Photo by David Herrera on Flickr
The scenic route from Denver to Crestone is only slightly longer (20-30 minutes) than the usual route through Fairplay (Rt. 285), and is much more spectacular, crossing high mountain passes and the headwaters of major river systems. However, beware of winter storms and weekend traffic on I70! That said …
The scenic route follows I70 west over the Continental Divide via Eisenhower Tunnel (or via a spectacular drive over Loveland Pass) and then descends into Summit County, ski hub of Colorado, and headwaters of the Colorado River.
At Copper Mountain, the route leaves I70 follows Rt. 91 south over Fremont Pass (passing the enormous Climax Mine) and then descends into the Arkansas River Valley. The route passes through the mining town of Leadville (the highest town in Colorado), Buena Vista (rafting hub of Colorado), and Poncha Springs near Salida.
From Poncha Springs, the route climbs over Poncha Pass and then descends into the San Luis Valley and the Rio Grande River drainage.
The route passes close to four hot springs. Indian Hot Springs (along I70 in Idaho Springs) is a good bet if you have extra time on your way back to Denver. Otherwise, we would recommend the southern hot springs.
Cottonwood Hot Springs west of Buena Vista and Mount Princeton Hot Springs west of Nathrop are both worth a visit.
Joyful Journey Hot Springs and Valley View Hot Springs located closer to Crestone are both great options if you arrive early or have time during your return journey. See our post, Hot Springs Near Crestone.
Stretch Your Legs! Hiking, Biking, and X-Country Skiing
Colorado offers so many opportunities for outdoor activities, and here are just a couple of ideas for taking a break on the drive from Denver to Crestone, For hiking, try Mayflower Gulch Trail on the north side of Fremont Gulch. Details are available on All Trails (see a map of the area; trail details are available by signing up for a free account).
For biking and x-country skiing, consider a jaunt on the Mineral Belt Trail, a 12-mile ski and bike loop that circumnavigates the town of Leadville. Bikes are available for rent at the Cycles of Life Shop in town, and x-country skis are available at Leadville Ski Country.
Places to Stay
The different Hot Springs venues are a good place to check, as is AirBnB.
Crestone has small but well-stocked food stores markets, at the Elephant Cloud (organic market), and the Cresetone Mercantile (conventional).
Supermakets are also available along the route from Denver. On the Scenic Route, City Market in Silverthorne is the largest, and next door is a Walgreens pharmacy and liquor store. We like to stop at the Safeway in Leadville – it’s small but well stocked, and quick.