With our northern, eastern and most of our southern boundary defined by the Continental Divide, it comes as no surprise that we have hundreds of scenic vistas to enjoy. But our terrain is more varied than just yodel-worthy summits and rocky mountain highs.
Here are 10 of the best scenic views in Grand County, and — for that matter — in all of Colorado.
From a scenery standpoint, Berthoud Pass can be summed up in one word: epic. As the highway twists and turns its way through thick forests and past gushing waterfalls, it ascends a near-perfect saddle at the summit. Pull off at the parking lot and take in the view of the Continental Divide's soaring summits stretching to the north.
How to Get There: U.S. Highway 40 south of Winter Park. If you are driving here from Denver along I-70 and U.S. 40, this is your welcome view entering Grand County.
Trail Ridge Road is the scenic equivalent of a Greatest Hits album for the state of Colorado; each bend takes in a postcard view. On the western side of the park, our hands-down favorite vista is Far View Curve. Facing west, it takes in a broad sweep of the forebodingly named Never Summer Mountains, while down below in the valley, the modest beginnings of the mighty Colorado weave through forest and willow.
How to Get There: Trail Ridge Road north of Grand Lake. Far View Curve is the last hairpin curve before Milner Pass.
Speaking of the Colorado River, can you name the first canyon that its waters ever carve? If you were to journey its entire length, the first gorge you'd come to is Byers Canyon, a short-yet-impressive cut through soaring rock located just west of Hot Sulphur Springs. The stretch is also popular with drift-boat anglers who like to ply its scenic waters for trout.
How to Get There: Follow U.S. Highway 40 west out of Hot Sulphur Springs. Turnouts along U.S. Highway 40 through the canyon are sparse, but do exist.
As far as passes on the Continental Divide go, Muddy Pass is the polar opposite of Berthoud Pass. Situated on a low-slung hill between two groves of aspen, the pass separates North Park from Middle Park — as well as the watershed of North America. Far off to the south, you can see the dramatic Gore Range, but be sure to look in the willows below the pass as well — they are a favorite haunt for moose.
How to Get There: U.S. Highway 40 north of Kremmling. If you are driving here from the west on U.S. 40, Muddy Pass is your welcome view entering Grand County.
It may not be as famous as Longs Peak or the Maroon Bells — and it is more than 2,000 feet shy of being a 14er — but Lone Eagle Peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness is easily one of Colorado's most striking peaks. Rising over Crater Lake, the perfectly conical peak is reminiscent of a granite teepee. It is a long, strenuous hike to reach Crater Lake, but the stunning sight of this mountain makes it well worth the effort.
How to Get There: Hiking 7.4 miles (one way) into the Indian Peaks Wilderness from Monarch Lake.
For the most impressive, 360-degree view in Grand County, head southwest of Fraser to the Byers Peak Trailhead. Climbing to the summit of this 12,804-foot peak requires that you be fully acclimated to altitude, but since the trailhead is located far up the side of the mountain, it is a relatively easy peak to summit. From the top, hikers are encircled with a view of the Indian Peaks, Rocky Mountain National Park, Middle Park, the Gore Range and the Vasquez Peak Wilderness.
How to Get There: Hiking 7 miles (one way) into the Byers Peak Wilderness from the Byers Peak Trailhead.
The textbook definition of serenity may as well be a lazy afternoon on Grand Lake. Out on the water, views are dominated by the hulking round summit of Mount Craig, a 12,000-foot summit that obscures a half dozen taller peaks deeper in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park. But as the sun sets and casts its last rays on the mountain, you wouldn't know that it is "short" by the park's standards.
How to Get There: Numerous boat landings and the marina off Lake Avenue, where you can launch your craft.
On the far western end of Grand County lies one of Colorado's most thrilling whitewater destinations — Gore Canyon. Descending roughly 100 feet per mile over the canyon's three-mile length, the Colorado River through this stretch wasn't navigated until the 1970s. Commercial outfitters take visitors through Class V rapids that are not for the faint of heart.
How to Get There: It is advisable to hire a rafting outfitter to take you through the treacherous rapids of Gore Canyon, which is located downstream from Kremmling. A tamer way to see the canyon is via Amtrak's Zephyr Express or to drive to the canyon's end via Trough Road and County Road 106.
Don't think for a minute that this summit's view is diminished by the fact that it is serviced by an express-quad lift. Taking in the full western side of the James Peak Wilderness and the southern Indian Peaks, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're on top of the world from the summit of Parsenn Bowl. An equally delicious sight? The fresh powder below your ski tips.
How to Get There: While skiing at Winter Park Resort, head over to Mary Jane and ascend the aptly named Panoramic Express.
The final view on our list is the quintessential "bird's eye view" that takes in all of Grand County's terrain. Join a hot-air balloon trip with Grand Adventure Balloon Tours for an ascent you'll never forget. From on high, you can gaze into hidden pockets of backcountry in five different wilderness areas, look down on the backs of flying birds, and trace the course of the Fraser River as it unites with the Colorado River. Launches take place early in the morning when climatic conditions — and coincidentally photography conditions — are at their best.
How to Get There: Hire a local ballooning outfitter like Grand Adventure Balloon Tours to coordinate a launch point. Flights over the valley are offered year-round, weather permitting.