Colorado Scenic Drive: Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway

By: Clark Norton

Colorado's Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway is rich in history and beauty. During the winter of 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike nearly froze to death in the Wet Mountain Valley within sight of the peak bearing his name. Nevertheless, this valley and its mountain became a beacon to 19th-century settlers, who came to take advantage of the good soil and climate.

Today, the valley boasts one of the state's finest collections of historic ranches and farmsteads (some dating to the 1840s), trading posts, and stagecoach stops. Also, this pastoral paradise contrasts with the severe looking Hardscrabble Canyon, the white-capped Sangre de Cristos, and the sharp mesas and hogbacks that flank the Arkansas River.

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In this article, you'll learn about the road that takes you through all these historic sights -- the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway.

Cultural Qualities of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway

The Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway chronicles the joys and sorrows that its early residents experienced while breaking in the land. It is a living showcase of the evolution of architecture, transportation, and agriculture that you can experience by visiting the byway's old homesteads, cabins, barns, stagecoach stops, and settlements.

This landscape hasn't changed much in the last 100 years, so you can still see how different groups of people used their ingenuity to harness the land. Evidence of their resourcefulness is found in the area's nationally important high-country homesteading.

Qualities of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway

The Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway is seeping with nationally significant history. For example, some of the first high-country homesteads, ranches, and farms were developed here.

In 1779, the Spanish Governor De Anza, with the help of the Utes, defeated Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde (Greenhorn) right in this very valley. Also, German and English colonists settled here in the mid-1800s, and their heritage still pervades this area.

Qualities of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway

The Wet Mountains and Greenhorn Valleys are not well known, even to long-time Coloradoans, making the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway an excellent getaway.

Home to a remarkable number of diverse species of plants and animals, this area attracts naturalists, nature lovers, and botanists. (Note that the Wet Mountains are neither an extension of Colorado's Front Range -- the mountains immediately west of Denver -- nor are they part of the Continental Divide.)

As the only trout native to Colorado, the greenback cutthroat trout was believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in a stream near the Frontier Pathways and successfully reintroduced statewide.

Qualities of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway

Year-round opportunities at this recreational mecca include climbing 14,294-foot-high Crestone Peak, shopping and dining in Pueblo's Union Avenue Historic District, and playing in the Wet Mountain Wilderness.

You can also fish for trout on the banks of Lake Isabel, backpack on the nationally renowned Rainbow Trail south of Westcliffe, and hike the Sangre de Cristos Mountains or Greenhorn Wilderness.

While the summer sun is out, you may enjoy fishing for trout in streams, mountain biking, and horseback riding. You can also get in some sailing, power boating, or water-skiing at the Lake Pueblo State Park. Consider taking time to discover Pueblo Mountain Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the winter, be sure to cross-country ski, downhill ski, or ice fish on the Pueblo Reservoir.

Enjoy the view as you follow this map of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway.
Enjoy the view as you follow this map of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway.

You can also discover other intriguing photographic subjects among the shops and streets of Pueblo's Union Avenue Historic District or during your descent into dramatic Hardscrabble Canyon.

Find more useful information related to Colorado's Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway:

  • Colorado Scenic Drives: The Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Colorado. Check out the others.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

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Highlights of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway

Byways.org You might see buffalo like these as you drive the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway.
Byways.org You might see buffalo like these as you drive the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway.

Photographers going on a scenic drive along Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway will need to long-focus their cameras in order to capture a sliver of the 100-mile-long Sangre de Cristos Range. As the backbone of the Rocky Mountains, the Sangre de Cristos' many grand peaks jut into the clear blue sky; seven peaks reach higher than 14,000 feet.

To take in the highlights of the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway, consider this must-see tour.

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El Pueblo Museum: This museum, located in the town of Pueblo, gives you an opportunity to learn about the interaction of several different cultures: American Indian, Mexican, and American. It is a full-size replica of Old Fort Pueblo, which was used by fur traders and other settlers from 1842 to 1855. Fascinating artifacts, colorful murals, and interesting stories bring the history of the Pueblo area to life.

Wetmore and Early Settlements: More than 150 years ago, buckskin-clad French traders, scrappy American farmers, and fur traders lived in nearby settlements. In the 1830s, three French trappers built a fort on Adobe Creek to facilitate trade with the Ute Indians. It was called Buzzard's Roost, or Maurice's Fort, after Maurice LeDuc. Later settlements in the area included Hardscrabble in 1844 and Wetmore in the late 1870s.

Sangre de Cristos Mountains (west of Silver Cliff): Miners, ranchers, and modern-day motorists have all marveled at this breathtaking view of the Sangre de Cristos. This 50-mile stretch of mountains includes 22 peaks that are more than 13,000 feet in elevation.

Westcliff Schoolhouse: This schoolhouse, located in the town of Westcliffe, was built in 1891. No one knows why the school name, still visible above the front doors as "Westcliff," was spelled without the e.

By exploring the old homesteads, stagecoach tops, settlements, and more along the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway, you'll get a taste of the life of the West's early settlers.

Find more useful information related to Colorado's Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway:

  • Colorado Scenic Drives: The Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Colorado. Check out the others.
  • Pueblo: Find out what there is to do in this city along the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Colorado? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

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