheep, which is just beyond the intersection.
They are known for their tasty burgers and country cooked meals. We tried one of their delectable burgers which we loved. And their fries? Crispy, golden, and served hot.
I also experimented with the smoked brisket although it wasn’t really for me though the coleslaw provided a delightful burst of freshness and tang to complement the “14 hours beef.”
If you have a sweet tooth, they are also known for their amazing desserts and cookies so you can’t go wrong. They also had excellent service which made our experience at this cozy little restaurant a very memorable one.
After relishing a delightful lunch, the time had come for us to retrace our steps along the scenic byway.
One of the notable aspects of this picturesque journey is its relatively short length, making it easily manageable to embark on a round trip if desired. It’s a great half day trip from Georgetown.
Like most of the scenic byways in Colorado, the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway did not disappoint. The abundance of flowing creeks, beautiful lakes, stunning mountain peaks, and the lucky wildlife spottings, made this a trip well worth it.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.