The Gorgeous Colorado River Headwaters

Colorado: It’s Just Not That Wet.

Okay, this isn’t actually Colorado’s official state motto, but it sure applies during this year’s bone-dry summer. Low snowpack means shallow rivers and dry forests, feeding epic fires like the recent Waldo Fire.

There is, however, one decidedly wet section of Colorado. Its name is Grand County. This western flank of the Continental Divide boasts Colorado’s biggest natural lake (Grand Lake) and Lake Granby, the 7,250-foot reservoir that provides drinking water to much of the Front Range. It’s where the Colorado River begins and where the moose is practically a regional mascot.

One excellent way to cool down from the intense July heat is by driving the Colorado River Headwaters Byway, a gorgeous 3-hour drive that spans from Grand Lake to a bridge about 25 minutes outside of Kremmling.


What you’ll find on this drive:

Lake Granby

This large reservoir is fantastic for sailing, motorboating, fishing, swimming, kayaking and camping. Towards the south side (Arapahoe Bay), there’s even a long swatch of beach where you can hike or boat in and camp for free, with an Indian Peaks permit.

The western edge of Lake Granby

Arapahoe Bay

Arapahoe Bay

Rainbow Lake, a pristine mountain lake behind Arapahoe Bay full of hiking/backpacking trails

Grand Lake

This charming town hosts Colorado’s biggest natural lake and an entertaining, boardwalk-lined downtown that is full of tourist activities for families. Its location next to Rocky Mountain National Park adds to its appeal.

Grand Lake swimming area

The entire downtown has charming wooden boardwalks

Hot Sulphur Springs and Surrounds

Past Granby, the Colorado River Headwaters Byway runs parallel to the Colorado River, through Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling. This is fly fishing paradise, as well as home to a bird estuary and hot spring. Once you pass Kremmling, you turn onto County Road 1, a packed dirt road that offers you stunning canyon views.

Hot Sulphur Springs

On the road to Kremmling

White pelican at the Wind River Reservoir, a bird estuary

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