7 Must-See Sites on the West Elk Loop

Sometimes stunning, other times serene, the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway is the ultimate tour of Colorado’s Western Slope. From Paonia’s bursting peaches to the massive aspen grove on Kebler Pass, this slice of Colorado makes me wonder why I live in the Front Range at all. Here are seven places on the West Elk Loop where you should spend at least an hour or two.

Crested Butte

Crested Butte

Some affectionately refer to our state as “Condorado,” based on observations of massive developed ski towns like Vail and Beaver Creek. Crested Butte retained its alpine soul, and remains one of the prettiest mountain towns in the state.

Kebler Pass

Drive through Colorado’s largest aspen grove on Kebler Pass, the unpaved road between Crested Butte and the Paonia Reservoir. Stop frequently and soak up the experience of being 10,000 feet high and inside of a single living organism.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

You’ve heard of the Grand Canyon. The Black Canyon might just be the most stunning stone crevasse you’ve never heard of. Deep and dramatic, this marbled canyon could swallow the Empire State Building whole. Drink in the steep, dark cliffs; watch golden eagles ride up thermals or even hike the river-carved bottom of this lesser-known national park.

Curecanti National Recreation Area

In Colorado, every lake is special. That makes the 96 miles of shoreline around Blue Mesa Reservoir, the biggest in this triad of man-made lakes, especially impressive. Boaters, fishers and beach types, take note.

Redstone

Sculpture garden

A sculpture garden on a river, picturesque antique buildings and colorful coke ovens define this quick stop. Stop in the Redstone Manor for a dose of the history of this Historic District.

Paonia

Farms dot this pastoral and progressive town, which prides itself on its lack of stoplights. Paonia is an especially pleasing stop during peach- and cherry season.

Marble

Marble Mountain

Image: Alan Levine/Flickr

Ever wonder where the marble for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came from? Even if you never asked that question, the answer is Marble, Colorado. At the end of what looks like a dirt road to nowhere, you’ll find this sleepy town and its Yule marble quarry. Flanked by Fourteeners, this photogenic quarry features an old mill, a museum and 10,000+-pound marble chunks stacked high. Explore by foot and absorb the adventurous feeling of being here.

WestElkLoop_map

Image: Byways.org

You can find detailed, mile-by-mile information about this byway and 11 more in the Backroads and Byways of Colorado—Second Edition. This spankin’ new edition features color photos, maps at every byway and extensive updated listings.