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Guanella Pass in Colorado

Guanella Pass, Colorado: Hiking, Camping, and Fun Things To Do

Guanella Pass, located in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, is a treasure trove of adventure and natural beauty. A drive along this scenic byway is like stepping into a postcard, with stunning mountain views, bountiful wildlife, and vibrant wildflower fields. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a nature lover, or simply someone who appreciates the great outdoors, Guanella Pass offers something for everyone.

This comprehensive guide will give you an overview of what to expect, including the best hiking trails, fun activities, and helpful tips for planning your visit.





Table of Contents

Guanella Pass At A Glance

🚗 DISTANCE: 23 miles
TIME: 60 minutes
📍 NEAREST TOWNS: Georgetown, Grant
⛰️ MAX ELEVATION: 11,670ft
🏕️ ACTIVITIES: Hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, ATVs, snowshoes, skiing
🌲 MANAGED BY: Pike National Forest, Arapahoe National Forest
🛣️
ACCESS: Paved 2WD Road
📅 SEASON: Memorial Day – Nov 26/27

About Guanella Pass and the Scenic Byway

Guanella Pass Scenic Byway is a remarkable journey through the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The byway, which stretches for 23 miles between the towns of Grant and Georgetown, provides a wealth of natural beauty and outdoor recreational activities, making it a must-visit for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and anyone who appreciates breathtaking mountain landscapes.





History

The history of Guanella Pass is rich and dates back to the time of early settlers and miners. The pass gets its name from Byron Guanella, a road supervisor for Clear Creek County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The route was originally a wagon road used by miners in the 1860s during the Colorado Gold Rush.

Seeking a more efficient route to transport silver ore from the mines of Georgetown, the pass was later improved and developed into a scenic byway in the mid 20th century. However, it took nearly 50 years for the entire route to be paved, with the last section near Grant finally completed in 2015.

Ecology

Guanella Pass is a sanctuary of biodiversity, home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. As you ascend the byway, you’ll pass through lush forests of lodgepole pine, spruce, and fir trees, a characteristic of the lower subalpine ecosystems in Colorado. These dense forests are teeming with wildlife including squirrels, rabbits, and the occasional fox.

As you climb higher, the dense forests give way to the alpine tundra, a unique ecosystem that exists only at high elevations. Here, in the face of harsh weather conditions and a short growing season, hardy species of vegetation thrive. Summer months see the tundra come alive with a vibrant display of wildflowers, including Colorado’s famous Columbines.

The pass is also home to a variety of wildlife. Keep an eye out for mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep that often graze on the alpine meadows. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a moose near the marshy areas. Avid birdwatchers can spot a variety of species, including mountain bluebirds, gray jays, and if you’re particularly fortunate, the majestic bald eagle.

Climate

Located above the tree line in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, weather conditions at Guanella Pass are variable and harsh, with snow possible all year-round. The road closes every winter around November 26 and reopens the following Memorial Day for the summer.

Here is what you can expect at the pass each month of the year.

Guanella Pass Monthly Weather Averages
MonthAvg High Temp (°F)Avg Low Temp (°F)Precipitation (in)Snowfall (in)
January33101.120
February35121.018
March39171.425
April44221.520
May54301.710
June65381.50.2
July70452.20
August68442.10
September61371.51.5
October50281.26.5
November39201.114
December33131.020

Source: NWS data for Guanella Pass, Colorado.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Guanella Pass is from early June to late September, when the road is fully open. My personal favorite time is early September, when the aspen change colors and the mountains turn vivid shades of orange, yellow, and red.

During winter, the road closes below the summit of the pass but you can still snowshoe, snowmobile, and cross-country ski up to the top for outdoor recreation if you come prepared.

Regardless of what season you choose, keep in mind that weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains, so always check the forecast before your trip.





Weather Forecast

Always check the forecast so you can plan ahead and pack the appropriate gear and clothing. Conditions at the summit can be harsh even when it is hot and sunny in Denver.

