West Elk Loop National Scenic Byway. Photo: Bennettj
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.
Driving the West Elk Loop Byway
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 touching the McClure Pass, McClure Pass and Crested Butte. It continues south to Gunnison, then follows through US-50 to Sapinero.
It proceeds north passing through the towns of Cimarron, Crawford, Hotchkiss, Paonia and Somerset. The byway concludes upon reaching Paonia Reservoir just at the intersection of SH 92 and 133.
Recreation on West Elk Loop Byway
Several places of interest can be found along the way, such as pretty alpine town of Crested Butte, Colorado’s biggest aspen grove located in Kebler Pass, the great marbled canyon of the lesser known Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the Curecanti Recreation Area which is known for salmon and trout fishing activities, the antique buildings of Redstone, the town of Paonia which is a true haven for outdoor lovers, and the town of Marble known as the place where the largest single piece of marble was ever quarried.
The West Elk Loop scenic byway is closed during winter. Popular outdoor activities that can be enjoyed along its path are hiking, backpacking, cycling, rock climbing, photography and wildlife viewing.
Season: Year round
Length: 205 miles
Map: West Elk Loop Byway (png)