Guanella Pass in Colorado

The Ultimate Guide (By Locals)

alpenglow on the mountains including Mt Blue Sky and the Sawtooth ridge near the trailhead of Mt Bierstadt on Guanella Pass in Colorado

Guanella Pass in Colorado - The Complete Guide To This Scenic Byway

Everything You Should Know About Guanella Pass, By Local Experts

Guanella Pass in Colorado: she’s an iconic road, to say the least. When it comes to scenic mountain drives to see the fall colors, Guanella Pass is always top of mind for us (it’s truly one of the best spots for peeping the aspens). And as Colorado locals, we can’t help but find ourselves on Guanella again and again throughout the summer to hike its epic trails and admire the stunning wildflowers.

Not only is it located right off of one of our favorite mountain towns (hey, Georgetown!), but it’s also one of the most accessible mountain pass drives to the Front Range. Which means, if you’re traveling to Colorado from out of state and staying in Denver, Guanella Pass is a must-stop.

But here’s the thing, there’s a lot to do on this pass. From camping to hiking to horseback riding to scenic drives to snowshoeing, there’s almost too many options. So as Coloradans who adventure on Guanella Pass frequently, we’re breaking down everything you should know if you’re planning a visit (along with our absolute favorite things to do when you’re here, so you can narrow down your itinerary to the best of the best).

sun streaming across the mountains and trees on a paved section of road on Guanella Pass Scenic Byway in Colorado

Disclosure: We’ve included lodging and gear recommendations in this guide to Guanella Pass in Colorado. If you choose to book or buy through our links, we may earn a commission, at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support our small Colorado business and allows us to continue creating this free content.

All recommendations in our Guanella Pass guide are crafted with love and expertise, from platforms we use and trust for our own adventures, both in the Rockies and beyond.

Where in Colorado is Guanella Pass?

Directions From Denver

scenic view of the fall colors along the paved road on Guanella Pass, with yellow aspen trees covering the mountains

When it comes to Colorado mountain passes that are accessible and close to the Front Range, aside from Berthoud Pass and Loveland Pass, the one we always recommend is Guanella. After all, the Georgetown entrance to Guanella Pass is only about an hour from Denver (less than 50 miles).

All you have to do to get there is take i70 westbound and exit at Georgetown (exit 228). Hang a left on Fifteenth, which’ll quickly get you to a roundabout. You’ll want the first exit (for Argentine St.). You’ll follow this road for a little over half a mile and then swing a left onto Sixth St. You’ll go a couple blocks and then hang a right onto Rose St. Take this for two tenths of a mile and then you’ll make a left onto Guanella Pass Road.

You’ll pass by a few homes in a small residential area right at the time the road begins its sharp twists and turns. From there you’ll pretty quickly rise high above Georgetown, looking out over the city and i70. Just follow this road for about 10 miles and it’ll get you to the summit of Guanella Pass.

There is an alternate route (what we like to call the scenic route…but it is more mileage) taking 285 and entering the pass from the Grant, Colorado side. This is a great option when i70 is backed up.

  • GPS Coordinates (top of Guanella Pass): 39.596475, -105.710305
  • Nearest Towns: Georgetown and Grant, Colorado
  • Guanella Pass Length: 22 miles
  • Guanella Pass Elevation: 11,670 ft
  • Cell Service: For the most part, no. We recommend bringing a satellite communication device like this brand we use and downloading an offline map.

When Does Guanella Pass Open?

Where And When Does It Close?

hazy sun streaming over the mountains on Guanella Pass Scenic Byway in Colorado

Guanella Pass Road is not open year round. It typically opens for the season on or around Memorial Day and closes around the end of November (but this really depends on if early winter weather conditions roll in and close it sooner).

On the north side of Guanella Pass (the Georgetown, Colorado side), the road closure starts at Naylor Lake. On the south side (the Grant side), the road closure is at the Burning Bear Campground.

If you want to access any of the sights and hikes past those areas on Guanella Pass (like the Silver Dollar hike), you can park near the closure and snowshoe in.

