How about mountain scenery?
Maybe you like to climb as many 14,000+ foot mountains as you can in your lifetime, or maybe you just like strolling quaint historical mountain towns. Whatever your passion is, the Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway offers up a wealth of activity and is only an hour’s drive into the mountains west of Denver.
On the south side of this byway is the unincorporated town of Grant. While only a few buildings lay along Hwy285 that make this town stand out, it also is the starting point of the Guanella Pass Road on the south side. From this point, the road is a dirt road for about five miles up to the Burning Bear Campground. From this point, the road is paved, but potholed. After a few more miles and a very tight hairpin, the road climbs steeply up past Duck Lake to the left and then rises above tree line to the Guanella Pass Summit.
Guanella Pass Summit and hikes
From the summit area parking lots, you can take any number of hikes and attempt to ascend various 14,000+ foot peaks. One of these peaks is Mt. Bierstadt. The hike is about a 7-mile roundtrip hike and considered one of the easier 14’er climbs in Colorado. Because of this, many beginner 14’er hikers make this hike one of their first 14’er climbs. Another not-so-ambitious hike is the Square Top Lakes hike of about 4 miles round-trip which has a 700-foot ascent to two glacial lakes.
What I find interesting at this point is the fact that you can find so very many people parked not only in the parking areas at the summit, but all along the roadside for at least a mile or so. The day we went on this drive, we were greeted with at least two miles of parked cars on both sides of the road. Actually, I shouldn’t say ‘drive’ since this time around, I went by motorcycle with two friends….Erik and Maria.
I wanted to park somewhere so we could take a short interpretive walk off of one of the parking areas. This walk is about a quarter mile one way and you can take the Square Top Lakes trail off of this walk. It’s called an interpretive walk, because all along the walk, there are signs that explain the flora and fauna of the area. These signs are also a good reminder of how delicate life is above timberline. At these elevations, the growing season is only about eight weeks, so the tundra and the wildflowers that it supports die easily when walked on. That’s the main reason you will find signs that say, “Restoration Area – Keep Off.” With as many people that frequent the high country considering all the cars we saw, I think I can abide by those signs.
Guanella Pass Road
While the southern approach of this road is a dirt road, it doesn’t twist and wind as much as the northern approach from Georgetown does. And from this side, the road has been newly paved since 2011, so you end up taking a very smooth route up to the pass. All along this route, you can find camping and hiking areas, as well as interpretive signs that explain how the resources of the area have been used.
Because much of Colorado is arid, the greatest and most valuable resource (IMO) – water – is and has (historically) been given great attention. In Clear Creek County, where Georgetown and other small towns reside, the watershed is a protected resource. One of the historical landmarks in Georgetown is also a still functioning hydro power plant, which houses several century old pieces of functioning machinery. The importance of this watershed goes far beyond that of energy…many other entities have a stake in its existence.
One of the other historical features of this town is the Georgetown Loop Railroad. Because I’ve been on a weight loss kick, I thought it would be fun to walk the trail that connects Georgetown to Silver Plume, where you can find the railroad’s museum on the south side of town. As my friends and I walked along this trail, we stopped for a bit to view the train chugging its way around the twisting and winding track.
I also enjoyed strolling around the main street of Georgetown and peeping inside store windows and sharing conversation over lunch and a bowl of ice cream. The ice cream came after our 4-mile round-trip walk from Georgetown to Silver Plume, of course. Considering the proximity to a large city, Georgetown is a great escape getaway for a day, or even a weekend.
Check out the photo slideshow for more scenery and shots of this byway. The interactive map has clickable icons and descriptions of different points along the route: