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This scenic drive is one where you will enjoy thorough mountain experience for the entire day. The 10.6 mile drive from Nathrop to St. Elmo in Chaffee County has hot springs, hiking trails, roadside aspen groves and historic ghost towns.
The tour begins at Nathrop. Travel west on Chaffee County Road 162 toward the mountains. At the base of the mountains, you’ll pass the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort, which offers lodging, dining, natural hot springs and a general store. Continue on CR 162 and stop at the wildlife observatory, where elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and deer can often be seen.
The mountain views become greater and in the autumn the aspen leaves tend to be most brilliant beyond this point. Pass the Agnes Vaille Falls Trailhead, and soon the road becomes a (well-graded) dirt road. This is the section to look for the most magnificent aspen groves on each side of the road.
Eventually, you will reach St. Elmo, a historic ghost town that once was home to over 1,000 people during the historic mining and settlement days. The colors tend to be plentiful throughout town and on the surrounding mountains.
At St. Elmo, hike the Poplar Gulch Trail, rent an ATV or walk around the many original buildings that remain today. If you have a 4WD high clearance vehicle, continue on rougher roads to Tincup Pass, Hancock Pass and the Alpine Tunnel Trail.
Although summer and winter tend to be the most popular times to visit Colorado, don’t count out the fall season. Often the Rocky Mountains put on quite a “color show” with bright autumn leaves. No matter where you go, most drives, hikes, horseback rides or ATV adventures are bound to provide autumn color, whether in trees, bushes or small plants. Always have your camera with you!
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