Leave No Trace Note: Large stretches of Guanella Pass are located above tree line in what is referred to as the “alpine tundra”. When hiking or stopping in these areas, please stay on the trail or hard surfaces (e.g., rocks or roadside pull-offs) at all times.

The spongy-grass-like material above tree line that makes up the tundra is extremely sensitive and can take decades to hundreds of years to grow back when disrupted.

Is Guanella Pass Worth It?

Our Honest Opinion As Coloradans

view of layers of mountains looking northbound from the summit of Guanella Pass Colorado

If summiting a 14’er, hiking in the high alpine to gorgeous lakes, admiring swaths of wildflowers, meandering past wildlife, camping in scenic mountain clearings, or peeping the stunning fall colors is of interest to you, yes, Guanella Pass in Colorado is absolutely worth it.

When it comes to mountain passes in Colorado, Guanella is the one we’d argue kind of has it all. There’s literally something for every level of adventurer, from mountaineers to young kids on vacation. In this guide, we’ll share all the details.

Wanna See the Best Colorado Has to Offer?

Whether you’re traveling solo, with a group of friends, or as a family, the best way to see Colorado is by car. Scenic mountain passes? Check. Dreamy roadside pull-offs? Check. Tons of local outdoors adventures? Check.

In our CO road trip guide, we cover all the must-see spots, with an itinerary build for seeing the best of the best.

The Best Seasons to Drive Guanella Pass

alpenglow on Mt Blue Sky (formerly known as Mt Evans) and the Sawtooth ridge on Guanella Pass in Colorado

The two best times to visit Guanella Pass in Colorado are summer and very early fall (during the teeny, tiny window when you can see the fall colors…typically at the tail end of September).

By summer, what we really mean is late June, July (arguably the best month, especially the second half), and early August. In late June, depending on how snowy winter was, you should be able to see snow on the tips of the mountains (this can often continue into July, but it isn’t as intense then).

In July, Guanella Pass is truly at its best. The wildflowers are absolutely showing off, and by the second half of the month the snow has mostly melted off the high alpine trails, making them a lot less muddy than in June (although mud does persist on some hikes for a while longer). And everything is about as green as it’ll get (which is a big ask in the alpine tundra when the “green season” is so dang short).

With August, once you start venturing to the second half of the month, everything near the summit begins to dry and browns out for fall. And up at the top, you’re pretty much above tree line, so there aren’t any aspens (and the aspens at lower elevations on Guanella Pass typically won’t change until late September…more on that below).

golden hour views in the high alpine on Guanella Pass with snow dotted mountains in the background

Guanella Pass Pro Tip: You may be wondering why we don’t recommend spring. In most places in the US, spring is a gorgeous season of blooming and growth. But in the high alpine mountains of Colorado in places like Guanella Pass, it’s really just mud season.

Many trails still aren’t accessible and are covered in slushy melting snow. And the weather is insanely unpredictable (think snowstorm one day and warmer sun the next, melting the snow and making traversing it difficult). And if the snow has melted in some areas, the tundra grasses are still very much brown and dead. Don’t expect much greenery.

As for winter, we mentioned it earlier, but a large chunk of Guanella Pass Road is shut down during this time of year. So while you can drive small portions of it and snowshoe in to some of the trails, it’s a lot more work. It’s 100% worth it if you’re a winter and cold weather-loving adventurer who wants to avoid crowds. But if that’s not your thing, it may not be worth the trek.

A Quick Guide to Guanella Pass Fall Colors

paved road with fall colors on Guanella Pass Scenic Byway in Colorado

If there’s one thing Guanella Pass Scenic Byway is known for, it’s those iconic Colorado fall colors. Particularly on the Georgetown side of the pass, you’ll find huge swaths of aspen groves glowing up the mountainsides in their iconic yellow and slightly orange hues.

On weekends, you’ll literally sit in traffic on the pass from all the leaf peepers coming to see the sights. But hey, they really are that good. Here’s the thing: you have to get your timing just right. It does vary year by year, but you’ll want to keep an eye on the fall color trackers (the local news typically shares info on this) to see when the colors are anticipated to peak in the areas near Guanella Pass Road.

