The hills of the Colorado Rockies--with resorts like Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge--are known for offering some of the best snow skiing in the country. Less well known is the array of outstanding backroading opportunities they offer in summer and fall. When the snow melts on Aspen Mountain, Summer Road opens for off-highway modes of transport like SUVs, mountain bikes, and, of course, feet.
From the mountain base at the edge of town, the road passes below the gondola, then winds up the face of the famous ski hill, providing views across Aspen and the valley of the Roaring Fork River. After 4.4 mountainside miles, it delivers you to the Sundeck, a restaurant atop 11,212-foot Aspen where visitors can lunch and catch some alpine rays. Occasionally, however, Summer Road is temporarily closed for maintenance.
Several roads, each with its own unique views of chiseled wilderness peaks and meadows dappled with wildflowers, can be explored from the summit of Aspen. Heading south is Richmond Hill Road, which leads to Taylor Pass and narrow, canyonside Express Creek Road. Other means of descent back to town are Midnight Mine Road, which lets you look down longingly into some of the town's most exclusive backyards, and Little Annie Road.
From Vail, Mill Creek Road climbs below the Vista Bahn Express lift, starting out as a well-maintained mountain route popular with mountain bikers and walkers, then gradually becoming a 4x4 trail with ruts, narrow passages between trees, and sometimes mud. On the way are stunning views of the Gore Range in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. In less than 10 miles, you'll arrive at the 11,816-foot summit of Red Peak for a dizzying panoramic view of countless Rocky Mountain ranges.
Breckenridge's Peak 10 Road begins at the parking lot of the sumptuous Beaver Run Resort. It, too, passes below lifts as it switchbacks across the ski runs, then edges along beautiful glacial basins. About a mile from the end of the road, a large snowfield can linger into August, blocking the way. From road's end, the hardy can make a short ascent on foot up a snowy knife-edge divide between two long and heart-stopping dropoffs to reach the pointy 13,633-foot-high summit of Peak 10.
Information about these roads is available at local visitor centers, mountain bike shops, and 4WD tour operators. Note these high-country roads can be blocked by slow-melting snowpacks and mud well into summer.
Of course, when your day of driving adventure is done, these world-famous year-round resort towns boast countless other amenities, from condos to concerts to world-class cuisine. You can rough it during the day and recover in style at night.
Be advised: The facts presented in this column are, to the best of our knowledge, correct and accurate at the time of publication. However, because of our lengthy lead time, we recommend calling the proper authorities or local experts for confirmation before visiting.