Guanella Pass Scenic Byway

Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway provides a refreshing auto trip, bike ride or hike along a 23-mile alpine route in the Pike and Arapaho National Forests.

The Byway is accessible in less than an hour either from U.S. Highway 285 in the town of Grant, or off Interstate 70 at the Georgetown exit. Approximately 10 miles of the road is paved or oiled, with the remaining 12 miles a gravel surface. It is maintained year-round for passenger vehicles, though large RVs are not recommended on this mountain byway.

Remember to dress warmly as even in summer the temperatures can drop significantly, and storms move in quickly at this high elevation.

By mid-September, the Guanella Pass Scenic & Historic Byway is one of the premier places to view the turning of the aspens. Along the 23-mile route, you'll see swaths of quaking, shimmering leaves creating golden waves along the mountainsides. This Scenic & Historic Byway, however, is equally spectacular throughout the year.

Early in the summer tiny alpine flowers cover the ground. These hardy plants, often less than an inch high and smaller than a dime, can take 100 years to grow and have to withstand intense solar radiation, freezing temperatures and constant, punishing winds. Later in the season, Geneva Park is home to fields of blue columbines, Colorado's state flower.

In the winter, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers admire the magnificent view of snowcapped Gray's Peak and Torrey's Peak from Guanella Pass. Both of these mountains are more than 14,000 feet high. A herd of about 200 bighorn sheep live in the mountains above Georgetown and Silver Plume. Another large herd resides above the town of Grant. During the winter months they move to lower elevations for grazing and often are found along the Byway roadside. Please remember not to feed the animals.

More wildlife will be observed along South Clear Creek and Geneva Creek, which parallel the Byway. This area is home to a large beaver population. North of Guanella Pass Campground, you can see numerous beaver dams and lodges. The beavers share a habitat with a variety of songbirds, including Wilson's warblers and white-crowned sparrows.

Old wagon route
The Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway follows an old wagon route that linked the mining towns of Georgetown and Grant. Georgetown and Grant were silver mining towns that blossomed during the 1860s. The pass sits in the broad band known as the "mineral belt," running from near Ward through Leadville into the San Juan Mountains. The belt contains most of the state's mined regions. That portion of Guanella Pass that lies within Clear Creek County is also considered a part of the Silver Heritage Region, which was designated as such to preserve and enhance both the cultural and natural resources of the area.

From the town of Grant, Guanella Pass follows Geneva Creek Canyon to Falls Hill. At this point it climbs a series of switchbacks that have been constructed across glacial moraine. At the top of Falls Hill the road skirts the edge of Geneva Park, a large mountain meadow composed of glacial soil deposits. As the road leaves Geneva Park and climbs north along Duck Creek, dense stands of lodgepole pine give way to the spruce-fir forest. Above Duck Lake the road reaches timberline and continues climbing to a summit elevation of 11,666 feet above sea level.

North of Guanella Pass Summit, the road descends through the spruce-fir forest before joining South Clear Creek at Guanella Pass Campground. For several miles the creek meanders gently through willow thickets, interspersed with beaver ponds and lush subalpine meadows. At Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant the valley narrows, dropping past Clear and Green Lakes, to the historic community of Georgetown. A number of pullouts along this section of the route provide breathtaking views of the South Clear Creek Valley and Georgetown.

Natural and historic sites may be visited and photographed all along the Guanella Pass Scenic & Historic Byway, which includes part of the roadway in Georgetown. The historic mining camps of Waldorf and Geneva City offer side excursions for mountain bikers and hikers on either side of the Pass during summer months.

Stairway to stars
The Waldorf cutoff just outside of Georgetown eventually meets the abandoned Argentine Central Railway Bed. This 16-mile narrow-gauge railway, known as the "Stairway to the Stars," was built in 1905 by Edward Wilcox to access his mines on Mount McClellan. It passed through Waldorf and terminated in a mining tunnel called the Ice Palace, which was filled with ice formations and was a popular tourist attraction.

Back Country Access
There are extensive backcountry trails leading from the summit of the pass through the Mount Evans Wilderness Area and Geneva Basin. From the summit, it is possible to take a day hike up nearby Mount Bierstadt (14,060 feet) or Square Top Mountain. In the winter, many of the hiking routes turn into backcountry cross-country ski trails.

Trout fishing is a favorite pastime in Clear Lake, South Clear Creek and Duck Creek. There are five campgrounds and two picnic areas along the Byway maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. Residents and visitors alike are reminded of the fragile nature of the Guanella Pass Scenic & Historic Byway. Wildlife and vegetation are precious to us all and respect for this environment will ensure its fruitful nature and survival for future generations to enjoy.

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Guanella Pass
Scenic Guanella Pass offers
endless hiking and biking trails!