As a general rule, though, we typically can count on the last week or so of September being the ideal time.

Guanella Pass Pro Tip: If colors are peaking and you see snow in the forecast, go see the fall colors BEFORE it happens. Heavy snow typically causes all the aspens to lose their leaves. Yes, you could get lucky with the most gorgeous blanket of snow on the mountain tops, with aspens down below, but that takes very specific light snow conditions.

layers of Guanella Pass fall colors up the side of a mountain

If you ask us, the best way to see the fall colors on Guanella Pass is to plan your visit during the peak window on a weekday. Weekends are the busiest, especially when there’s such a small window to see the colors, so weekdays are your best bet for having more peace and quiet.

And speaking of days of the week…

The Best Days of the Week (And Times of Day) To Drive This Road

view of layers of mountains looking northbound from the summit of Guanella Pass Colorado

Like we mentioned earlier, the best days of the week to avoid crowds on Colorado’s Guanella Pass will be weekdays. In particular, aim for Tuesday through Thursday to really cut your chances of crowds.

Summer and fall are the busiest seasons on Guanella Pass Scenic Byway (and for good reason, as we mentioned above!), so aiming for weekdays really helps make the experience more enjoyable.

And on top of aiming for weekdays, you can often get hiking trails almost entirely to yourself if you aim for starting before sunrise. Plus, there’s nothing more epic than seeing the sun come up above the mountains when you’ve reached the summit of your hike.

So to recap, aim for the middle of the week and choose either sunrise or sunset (note: we’ll chat about the safety reasons for this more later, but if you’re hiking above tree line on Guanella Pass, you should typically opt for sunrise over sunset).  

moose crossing the road in the mountains

Wildlife Sighting Pro Tip: Guanella Pass in Colorado is home to lots of epic wildlife (like moose, in the photo above!). Moose and many other wildlife are most active in the early mornings and evenings. So planning your drive around these times of day gives you the greatest chance of spotting something.

Remember, do not approach wildlife. View from a safe distance (a zoom lens is your friend). You’d be amazed the kind of damage a moose can do.

The Best Hikes on Guanella Pass in Colorado

view of a lake with the sun streaming up from behind the mountains on a Guanella Pass hiking trail

There are a good number of hikes on Guanella Pass, but if you want the most bang for your buck, these are the top 3. One note: all three of these hikes start at high elevations and end above tree line. Being acclimated to the elevation and having prior hiking experience are really a must.

  • Silver Dollar Lake Hiking Trail – 3 epic lake views on one trail, plus tons of the dreamiest wildflowers? Yup, this Guanella Pass hike is a total dream.
  • Square Top Lakes Hiking Trail – This is our #1 fave hike on Guanella Pass. It’s basically a hidden gem, with a lot less traffic than Silver Dollar, but with arguably even more insanely pretty views (see the dreamy sunrise photo above!).
  • Mt Bierstadt Hiking Trail – This one is a 14’er, and while it’s considered one of the easier ones in Colorado, it’s still a hard hike that requires prior prep and training if you’re not a regular hiker. But if you’ve prepped, we’ll just say: you can’t beat the views from 14,000 ft.

Hiking Pro Tip: When hiking at high altitudes, particularly above tree line, going at sunrise is the best and safest bet. Summer afternoon lightning and thunderstorms and very common, and at the high elevations on these Guanella Pass hikes, they’re even riskier.

All of the trails listed above have sections above tree line, so we generally recommend hiking at sunrise (or in the case of Bierstadt, you really need to start before sunrise). These life-threatening storms are nothing to mess with.

alpenglow on Mount Blue Sky (formerly Mt Evans) and Mount Bierstadt from the Mt Bierstadt trailhead on Guanella Pass Road

Gear We Recommend Bringing Along On These Guanella Pass Hikes

These are the essential items we bring with us on all our high alpine hikes on Guanella Pass. They’re essentially the bare-minimum must-haves.

