Loveland Pass: Taking the High Road

In north-central Colorado at 11,900 feet above sea level, you can begin a scenic, though somewhat challenging, journey along Hwy 6, commonly known as Loveland Pass Road. This mountain road will take you to the summit of Loveland Pass, the state’s 5th highest mountain pass.

The road is an alternative route to I-70, as well as to a tunnel built in 1973, and was once a traffic-choked route due to the road’s numerous hairpin switchbacks. However, the construction of the Eisenhower Tunnel allowed non-leisurely drivers to get from Point A to Point B more quickly and more safely. Today, the road allows visitors to experience some of the state’s best backcountry scenery without the threat of a traffic jam.

Located on the Continental Divide, Loveland Pass is in the Front Range west of Denver, and Loveland Pass Road is considered treacherous during the winter months. A steep, steady 6.7% grade and numerous sharp turns make snow plowing difficult, and travel along the road was slow going for those needing to travel across the pass. However, the construction of the tunnel provided an alternate route to both Hwy 6 and I-70.

In rare cases, Loveland Pass Road will be closed due to weather conditions, but more commonly, chain restrictions are imposed. It’s a good idea to check the weather conditions at the US Forest Service website before embarking on your trip.

Loveland Pass was named for William A.H. Loveland, the president of the Colorado Central Railroad who gained his fortune as a businessman and railroad entrepreneur. He also founded Golden, CO and persuaded the Colorado Territorial Legislature to found the Colorado School of Mines.

Because Loveland was not able to extend the rail line over Loveland Pass, he instead built a wagon road over it in 1879. It was in the 1930s that Charles Vail, a state highway engineer, converted the road to an automobile highway, with the road being paved in 1950.

Before reaching the Eisenhower Tunnel, you’ll experience breathtaking views of mountain vistas just waiting for backcountry skiers and hikers to find them. Bypassing the tunnel, you begin your drive across the pass, rising an extremely curvy 800 feet. This may leave you white knuckling the steering wheel, but at the same time, it will be difficult to keep your eyes on the road with so much natural beauty around you.

For this reason, it’s good to stop for photo opportunities at the top of the pass or walk a trail or two, in order to really soak in the experience. The walking trails here offer amazing views, but many are loaded with snow in the winter, making them hard to access.

Frankly put, this road is not for sissies and has humbled many an ego. However, it’s worth the trip, not only for the gorgeous backcountry views, but also to be near some other interesting destinations if you can make a longer trip of it.

What to Do Near Loveland Pass

If you’re willing to stay awhile near Loveland Pass, there are both modest and luxurious accommodations in the historic mining town of nearby Georgetown, where you can see some of the country’s most well-preserved Victorian architecture or board the Georgetown Loop Railroad at the Devil’s Gate boarding area to experience the natural beauty surrounding Georgetown in comfort. However, you can have a more adventurous experience by opting to tour the Lebanon Silver Mine before completing your trip.

You’ll make a stop in Silver Plume on your rail trip, as it is home to the only other boarding area for taking the loop. It is a sleepy little town, but still offers a historic hotel turned bed and breakfast if you decide you’d like to have a relaxing overnight stay there.

Other towns nearby include Keystone, which has many upscale spas, restaurants and athletic groups, as well as more affordable accommodations and Silverthorne, where you can enjoy delicious ethnic food, award-winning craft brews and plenty of fishing holes.

You could also drive the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, where you will pass several trailheads, as well as the Guanella Pass Campground if you decide that sleeping under the stars would enhance your travels.

Arapahoe Basin is a popular skiing destination and offers a long season running from November to June, with some of the highest skiable terrain in North America. Loveland Pass Ski Area boasts 1,800 acres of skiing terrain and offers an innovative ski lesson program, as well as more snow than any other Summit County or Front Range resort.

Hiking Near Loveland Pass

At the top of Loveland pass is a trailhead that will lead you to several hiking routes. Those looking for some exertion could check out Grizzly Peak, which is a 7-mile climb to 13,427 feet. For those who want a more leisurely walk, the loop trail is a good option, as it is an easy 3-mile loop that follows a ridge of the Continental Divide. All trails accessible from the summit offer fantastic views.

Nearby Mount Evans can be traversed via the highest paved road in North America to just short of the peak’s summit, where you can then hike about a quarter mile to reach the tip top of the mountain and experience spectacular views. Additionally, Mount Bierstadt is nearby, where you can choose to hike a challenging trail to the summit or take an easy hike with the kids high in the Rocky Mountains for an experience they’ll never forget.

Driving or hiking Loveland Pass Road is not for the faint of heart, literally. It is advised that those who have heart or respiratory problems not travel this route, and those that don’t still need to understand the dangers of traveling or hiking at high altitudes. Oxygen is limited and becomes more limited the higher you climb. Along with the thin air, comes a lack of moisture, so it’s important to drink extra water in order to stay adequately hydrated and wear plenty of sunscreen and lip balm.

On the other hand, taking the high road over Loveland Pass is an experience you’ll always remember. Proper precautionary measures can keep you and your loved ones safe from harm and the ability to enjoy the Loveland Pass experience to the fullest. After your adventure on Loveland Pass Road, there are also plenty of other things to see and do around Loveland Pass, so consider extending your day trip to fully soak in all the scenery and history surrounding you there.