Driving Colorado’s Peak to Peak Highway has to be one of the Centennial State’s most enduring and appealing activities at almost any time of year. The plethora of wildlife in conjunction with an amazing array of stunning Rocky Mountain vistas and the area’s amazing gold mining heritage offers tourists and Coloradans alike an opportunity to enjoy and engage in a wide range of outdoor pursuits and activities that are almost unparalleled across America’s 50 states.
Black Hawk and Central City
Black Hawk and Central City are former gold rush towns that have been preserved in large part due to a 1991 ballot initiative that allowed for limited stakes gaming in the two cities (as well as Cripple Creek in Teller County.) The original initiative was subsequently expanded by the passing of Colorado Amendment 50 in 2008.
Whilst much of the architectural heritage and history of the two cities has been (and continues to be) preserved it’s clear that the social fabric of the area has been irreparably altered by the arrival of large-scale gaming operations like the Ameristar Casino Hotel and Spa which may soon find itself dwarfed by the Monarch Casino and Hotel’s $300 million expansion which is currently underway.
Although gambling has undeniable attractions all of its own the two cities are packed full of historic gems from the Teller House and the old schoolhouse (now home to the Black Hawk Police Department) to C&S engine #71 which can be found alongside the Reserve Casino.
Nederland and the Frozen Dead Guy Festival
Although Nederland was originally founded as a front range mountain hub for mining and trading it has since morphed into a somewhat eclectic collection of bars, brew pubs, boutique stores and coffee houses.
Since 2002 Nederland has earned notoriety for it’s annual “Frozen Dead Guy Festival” where locals celebrate the demise of a cryogenically frozen former resident with a tongue-in-cheek collection of fund-raising events ranging from coffin races and salmon tosses to frozen turkey bowling and insane sub-zero polar plunges. The annual mayhem stands as a testament to the lengths that Boulder County residents will go in order to overcome the boredom of five months or more of winter confinement.
Churches and Chapels on the Peak to Peak Highway
There are a number of historic churches and chapels dotted along the Peak to Peak Highway which you should factor into your travel plans.
The first church on the scenic byway – approximately eight miles from Nederland – is the Ward Community Church. The town of Ward – previously one of the richest locations in the state courtesy of the Colorado gold rush – was founded in 1860. Built between 1894-95 the church was one of only a handful of buildings that survived a massive town fire in 1900 and – in spite of the downturn in financial fortunes that has since beset the tiny municipality – the church has since found its way on to the National Register of Historic Places.
A little further along the of highway the road begins its descent into Peaceful Valley where eagle-eyed travelers will spy an Austrian-style alpine chapel perched atop a rocky promontory. Affording stunning views of both the Rocky Mountains and the valley below the chapel – part of the Peaceful Valley Resort & Conference Center complex – has been a popular wedding and resort venue since the 1950’s.
The Chapel on the Rock – St. Catherine of Siena Chapel – was the spiritual brainchild of Monsignor Joseph Bosetti who dreamed of creating a religious retreat in the footprint of Mount Meeker and the Twin Peaks Massif. You can read more about this wonderful religious venue here.
Charlie Eagle Plume’s Trading Post
Charlie Eagle Plume’s Trading Post has been a fixture on the Peak to Peak Highway near Allenspark since 1917. Although Charles Frederick Burkhart Eagle Plume has been gone close to three decades, the Native American museum and trading post remains a popular pit-stop for tourists and for those seeking to recapture the joy of childhood conversations with this very remarkable man and a human being by any definition of that term.
A champion of Native American virtues like independence, freedom, understanding, tolerance and the Indian’s symbiotic love of nature, Charles Eagle Plume it is said, was always quick to stress that the “white man” too, held similar beliefs. You simply had to scratch their skin to find the Indian within.
It’s said that Charles Eagle Plume liked most everyone and that’s clearly still evident by the esteem that the man is held in long after his death.
Website: www.eagleplume.com • Address: 853 CO-7, Allenspark, CO 80510 • Tel: 1 (303) 747-2861 •
Wildlife on the Peak to Peak
It goes without saying that you’re bound to bump into some form of wildlife on the Peak to Peak Highway. This could be a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep at the beginning of your journey in Clear Creek Canyon or at your journey’s end at Estes Park. Bald Eagles, moose, muskrats, coyotes, mountain lions, elk and mule deer can all be found along the highway as well as at camping and hiking locations at Rainbow Lakes, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Mount Meeker and Longs Peak whilst American pika, marmots, mountain goats and Clark’s Nutcrackers can all be found at higher elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park.