Colorado Scenic Byway: Collegiate Peaks

Colorado's Collegiate Peaks scenic byway could be called "the Avenue of Fourteeners." Along its entire length, the Collegiate Peaks continuously rise above the 14,000-foot mark and include such summits as Mount Princeton, Mount Yale and Mount Harvard. Take a detour up Cottonwood Pass Road in fall for an explosion of autumnal color.

By: Staff Writer
Updated: March 13, 2024

Situated along the Arkansas River, Salida is a major hub for raft, kayak and fishing tours. During spring and summer, when the river is at its highest and the temperatures are at their warmest, a close-knit rafting community can be found frequenting the local restaurants and hotels. Fishing is popular year-round along this entire stretch of byway, and near Salida, anglers quickly fill their quota of trout every season of the year. For a sure catch, look east of town for the area's Gold Metal waters.

The small town of Poncha Springs once held huge significance for an early Colorado explorer: Zebulon Pike (for which Pikes Peak is named). In the winter of 1806, Pike and his party hunkered down here until the snow's passed. The town commemorates Pike's respite from exploration with a historical marker. Today, Poncha Springs is often referred to as "the crossroads of the Rockies," thanks to its wealth of outdoor recreation. Hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, hot-spring dipping, golfing and any other activity you can think of can be done in and around town.

The town of Nathrop was once a popular railroad stop in the 1800s, where visitors seeking to soak their bones in the natural hot springs found respite. Today, you can still dip into geothermal waters at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort and soothe away what ails you.

Another town well-versed in rafting culture, Buena Vista pops with activity during spring and summer, when melting snow from the surrounding mountains feed the adjoining Arkansas River. Browns Canyon National Monument, home to some of Colorado's most popular rapids, is also nearby. As in neighboring Salida, the fishing in the Buena Vista area is exceptional.

In the late 1800s, when silver and gold poured out of the surrounding hillsides, Buena Vista became a railroad town, playing host to three different rail companies: the Denver & Rio Grande, South Park & Pacific and Colorado Midland Railroads. Today, the Union Pacific Railroad can still be seen chugging along the tracks near town.

The History: Salida is often known as a recreational haven, but it also happens to be the largest historic district in the state because of its gilded mining connection. Take a detour to see the former mining camps of St. Elmo, Vicksburg and Winfield.

Distance: 57 miles
Suggested Time: Allow 2 hours

Colorado is home to 26 Scenic and Historic Byways, 13 of which are also federally designated America's Byways. Read about all 26 in our Quick Guide to Colorado's Scenic & Historic Byways; check out our Colorado byways microsite with videos, trip tips and more; or view our virtual Colorado Byways Guide.

Check out our Collegiate Peaks Colo-Road Trip: Leadville, Salida & Buena Vista