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Grand views of Colorado

When winter blues hit, head for a day trip to the Upper Colorado Scenic Byway

There is never too much snow in Routt County. Winter is just settling in nicely for skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoe enthusiasts. But less than 90 minutes south of the Yampa Valley there is another climate zone. On the hillsides above Gore Canyon, only a skiff of snow, at most, covers the ground and far below, the state’s biggest river plunges through a canyon of volcanic rock.

Hidden between the busy ski slopes of Steamboat Springs to the north and the Vail Valley to the south is the western half of the Upper Colorado Scenic Byway, also known as Grand County Road 1, or simply “The Trough Road.” It stretches for about 25 miles between Kremmling west to State Bridge where Colorado Highway 131 crosses the Colorado River.

Travelers on the well-grated dirt road enjoy views of a grand landscape that offers the same perspective as if the valley was being viewed from a single-engine airplane.

Gore Canyon is named after an Irish American nobleman, Lord Gore, who accompanied famed mountain man Jim Bridger to the area in 1854 on an elaborate hunting expedition.

Except for a few lonely cattle ranches, this stretch of the Colorado river is almost uninhabited. There are areas of private land posted with signs against trespassing, but the Bureau of Land Management assures public access to much of the river bank. The BLM maintains campgrounds at Pumphouse Recreation Area and at Radium. Daily visitor fees of $3 are waived through April, and the campgrounds offer the most convenient way to stand on the bank and watch the Colorado flow over small rapids.

Throughout the route there are informal pullout points for taking photographs or strolling on short walks. With every step, hikers brush against fragrant sagebrush, juniper and piñon pine.

On the north bank of the river, Union Pacific coal trains thunder by frequently. The California Zephyr, taking passengers from Chicago to San Francisco, rolls through the canyon about 1 p.m.

The Upper Colorado Scenic byway is an ideal day trip for people seeking an automobile trip that offers solitude along the way. From Steamboat, drive east on U.S. Highway 40 and take a right turn on Colo. Highway 131 near Haymaker Golf Course. Driving through the historic mining town of Oak Creek, and to Yampa farther south, it is 57 miles to State Bridge. Turn left immediately before the bridge over the Colorado River. A small highway sign decorated with a blue columbine signals the beginning of the scenic byway.

The State Bridge Lodge, on the left, represents the last chance for services until Kremmling (the popular rafter’s takeout of Rancho Del Rio, four miles upstream, is primarily a summer operation). The turn to the Pumphouse Recreation Area is another 12 miles beyond Ranch Del Rio.

Travelers headed for Denver can continue several more miles through the canyon to the junction with Colorado Highway 9, just south of Kremmling.

People returning to Steamboat via Colo. Highway 131 should keep an eye out for mule deer on the highway all the way to Kings Mountain just before reaching Toponas.

Winter will reward the Yampa Valley with ample powder from now until April, but a change of pace is just over the next hill to the south.


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