Scenic Byways Along the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop

The Million Dollar Highway

The connections between five premier locations along the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop transform the 720-mile drive into a scenic odyssey, just as much about the journey as the destinations.

The Colorado Hot Springs Loop, spanning over 720 miles and connecting five premier locations, is a trek to some of the state’s most beautiful waters. In addition to sizzling hot springs experiences, this journey gives visitors a chance to behold Colorado’s rugged beauty via scenic byways. These connections not only make the drive enjoyable, but are also perfect for window gazing.

  • Top of the Rockies. This leg of the route, traveling from Copper to Granite, crosses the Continental Divide and passes two of Colorado’s highest peaks. As adventurers make their way through the high-elevation stretch, they can spot historic stand-outs: Leadville was once a booming mining town; it is still lavish with Victorian houses, the Tabor Opera House, and long-abandoned mines. Be sure to catch glimpses of Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, towering at 14,440 and 14,421 feet, making for a majestic scenic backdrop.
  • Collegiate Peaks. This part of the loop, from Granite to Salida, is home to the highest concentration of 14,000-foot mountain peaks in North America. With names reminiscent of the Ivy League—Mt. Yale, Mt. Princeton, and Mt. Harvard—the Collegiate Peaks rise 7,000 feet above the Arkansas River Valley. Buena Vista, Nathrop, and Salida sit below, offering vast green ranch land and river views, leading directly to three public hot springs.
  • San Juan Skyway. The San Juan Skyway travels from Durango to Ridgway, right through the dazzling San Juan Mountains. After a soak in Pagosa Springs, travelers can opt to keep exploring the nearby views. Visitors first travel through two leafy passes, full of Weminuche Wilderness, before hitting the silver-boom town of Silverton. Then, the byway follows the “Million Dollar Highway,” a road known for steep cliffs and tight turns, through to Ouray, then to Ridgway. Dubbed the “Switzerland of Colorado,” this area is known for expansive views, canyon waterfalls, and mountain peaks with a permanent layer of white frosting on top. After the enchanting drive, Ouray Hot Springs Pool and the au naturel Orvis Hot Springs are available for additional fun.
  • West Elk Loop. This scenic experience, known for its autumn aspen leaves foliage, crosses from Hotchkiss to Carbondale. The trail begins with sights of orchards and farm-fresh produce local to the area—including cherries and apples—and crosses through the North Fork Valley. Leading travelers through the jaw-dropping McClure Pass, West Elk Loop meanders along the Crystal River, and suggests a stop at the historic Redstone settlement, including its famed Cleveholm Manor. Visitors can continue making their way through the Roaring Fork Valley into Glenwood Springs, where hot springs await.
  • Flat Tops Scenic Byway. With six historic stops and miles of unpaved road, the Flat Tops Scenic Byway is a summertime trip worth taking as voyagers head to Steamboat Springs. Starting in Meeker, a ranching town famous for its annual Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship, the trail continues through Buford, Trappers Lake, Ripple Pass, and Yampa. Along the way, there are dramatic scenery changes: geologic lava flow formations and plateaus juxtapose alpine meadows, a shimmering lake (Trappers) sits between acres of fire-recovering wilderness, and a 10,343-foot pass places drivers high above the backwoods below. The western vibe of Yampa opens up to views of agriculture in action, as herds graze and ranches go about their business. Matching the diversity of the Flat Tops journey, Steamboat Springs has two unique hot springs options following a day of exploration.

After such vigorous adventuring and travel, visitors are encouraged to take a rest break at each of the hot spring destinations: relaxing, recovering, and soaking is essential before heading to the next stop.

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Stop and Stare: National Parks and Monuments Along the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop

Colorado National Monument

While traveling the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, stops at National Monuments and Parks highlight the 720-mile journey, making for historic, cultural, and bewildering exploration.

National Parks came to be in 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order adding 56 designated lands into the new service, both protecting lands and giving the public access to them. Since then, the system has rapidly expanded, including more than 400 areas of parks and monuments spanning across 84 acres in the continental US and its territories.

Colorado, thanks to its geographic diversity, is home to several National Parks and National Monuments. The Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, which spans over 720 miles connecting five premier locations, brings visitors through parks and to monuments. These natural wonders are perfect for exploration before stopping at the next prime soaking destination.

  • Browns Canyon National Monument. Due to its close proximity to Salida, Buena Vista, and Nathrop, Browns Canyon National Monument is perfect for a pre-soak expedition. The area is one of the nation’s most popular whitewater rafting locations, and hosts all that the Arkansas River has to offer. Wildlife, including bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and eagles, call the canyon home, and recreation such as camping, biking, hiking, and rock climbing give visitors a peek into the animals’ natural habitat. The Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway is a direct passage to explore Browns Canyon, as well as admire the towering peaks above.
  •  Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Near Ouray, catch a drive through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This 53-mile stretch winds through a narrow gorge, with plummeting walls and dramatic views down. The Denver and Rio Grande railroad once traveled on rails throughout the canyon, and stray tracks can still be seen. Across the Black Canyon, there are opportunities for camping, hiking (Hermit’s Rest is a local favorite), auto touring, wildlife viewing, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Get your thrills before seeking out geothermal rest and relaxation.
  • Colorado National Monument. Marrying desert plateaus and high mesas, the Colorado National Monument is a natural wonder of rock arches, cliff walls, and abundant wildlife in Grand Junction, Colorado. Wander through several trails that take hikers to the top, or take the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive, which takes travelers along the Monument and shows off the unique geological formations, carved by wind and water over centuries. It’s only an hour and a half away from Glenwood Springs, and two hours from Ouray, where luxurious hot springs await.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park. Not far from Steamboat Springs, Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses the grandeur and beauty of the mountain region. High alpine lakes, evergreen forests, and towering peaks fill the 415-square miles of the park, known for its thousands of acres of wildlife and tranquil beauty. Visitors enjoy hiking (Grand Lake is a popular option), taking drives (Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, at 12,183 feet), camping, and exploring nearby towns (Estes Park is known for its resident elk). After venturing into the Colorado wilderness, a short drive to hot springs completes an adventurous day.
  • Chimney Rock National Monument. Chimney Rock, one of the country’s newest National Monuments, takes visitors into the area’s beginning. The Pagosa Springs site features ancient Puebloan ruins, guided tours, moon-lit education programs, and Native American Festivals, hoping to preserve the rich history in the area. Additionally, at the northern major lunar standstill, which takes place every 18.6 years, the moon rises between Chimney Rock and Companion Rock, making the national monument a natural observatory. The next major lunar standstill will take place in April 2025. Be sure to schedule a tour ( before soaking at the three Pagosa Springs hot springs.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park. Towers of sand sit near the town of Alamosa, the tallest standing at 750 feet. This National Park is full of 30 miles-worth of sand dunes, waiting to be discovered. There are opportunities for hiking, four-wheel driving, and even sledding or sand-boarding down the dunes, with rental equipment available from local retailers. After a gritty morning, look forward to the soaking stylings of neighboring Pagosa Springs.
  • Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is located in southwest Colorado, a quick drive from Pagosa Springs. The park is filled with incredibly preserved Ancestral Puebloan dwellings, offering peeks into the ancient culture and the daily lives of those who once called the area home. Visitors can tour different cliff dwellings—climbing in and out of enclaves and buildings—while admiring the park rangers’ stories. After, feel free to spread these stories at the nearby hot springs, to further extend and expand the history.

For more information on the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, please visit