The West Elk Loop is home to some of Colorado’s most striking wilderness views and sites. A forest ranger once described this majestic byway as “the closest you can come to a wilderness experience in a passenger car”, as it comes close to multiple wilderness areas and slices through a large area of the national forest.
The byway also traces the long gone railroad tracks and old pathways of the state’s earliest explorers. It has a total stretch of around 205 miles and will require about 10 hours to finish. The route starts at Carbondale, and passes through CO-133 summiting the McClure Pass, then south to Somerset. Then it goes west over Kebler Pass to Crested Butte. It continues south to Gunnison, then follows west on US-50 to Sapinero.
It proceeds north passing through the towns of Cimarron, Crawford, Hotchkiss, Paonia. The byway concludes upon reaching Paonia Reservoir just at the intersection of SH 92 and 133.
Activities near West Elk Loop Byway
Several places of interest can be found along the way, such as pretty alpine town of Crested Butte and Colorado’s biggest aspen grove located west of town on Kebler Pass. There’s the great marbled canyon of the lesser known Black Canyon of the Gunnison, as well as the Curecanti Recreation Area, which is known for salmon and trout fishing activities on the giant Blue Mesa Reservoir.
South of Carbondale along Highway 133 visit the antique buildings of Redstone, and the town of Marble known as the place where the largest single piece of marble was quarried. Further south is the town of Paonia, which is a true haven for outdoor lovers.
Parts of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway is closed during winter, notably Kebler Pass, but you can still travel along many of its roads. Popular outdoor activities that can be enjoyed along its path are hiking, backpacking, cycling, rock climbing, photography and wildlife viewing within the Gunnison and White River national forests.
Season: Year round
Length: 205 miles
Map: West Elk Loop Byway (png)