Here is the current weather forecast for Guanella Pass in Colorado from the National Weather Service.

Guanella Pass Scenic Byway Route

While you can drive the route in either direction, most people drive it from north to south.

Starting from Georgetown in the north, the road leaves town to the south and climbs a series of steep switchbacks. It finally straightens out and ascends a gentle mountain valley, passing numerous picnic areas, historic sites, hiking trails, and campgrounds managed by Araphaoe National Forest. Just after you pass the Guanella Pass Campground you will reach the trailhead for Silver Dollar Lake, which is also the winter closure point along the road.

Continuing south, the road ascends another set of switchbacks as it climbs above the tree line and provides its first views of Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth to the east. The Guanella Pass trailhead marks the high point along the route, with more parking available across the road at the Square Top Mountain Trailhead.

The road then starts to descend back below the tree line, following mountain slopes covered with dense pine forests until it reaches the valley floor. It continues south along Geneva Creek, passing more campgrounds and hiking trails, until finally joining with US 285 in the tiny town of Grant, Colorado.

Route Map

This CalTopo map shows the entire route, along with hiking trails and 4WD routes in the area. Click “Open in CalTopo” to view a full-screen map and access more layers and filter options.

Route Elevation Profile

This profile shows the elevation gain and loss along the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, as well as details like the slope, aspect, tree and land cover along the entire route.

Guanella Pass Elevation Profile




Guanella Pass Photos

Here are some photos taken along the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway and some of the trails and 4WD roads accessible from the byway.

Best Hiking Trails Along Guanella Pass

There are more than a dozen fantastic hiking trails and routes you can access along the Guanella Pass corridor. Here are five of my favorite options to check out during your drive.

1. Silver Dollar Lake & Murray Lake

This 4.2-mile round trip trail is a popular choice for visitors due to the stunning alpine scenery and the sparkling blue waters of the two lakes. The trail is rated as moderately difficult with a steady uphill climb, but the views of the surrounding peaks and wildflower-filled meadows make it well worth the effort. Learn More





2. Mount Bierstadt - West Slopes Route

Alpine Rescue Team News

The West Slopes Route up Mount Bierstadt is one of the most popular 14er hikes in all of Colorado. Starting from the Guanella Pass trailhead, the trail is 7 miles round-trip and climbs 2,850 feet in elevation. While the trail is rated as difficult due to the elevation and steep terrain, the path is well-maintained and offers stunning panoramic views at the summit. Learn More

3. Square Top Mountain - East Ridge Route

The East Ridge Route up Square Top Mountain is a 6.9-mile moderately trafficked out-and-back route near Georgetown, Colorado. It’s a challenging trail, rated as difficult, but it rewards hikers with an array of natural attractions. These include beautiful wildflower blooms in the spring and summer, and a variety of bird species that can be spotted throughout the year. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and bird watching, and is best suited for use from April until September. Learn More

4. South Park 600 to Square Top Lakes

The South Park 600 to Square Top Lakes trail is a 4.9-mile out-and-back hike located near Grant, Colorado. It’s a moderate-rated trail that takes you through some of the most scenic landscapes in the area. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, and nature trips and offers a variety of activity options. From the cusp of spring in May until the fall colors fade in October, the trail provides stunning views of Square Top Lakes. Learn More

5. Three Mile Creek Trail

Three Mile Creek Trail is a 9.2-mile out-and-back hiking trail located near Bailey, Colorado. This trail is a true gem, featuring a forest setting that provides a sense of tranquility and a moderate rating that makes it accessible to many hikers. Hikers can expect a variety of terrain, including wooded areas, open meadows, and creek crossings, making for a dynamic and enjoyable hiking experience. Learn More





Best Things To Do Near Guanella Pass

Aside from the breathtaking hiking trails, the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway offers a variety of fun and exciting activities. Let’s explore more options for your upcoming adventure!

