Explore the Rockies by car in Colorado

February 17, 2011 12:00 AM

Famous for its high altitude effect and seriously impressive vistas, the "Top of the Rockies" national scenic byway in Colorado is one of the prettiest in America.

Not only is this a gorgeous drive, it also showcases some of the most important sites from the working West before Manifest Destiny took miners and farmers to the Pacific.

The 75-mile highway rarely drops below 9,000 feet and reaches 12,095 as drivers head through Independence Pass, which crosses over the Continental Divide.

"In this rarefied air, Big Horn Sheep and fuzzy marmots dot the roadside, while bright wildflowers clash with snow-capped mountains in the distance," gushes Forbes.

Travelers who are lucky enough will get to see big horn sheep, prong horn antelope, red-tail foxes, deer, elk, mountain goats and other wildlife. In addition, flora blooms here in the spring, adding splashes of color to the mountains.

During the summer, warm temperatures make this route a great place to spend a few hours hiking up in the mountains. When fall arrives, vibrant gold, red and orange leaves light up the valleys.

Weather can change at the drop of a hat and altitude sickness can easily affect those who have never been high in the mountains before, so bring extra clothes and plenty of water.

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