- 57 miles (91 km)
- 90 minutes to drive the byway.
No matter where you begin your tour of the Collegiate Peaks Byway, you will be ushered into one of Colorado's most scenically spectacular, historically rich and recreationally diverse areas. This paved 57-mile route parallels the Continental Divide at the foot of the Sawatch Range, the highest concentration of 14,000+ foot peaks in the country. The greater part follows the Arkansas River, the most commercially rafted river in the nation, a world-class kayaking destination, and one of the state's premier trout fishing resources.
The byway offers unfolding views of impressive peaks, intermittent stretches of lush riverside, fishing and boater access points, national forests and public lands, active ranches, and a variety of natural hot springs, all combining to define the scenic, recreational and geological contrasts that are the Upper Arkansas River Valley. The state gemstone, the aquamarine, is mined on Mt. Antero. The classic mining towns of Vicksburg, Winfield and St. Elmo are accessible from the byway, and the communities of Poncha Springs and Buena Vista are historically rich and vibrant, while the town of Salida boasts the largest historic district in the state.
Points of Interest Along The Way
Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (CO)
Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area follows the Arkansas River for 148 miles, starting between the Sawatch Mountains just north of Leadville and traveling through the Upper Arkansas River Valley down to Pueblo Reservoir in Pueblo.
Here, massive 14,000-foot mountains contrast wide valleys, and steep gorges provide a path for the rapid waters of the Arkansas River. In such a diverse terrain, you'll find a wide range of recreational opportunities. Most popular are the white water activities such as rafting or kayaking; however, fishing, wildlife watching, hiking, mountain climbing, and camping are also available. Hecla Junction provides great fishing for brown trout,and wildlife watching is ideal at any of the Five Points Watchable Wildlife Area in Bighorn Sheep Canyon, aptly named for the thriving population and frequent sightings of bighorn sheep.
A cluster of cities and towns speckle this region. From Leadville to Salida, Cañon City to Florence, Buena Vista to Pueblo, each offers dining and lodging filled with Western welcome and warmth.
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area (CO)
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area covers over 166,000 acres in central Colorado, within the boundaries of White River, San Isabel, and Gunnison National Forests. It features eight peaks that reach an elevation of at least 14,000 feet, making it the wilderness with the highest elevation in the United States. Four of the peaks' names are the source of the wilderness area's name and pay tribute to universities and colleges: Mount Colombia, Mount Harvard, Mount Oxford, and Mount Yale. The other four "fourteeners" are Huron Peak, La Plata Peak, Missouri Mountain, and Mount Belford. One quirky feature of the Collegiate Peaks is two mountains that share the name Grizzly Peak.
Sightseeing is popular here because wide U-shaped valleys open up to panoramas of massive mountains. Plenty of alpine lakes glitter in the sun, scattered throughout the mountains. Recreation consists primarily of climbing and hiking. Scaling such massive peaks is a popular activity. Over a dozen trailheads lead to 105 miles of trails that wind through the wilderness area, and approximately 40 miles of the snaky Continental Divide Trail cross this region alongside the Continental Divide.
Nearby towns and cities offer a range of services, most including places to dine and lodge. Some of these communities include Almont, Aspen, Buena Vista, Crested Butte, Garfield, Gunnison, Ohio, Pitkin, Taylor Park, Tin Cup, Twin Lakes, and White Pine.
Pike & San Isabel National Forest (CO)
There are six Wilderness Areas in the San Isabel NationalForest: Holy Cross, Mount Massive, Sangre De Cristo, Buffalo Peaks, Greenhorn Mountains and Collegiate Peaks. There are many established campgrounds and picnic areas near the byway.