Scenic Views

Guanella Pass is famous for its panoramic vistas that will leave you in awe. The landscape transitions from verdant valleys to majestic mountain peaks, giving you a diverse range of stunning sights. You can enjoy these views from the comfort of your car, or take a break at one of the many overlooks for a closer look. Don’t forget your camera – these views are worth capturing!

ATVs & Off-Roading

Fancy an adrenaline rush? Numerous trails branching off the main road are perfect for ATV riding or off-roading. These trails offer an exciting way to explore the scenic landscapes of the Rocky Mountains. Be sure to follow all safety guidelines and respect the natural environment as you enjoy your ride.

Hunting

The region surrounding Guanella Pass is teeming with wildlife, making it a prime location for hunting enthusiasts. Deer, elk, and various small game species inhabit these lands. Remember, you must have the appropriate licenses and permits, and you should always follow local hunting regulations.





Fishing

The byway is dotted with several streams and lakes that provide excellent fishing opportunities. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, you’ll appreciate the tranquility of fishing in these clear mountain waters. Trout fishing is especially popular here, with both rainbow and brown trout in abundance.

Mountain Biking

Guanella Pass is a mountain biker’s paradise, boasting an array of trails suitable for different skill levels. From gentle paths ideal for beginners to challenging downhill runs for the more experienced, there’s something here for everyone. Enjoy the thrill of biking while surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the mountains.

Skiing & Snowshoeing

When winter arrives, Guanella Pass turns into a spectacular snowy playground. The snow-covered trails are perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. These activities offer a serene way to experience the winter landscape and provide excellent exercise.

Fun Things To Do in Idaho Springs Colorado

Visit a Mountain Town

Explore the charming mountain towns situated near Guanella Pass:

Idaho Springs: This historic mining town offers a glimpse into Colorado’s gold rush history with its old mines and museums. Be sure to relax in the town’s hot springs and indulge in the famous Beau Jo’s pizza.

Georgetown: Dubbed the “Silver Queen of the Rockies,” Georgetown is home to beautifully preserved Victorian architecture, the Georgetown Loop Railroad, and stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The town also hosts a variety of festivals throughout the year.

Bailey: A visit to Bailey will give you a taste of friendly small-town life in the mountains. The town is known for its beautiful scenery, welcoming locals, and the quirky Coney Island Hot Dog Stand, an eating spot shaped like a giant hot dog.

Jefferson: If you’re seeking tranquility, Jefferson is the place to be. This tiny mountain town is the perfect location for a peaceful retreat. Enjoy fishing at Jefferson Lake or take an educational trip to the South Park National Heritage Area.





Camping Along the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway

There are several campgrounds along the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway that offer a range of facilities and beautiful locations.

Guanella Pass Campground

Guanella Pass Campground is located near Georgetown and provides campers with stunning views of Mounts Bierstadt and Evans. The campground has 18 campsites that can accommodate tents, trailers, and RVs. Amenities include picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets. Drinking water is not available so be sure to bring your own.

Reserve a Site

Burning Bear Campground

Burning Bear Campground is located near the town of Grant. This campground offers a more rustic camping experience with 14 campsites. Each site includes a picnic table, fire ring, and access to vault toilets. This campground is ideal for those looking for a quiet, secluded camping experience.

Reserve a Site

Geneva Park Campground

Geneva Park Campground is located further south, closer to the town of Grant. This campground has 37 campsites and is best suited for tent camping, although small RVs can be accommodated. Amenities include picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets. Drinking water is available during the summer season.

Reserve a Site





Designated Dispersed Camping

For those looking for a more back-to-nature experience, there are several designated dispersed camping areas along the byway. These sites don’t have the amenities of the formal campgrounds, but they do offer a chance to camp in solitude amidst the beauty of the forest.

These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Leave No Trace Tips

The mountain ecosystem around Guanella Pass is extremely fragile and easily impacted by hiking and camping. Follow these simple Leave No Trace practices to help protect our public lands and preserve the peaks for future generations.

