Millions of miles of paved roads snake throughout the United States. With winter closing in, a world of snow-related closures will begin to fall on high-altitude roads and mountain passes. In honor of this, we decided to answer the question, what are the highest paved roads in the United States? Drive em’ while you still can!
1. Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Colorado, 14,160 ft.
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway holds the distinction of being the highest paved road in North America. The route which winds up switchbacks to the summit of prominent 14’er Mount Evans is only an hour and a half drive from downtown Denver. The drive has been named one of the most scenic in the area and occasionally plays host to high altitude car tests as manufacturers test their engineering on the road when it’s open from the end of May to the beginning of September.
2. Pikes Peak Highway, Colorado, 14,115 ft.
America’s Mountain brings home second place with its summit route that attracts tourists and locals just outside Colorado Springs. The road, which is open year-round, weather permitting, serves the hiking hotspot of Pikes Peak, which rises more than 7,000 feet over the adjacent front range. Once a year, the road plays host to the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, where dozens of cars race in a time trial format to see who can reach the top in the shortest amount of time.
3. Mauna Kea Access Road, Hawaii, 13,781 ft.
The only road not in Colorado on this list plays home to stellar observatories far above the Pacific Ocean. Manua Kea is the highest point in the state of Hawaii and the second-highest island on earth. The high altitude, dry conditions, and favorable winds make the summit a hotspot for observatories and stargazing. The road is open all year if weather conditions are favorable, but be warned, it has been known to snow at the summit, and temperatures can reach the low teens in the winter.
4. Trail Ridge Road, Colorado, 12,201 ft.
This mountain pass is a prime sightseeing destination of Rocky Mountain National Park. The road is the highest paved mountain pass in the United States and connects the towns of Grand Lake and Estes Park over the continental divide. The road is typically open from late-May to mid-October when the snow starts to accumulate.
5. Cottonwood Pass, Colorado, 12,126 ft.
Cutting through the 14ers of the Sawatch Mountains in central Colorado, Cottonwood Pass is one of the few roads to link over the range. The pass, which was only paved in 2019, connects the small town of Tincup with central roads that span the state. Like many others on this list, heavy snow keeps the pass closed from mid-October to late May.
6. Independence Pass, Colorado, 12,112 ft.
The iconic Independence Pass, signed as Colorado route 82, connects the ski town of Aspen to the front range when it’s open from May to October. The road, which also cuts through the Sawatch Mountains, allows travelers to avoid traveling through Glenwood Canyon on I-70 when it’s open. Trucks over 25 feet long are prohibited on the pass due to the sharp switchbacks and steep grades found on the road. Travellers should always check with CDOT to acquire the latest on road openings and closures.
7. Loveland Pass, Colorado, 11,992 ft.
The scenic Loveland Pass is the highest elevation pass to stay open all year round. The road, which is subject to occasional snow closures, provides access to the ski areas of Loveland and Arapahoe Basin alongside the rest of Summit County. Since hazardous material trucks are prohibited through the adjacent I-70 Eisenhower tunnel, all truckers must travel up and over the pass unless it’s under a weather closure.
8. Guanella Pass, Colorado, 11,660 ft.
Guanella Pass, situated between I-70 in Georgetown and US-285 in Grant, provides summertime access to one of Colorado’s most popular 14ers, Mount Bierstadt. The pass is rarely used for transit and is more often a sightseeing road due to its strange location. The long-closed Geneva Basin Ski Area operated on the south side of the pass until 1984. Nowadays, the road stays open in the summer season from October to May.
9. Hoosier Pass, Colorado, 11,532 ft.
The final pass on the list also services the famous mountain town of Breckenridge and provides an alternate route to I-70 when traffic conditions are poor. The pass is open year-round and traverses under the shadows of local 14ers, including Mt. Quandary, one of the most popular in the state. In the winter, Hoosier Pass is a popular backcountry skiing destination thanks to its plentiful snow and North facing slopes situated on the Continental Divide.