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Southwest Colorado is the land beyond the interstates. Old mining roads, legacies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when gold and silver mining was ascendant, lead through drop-dead gorgeous mountain valleys and rugged high country. Much of this part of the state is designated as a wilderness area, which means that no roads may be built and no wheeled or motorized vehicles are permitted. Even some state highways are unpaved, and a federal highway known as U.S. 550 corkscrews over a high mountain pass best known for its cliff-hugging turns and lack of guardrails. While backcountry roads demand four-wheel-drive vehicles in summer and snowmobiles in winter, regular roads are no problem for passenger cars.
Crested Butte and Gunnison. Explore this mountain paradise on single-track in summer and Nordic track in winter. The Taylor and Gunnison rivers round out the adventure possibilities, with white-water rafting, kayaking, and great fly-fishing.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The western town of Montrose makes a great base for exploring the majestic canyon, which plunges 2,000 feet down sheer vertical cliffs to the roaring Gunnison River.
Lake City and Creede. Route 149 meanders south from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison through a scattering of cozy, laid-back communities with deep mining roots.
Telluride and the San Juan Mountains. Old mining camps including Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride now welcome adventurers seeking other riches—wilderness trekking, rugged four-wheeling, mountain biking, skiing, and horseback riding.
Durango and Mesa Country. Durango is an ideal springboard for exploring nearby Mesa Country and its star attraction, Mesa Verde National Park. This college town is known for its eclectic eateries and historic hotels, as well as its many hiking and mountain biking options.