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Research the area you are visiting. Understand the regulations and special concerns for the area. Always check the weather forecast and prepare for unexpected changes.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites. If camping in the backcountry, camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams to protect riparian areas.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack it in, pack it out. Carry out all trash and leftover food. In areas without toilets, deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep and cover when finished.
  4. Leave What You Find: Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you found them. Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species. Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a camping stove for cooking instead of making a fire. If you must have a fire, use established fire rings, keep fires small, and burn only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  6. Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed animals. Store food and trash securely to avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Yield to other users on the trail and keep noise levels down.


Learn more about Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics by checking out our LNT tips page and downloading some cards to print out and keep with you.

Leave No Trace

Safety First

When visiting Guanella Pass, your safety should be a top priority. Here are some essential tips:

  1. Check the Weather: Weather in the mountains can change rapidly and be much different than lower elevations. Check the forecast for Guanella Pass before you depart and prepare for all conditions.
  2. Wildlife Encounters: Remember that you’re in the wilderness and may encounter animals. Keep a safe distance from all wildlife. Do not feed animals as it encourages them to become reliant on human food sources.
  3. Altitude Sickness: Guanella Pass sits at a high altitude, which can cause altitude sickness. Symptoms include headache, nausea, and shortness of breath. If you feel unwell, descend to a lower elevation.
  4. Hiking Safety: If you’re hiking, always stay on marked trails to prevent getting lost. Carry a map and compass, as GPS may not be reliable.
  5. Drive Carefully: The road through Guanella Pass is winding and steep in places. Drive cautiously, especially in poor weather conditions.
  6. Emergency Preparedness: Always carry a first aid kit and know the location of the nearest hospital. Ensure someone knows your travel plans in case of emergency.

Remember, your safety is your responsibility. Stay prepared, be aware of your surroundings, and make smart decisions. Check out our comprehensive mountain safety guide for more information, tips, and best practices.

Conclusion: Guanella Pass Scenic Byway

Guanella Pass Reopens

Guanella Pass Scenic Byway is a must-visit for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re taking a scenic drive, challenging yourself with a hike, or camping under the stars, the beauty and tranquility of this area is sure to leave you in awe. Remember to respect the environment, stay safe, and enjoy all the wonders that Guanella Pass has to offer.

Still have more questions? Check out the frequently asked questions section and our list of additional resources below to continue your research into Guanella Pass

FAQ

If we have not addressed your question below, leave a comment and we will get you an answer as soon as possible.

Q: When is Guanella Pass open?

A: Guanella Pass is typically open from Memorial Day to November 26, depending on the weather conditions. Road closures may occur during winter due to heavy snowfall, and reopening in the spring is dependent on snowmelt and road conditions.

A: It takes approximately 60 minutes to drive the 23-mile route of Guanella Pass, not including stops. However, the time can vary depending on the traffic, weather conditions, and how many stops you make along the way to enjoy the scenic views and recreational activities.

A: Absolutely! Guanella Pass is a destination that offers breathtaking scenic views, a variety of outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing and wildlife viewing, and a rich history. It’s a must-visit for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone who appreciates the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

A: The pass has a well-maintained paved road. However, it can be steep and winding in places, and weather conditions can also add to the challenge. Cautious driving is recommended, especially for those not used to mountain driving.

A: Guanella Pass takes you through the heart of the Rocky Mountains, between the towns of Georgetown and Grant in Colorado. Along the route, you’ll witness stunning mountain views, lush forests, alpine meadows, and an abundance of wildlife.

A: While the road can be steep and winding, it is well-maintained and safe for cautious drivers. The drive includes several switchbacks and high elevation points which can be intimidating for some, but with careful driving and preparation, it’s a manageable and rewarding journey.

A: Guanella Pass is named after Byron Guanella, a local commissioner who advocated for its construction in the mid-20th century. His efforts led to the creation of the stunning scenic byway that we enjoy today.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional website and resources with reliable information about the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway and the braoder area near Georgetown, Colorado.





Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.





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