An old stagecoach road that once connected Cañon City with Cripple Creek, much of this drive – with its red earth, low-growing piñon pines and juniper, and sheer limestone cliffs – feels like you've entered the set for an old Western. The final 8 miles of this 26-mile road are unpaved and definitely not for those with vertigo.
Coming from Cañon City, the first site you'll pass is the Garden Park Fossil Area, the site of major dinosaur discoveries.
Further along is the Shelf Road Recreation Area, home to one of the top sport climbing destinations in the state. The 1000 or so bolted climbs are generally short (60ft to 140ft), but are accessible year round – although the sun can be scorching in summer. You can camp at Sand Gulch Campground.
Past the climbing area is the 'shelf,' where the drive narrows and really starts to get interesting. Originally a toll road ($1.75 stagecoach, 30¢ horse and rider), the next few miles were carved out of the canyon wall. Take it slow in this section as fallen rocks on the road and oncoming cars can pose a major hazard – you wouldn't want to suddenly swerve. Give yourself two hours to reach Cripple Creek.