  • Sunscreen – the sun in Colorado is no joke, and it’s even more intense the higher you go in elevation (and the more exposed you are when you get above tree line). This is the sunscreen we use on every single one of our hikes. They also make an epic face sunscreen that doesn’t leave any cast and never clogs pores (plus, it’s not a thick, goopy, pain in the butt to reapply).
  • Satellite Communication DeviceOur Garmin is with us on every hiking trail we go on when cell service is limited or non-existent (which is exactly what you can expect on our recommended Guanella Pass hikes). It allows us to text for help or send an SOS in emergencies.
  • Headlamp – This one’s especially crucial if you’re hiking Mt Bierstadt (which again, we recommend starting before sunrise). But in general, it’s best practice to keep headlamps on you no matter what, especially if a hike takes longer than you anticipate and you’re out after dark. This is the one we use after testing several different types of headlamps. Great high beam and wonderful battery life (the ideal combo!). Plus, it’s not as expensive as many comparable headlamps.
  • Water – Keep elevation headaches at bay by bringing that Nalgene bottle or having a hydration bladder in your hiking pack. Your water needs go up when you’re higher up…not to mention, these Guanella Pass hikes require exerting a good bit of energy. You’ll want to be prepared. Obviously, check with your doctor first, but electrolyte packets can also be a game-changer if you’re sweating a ton on the trail.

Other gear MVP’s include hand and foot warmers (because even in the summer, high elevations can experience winter temps) and a good lightweight puffer jacket (you’ll be cold before the sun’s out, and a lightweight puffer can easily be packed up once it gets warmer).

Plan On Summiting All of Colorado's 14'ers?

There’s nothing better than having a 14’ers map to honor all the peaks you plan on tackling. We’ve curated a list of our absolute favorite 14’ers maps and posters, with dreamy designs you’ll love showing off.

Things to Do In The Area That Aren't Directly On The Pass

view of Georgetown Colorado from above on Guanella Pass Road Scenic Byway

The north end of Guanella Pass is located in Georgetown, Colorado. And there are tons of great stops, from breweries to coffee to kid-friendly adventures that we’d recommend. Here’s a short list of our top picks:

  • Plume Coffee – located in the town of Silver Plume, super close to Georgetown, this is hands-down one of our fave coffee spots in the whole state. Stop in for your morning cup of Joe (and one of their delish breakfast burritos) before you drive Guanella Pass.
  • Georgetown Loop Railroad – the cutest little scenic train ride…a perfect activity during peak fall colors. If you have kids, this is such a fun activity for them (and hey, let’s be real, it’s fun for adults too!). 
  • Cabin Creek Brewing – the perfect spot after a hike on Guanella Pass. Grab a beer, have a bite to eat, and enjoy the views of Georgetown Lake from their outdoor seating. Plus, it’s family-friendly, so you can bring the kiddos along, too.

The Best Places to Stay When Visiting Guanella Pass

The Closest Towns to Guanella Pass in Colorado

golden hour sunshine pouring over the snow dotted mountains along Guanella Pass Road

Guanella Pass can be accessed via the cities of Grant, Colorado (on the south side) and Georgetown, Colorado (on the north side). Frankly, if you’re looking for the spot with more things to do in the area, and just more lodging options in general, we’d recommend staying in and around Georgetown.

These are a few of the cutest lodging options we’re loving:

  • Rose Street Bed & Breakfast – Located right at the intersection of Rose St and Guanella Pass Road, this is the perfect jumping off point to driving the pass. It’s the cutest little B&B with those quintessential  Victorian era vibes you see all over Georgetown. Note: if you’re traveling with children, they must be older than 10 to stay here.
  • Modern Mountain Townhome – This modern townhome is located in a cute little community right off Georgetown Lake. It’s the perfect spot for groups or families, with a kitchen stocked with appliances to cook at home, washer/dryer, and pool and hot tub access nearby.
  • This Cozy Mountain Log Cabin – While this one is technically in Idaho Springs in the St. Mary’s Glacier area (about 30 min from Georgetown), we couldn’t not include it. It sleeps 9 (great for groups!) and is the perfect getaway for anyone looking for a little peace and quiet. Plus, the St. Mary’s area is home to some great hikes and mountain sights.
alpenglow on rolling hills above tree line on Guanella Pass Scenic Byway

Not Sure When to Plan Your Trip To the Rocky Mountains?

