Colorado Scenic Byway: Santa Fe Trail

The Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and Santa Fe, in what was Mexico, ran through the southeast corner of Colorado.

By: Staff Writer
Updated: May 6, 2024

This reliable route was traversed by a bevy of fortune-seeking individuals, including "Wild" Bill Hickok, frontiersman Kit Carson, Jedediah Smith and explorer Zebulon Pike. Today, you can explore the path once taken by these folk heroes.

Begin your tour in Trinidad, a small city with a quaint Victorian downtown. Stop by the historic Baca House, a grand adobe house that Felipe and Dolores Baca acquired for 22,000 pounds of wool in 1873. On the same site, you can also visit the Bloom Mansion, another historic home that's part of the Trinidad History Museum.

As you head northeast on U.S. 350 through Comanche National Grassland, look closely and you’ll see this area is full of life. Falcons and hawks search for prey, songbirds flit from the grasses and antelope graze in the meadows. In late summer, the roadside is inundated with sunflowers.

For a worthy detour, hop off the byway for a minute in La Junta and follow the signs to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. Founded in 1833 by brothers William and Charles Bent and their partner, Ceran St. Vrain, this reconstructed fort was a trading post strategically located between fur trappers in the Rockies, traders on their way to Santa Fe, and Cheyenne, Arapaho and Kiowa Indians who hunted in the area.

Back on the byway (now U.S. 50 heading east), you’ll pass through the town of Las Animas and by John Martin Reservoir State Park, the second-largest body of water in the state. Two rare birds — the piping plover and the interior least tern — can be spotted along the shores of this lake in summer. Camping and picnic grounds are available in the state park.

The byway loosely follows the Arkansas River. Let it lead you all the way to the town of Lamar and eventually to Kansas–Colorado border, where it ends.

Distance: 188 miles
Suggested time: Allow 4–5 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.

Want More?

Check out our Colo-Road Trips itinerary: Lamar to La Junta — A Santa Fe Trail Itinerary