Colorado Scenic Byway: Frontier Pathways

The area covered by Colorado's Frontier Pathways scenic byway is heavily steeped in Colorado history. The land near Pueblo holds great importance to past inhabitants. Fur traders and trappers made a living in the Rocky Mountain foothills, Ute Indians made their homes in the region and Spanish conquistadors explored the area in search of precious minerals.

At dusk, a line of sailboats are docked along a lake's pier
Dusk at Lake Pueblo State Park along Colorado's Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway
A brown river winds between a red-brick riverwalk lined with trees and streetlights
Strolling along the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk in Pueblo, CO
A well-preserved, brick one-room schoolhouse with flower bushes in front
A historic schoolhouse in Westcliffe along Colorado's Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway

Along the first 20 miles of this drive, high plains greet you, while sporadically situated buttes intermingle with the vast flatlands around them. Start your journey on the northern passage of the byway, which begins in Pueblo on Hwy. 96 west. Five miles into this route, you'll skirt the south side of Lake Pueblo State Park — a local favorite, complete with 4,646 acres of water. While not located directly on the byway, the park makes for an ideal spot to stop and explore on foot before continuing your car ride.

A short and scenic 25-mile drive leads to the town of Wetmore. This town stands as an unofficial marker, separating the western reaches of the Great Plains from the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

Here is where the vistas begin a dramatic change. As you ramble along this drive, you enter the San Isabel National Forest where the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains are noticeably closer and are quite often unveiled through the cover of lush evergreens.

Thirty-five miles into the trip, at the junction of Hwy. 96 and Hwy. 165, the byway splits to the west and the southeast. Continue west along Hwy. 96 for 15 miles to the small sister towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe, tucked snuggly into the cradle of the San Isabel National Forest. You'll find Westcliffe especially intriguing, as it seems to be nearly perched atop the pinnacles of the Sangre de Cristos.

Backtrack to the turnoff of Hwy. 165 south, and follow it along the southern arm of the byway. From here, you'll pass by an oddly interesting modern-day structure — Bishop Castle. This building is more a piece of art than a functioning castle. Jim Bishop, its creator, has vowed never to call his castle complete, so long as he has strength to work on it. It currently stands 160-feet tall and includes everything from a grand ballroom to a fire-breathing dragon. It’s open year-round and you can visit for free, although Jim does accept donations to help with his never-ending endeavor.

If you’d like to set up camp and enjoy the area a bit longer, this section of the Frontier Pathways byway is ideal. Choose from a variety of tent-camping sites dispersed throughout the area. There are no facilities available, so be sure to bring everything you need to stay comfortably.

The vistas along this route end as they started, with sweeping views of the Great Plains, and buttes dotting the landscape. The small town of Colorado City anchors the southern leg of the byway, and is a good place to get out and stretch your legs after your drive, or enjoy a bite at the local establishments. 

The city of Pueblo is steeped in Colorado history, and holds great importance to past inhabitants of this region. Fur traders and trappers used it as a convergence point, Ute Indians made their homes in the South Central region and Spanish conquistadors explored the area in search of precious minerals. It is a true crossroads of cultures, and now serves the same purpose, bringing visitors from all over to view the vast Colorado scenery. 

In addition to the quintessential Colorado landscape and history, wildlife is also a constant and welcome distraction throughout this trip. Gray fox, mule deer, elk and pronghorn are all residents of the area, and generally aren’t too shy to show off their elegant forms and graceful movements to travelers. 

Total distance: 103 miles
Suggested time: 3.5 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.

Photos: Lake Pueblo State Park, Pueblo's Arkansas Riverwalk, historic schoolhouse in Westcliffe.