Colorado’s seasons can certainly be a challenge to navigate, especially if you’re planning on visiting high alpine spots like Guanella Pass Road. Our complete guide to the seasons covers everything you should know to get your timing just right.

Guanella Pass Colorado FAQ

How Long Does It Take to Drive Guanella Pass?

alpenglow on rolling hills above tree line on Guanella Pass Scenic Byway

Point to point, driving Guanella Pass Road takes a little under an hour. But this is assuming no stops, which we don’t recommend. While Guanella Pass is totally a scenic drive, some of the most gorgeous viewpoints involve getting out and hiking.

Don’t miss out on these sights. We highly recommend planning on spending a full morning or afternoon on Guanella Pass to get in one of our recommended hikes. And even better, plan a weekend camping trip on the pass to fit in camping, hiking, horseback riding, wildflower peeping, and all the good stuff this scenic road has to offer.

Is Guanella Pass a Scary Drive?

switchbacks going down Guanella Pass Road

For perspective, one of us has a fear of heights and drives Guanella Pass Road all the time. Compared to some of the other mountain drives in Colorado, this one is on the less scary side.

But we’d be lying if we said it didn’t have its nerve-wracking moments. Most of these are on the Georgetown side at the start of the pass, where you take several very sharp and steep switchbacks up the side of the mountain. If the roads are icy in any way, that’s really what makes this section of road scary.

All of this to say, if you’re not used to driving twisting mountain roads and don’t love heights, Guanella Pass Scenic Byway can be a bit of a scary drive. But in general, it’s definitely one of the less-intimidating mountain roads.

Road Conditions - Is Guanella Pass Road Paved?

tree lined paved road of Guanella Pass Scenic Byway in Colorado

Yes, Guanella Pass in Colorado is paved. That said, some of the roads to campsites and trailheads off Guanella Pass Road are not. For example, to get to the trailhead of the Silver Dollar hike, a higher clearance 4×4 or AWD vehicle is ideal.

Can You Camp Anywhere At Guanella Pass?

dirt road leading to a campground in a mountain valley located along Guanella Pass

While dispersed camping is allowed on Guanella Pass in Colorado, it can only happen at designated dispersed camping sites along the pass. These are located one mile further down the road from the Geneva Park Campground.

So no, you can’t just camp anywhere, but there are plenty of options: 30 designated dispersed campsites for spur of the moment travel and four developed campgrounds (Clear Lake Campground and Guanella Pass Campground on the Georgetown side + Geneva Park Campground and Burning Bear Campground on the Grant side).

Note: not all property within the Arapaho National Forest (where Guanella Pass is located) is public land. When camping on Guanella Pass, we must respect private property restrictions.

Here are the details you need to know about camping on Guanella Pass:

  • Camping Time Restrictions: You can only camp at one spot for 14 consecutive days maximum. After that, you’ll need to move 3 or more miles away. You can only camp on National Forest land for a maximum of 28 days out of a 60 day time period.
  • Camping Location Restrictions: Camping is not allowed along Silver Dollar Lake Rd.

Considering Calling the Rockies Home?

We love calling Colorado home, but it’s not without its downsides. In our guide to moving to the Rockies, we cover everything you should consider before making the jump.

Need More Scenic Drives In Your Life? We've Got You Covered.

alpenglow on rolling hills above tree line on Guanella Pass Scenic Byway

Driving Colorado’s epic mountain passes and scenic byways is quite possibly one of our favorite things to do. These are some of our favorites:

  • Indy Pass – Another absolute gem for fall colors. A must-see if you’re near Aspen.
  • Ophir Pass – Calling all off-roaders, this one’s for you! She connects two iconic towns in the San Juans of SW CO: Silverton and Telluride. Talk about the dreamiest of views.
  • Cottonwood Pass – One of the most underrated roads, but quite possibly our favorite. Some of the best mountain views in the state.

And if you can’t get enough of Guanella Pass, scroll on down for some more photos of this stunning scenic road from our many adventures.

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