The splendors of the Rocky Mountain Front Range’s foothills are on full display on the Lariat Loop Scenic & Historic Byway.
A 40-mile stretch in the foothills west of Denver, Colorado, the Lariat Loop connects the communities of Golden, Morrison, Lookout Mountain and Evergreen, and features some of the area’s best historical and cultural attractions, not to mention spectacular mountain views and wildlife viewing opportunities. Just a short drive from downtown Denver, it’s an excellent day trip.
The Lariat Loop takes its name from the historic Lariat Trail, a five-mile road from Golden up the front of Lookout Mountain to Buffalo Bill's Museum and Grave. The Loop is a combination of two historic routes: the Lariat Trail Scenic Mountain Drive ascending Lookout Mountain and the Bear Creek Canyon Scenic Mountain Drive. These routes were originally part of several of the "scenic circles" developed and promoted by Denver in 1915-1920s to help Coloradans experience the mountains in proximity to the Denver Metropolitan area. Today, you can retrace the motoring adventures of the early 1920s and experience the thrill of foothills exploration at the dawn of the Age of Motorcars. Colorado's first gateways to the mountains still have sharp curves, winding roads, spectacular views and waysides to refresh and delight the traveler.
Just a handful of the attractions on the Lariat Loop include:
COLORADO RAILROAD MUSEUM
17155 W. 44th Ave., Golden
With more than 60 historic narrow and standard gauge locomotives and cars on exhibit on 12 acres at the foot of North Table Mountain, the Colorado Railroad Museum is a train enthusiast's dream come true. The museum building, a replica of an 1880-style depot, houses thousands of rare old photographs, artifacts and documents illustrating the colorful histories of the railroads that have served the state for more than 125 years.
BUFFALO BILL GRAVE & MUSEUM
987½ Lookout Mountain Rd., Golden
At the Buffalo Bill Grave & Museum, a fascinating tribute to a true Old West icon, you'll see exhibits containing items used by Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild West show posters, Native American artifacts and antique firearms. Located on Lookout Mountain, the Museum is reached via 19th St. and the Lariat Trail.
LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN NATURE CENTER AND PRESERVE
From I-70, take exit 256 and follow signs.
Connect with nature at Lookout Mountain, a 110-acre open space. Search for wildlife along trails (1.5 miles) winding through forest meadow. The earth-friendly nature center features exhibits on migrating birds and the ponderosa pine forest. There are free guided programs, trail links and a picnic area.
900 Colorow Road, Golden
A true Denver-area hidden gem, the Boettcher Mansion was built in 1917 as the summer home and hunting lodge of Charles Boettcher, one of Colorado's most enterprising entrepreneurs. Built in the Arts & Crafts style, it offers a magnificent setting on 110 acres of pine forest at 7,500 feet, with views of the Continental Divide and Denver. The interior features a collection of Craftsman-style furniture, plus an exhibit of historic news clippings and photos.
16831 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison
Take a trip back to Denver's prehistoric days at this outdoor museum, where dinosaur bones and tracks can still be found in the rock, along with ripple marks and other trace fossils. Here, in 1877, some of the best-known dinosaurs (Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus and Allosaurus) were first discovered. Today, Dinosaur Ridge is a destination for over 70,000 dinosaur enthusiasts, students of all ages and nature aficionados each year.
RED ROCKS PARK & AMPHITHEATRE
18300 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison
At the south end of the loop is Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, known in older times as Garden of the Angels, Garden of the Titans, and Park of the Red Rocks. This majestic natural wonder has played host to legendary concerts by the Beatles, U2, the Grateful Dead and countless others. Dramatic 300-foot-high red sandstone monoliths crafted by Mother Nature over millions and millions of years flank the 9,000-seat amphitheater. Hike the hills around the amphitheater and explore the visitor center, with the geological history of the spot, as well as a performers' hall of fame.
MORRISON HISTORICAL DISTRICT
103 Bear Creek Ave., Morrison
In a spectacular setting, this unusual historic town is still close to Denver, but with a character all its own. With its one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants, and 70 historic sites, Morrison is the last of the small gateway towns in the area.