Santa Fe Trail National Scenic Byway

Details

  • DesignationNational Scenic Byway (1998)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
  • LocationCO, NM
  • Length188 of 565 total miles
Byway Visitor Information
Canyons & Plains Regional Heritage Taskforce
Statewide Byway Partners
Downloadable Colorado Byways Guide
Colorado Tourism
Bent's Old Fort
Tony Oliver Photo

Overview

One of America's first great trade routes, the Santa Fe Trail was critical to our country's westward expansion. Visit historic sites and landmarks like Bent's Fort, Trinidad, Raton Pass, Cimarron, Fort Union, Pecos, Point of Rocks, and Santa Fe. Enjoy spectacular scenery, from rugged mountains to the plains.
Colorado's Santa Fe Trail Scenic & Historic Byway winds its way along one of the last strongholds of the nomadic Plains Indians and the path of early Anglo-American pioneers. The Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trails enters what is now Colorado just east of Holly CO and follows the Arkansas River to Bent's Old Fort, now a National Historic Site.
From Bent's Old Fort the route travels along the current US Highways 50 and 350 to Trinidad and then on to Raton Pass into New Mexico, using the same mountain gap used by Native Americans for centuries.

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

One of America's first great trade routes, the Santa Fe Trail was critical to our country's westward expansion. Visit historic sites and landmarks like Bent's Fort, Trinidad, Raton Pass, Cimarron, Fort Union, Pecos, Point of Rocks, and Santa Fe. Enjoy spectacular scenery, from rugged mountains to the plains.
Coming from the East, the way pioneers came with their covered wagons, the first town you come to in Colorado is Holly. The Santa Fe Trail historic route saw its heaviest use between the 1820's and 1870's. This heavy use left wagon wheel ruts that can still be seen today. As you enter the Holly Cemetary, located just north of US Highway 50 off of County Road 35, you can see the ruts as marked just as you enter the cemetary gates.
Along the byway, a visit to the Colorado Welcome Center in Lamar brings you to one of the 12 'Madonna of the Trail' statues dedicated to pioneer women by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Heading west via US 50, you pass by John Martin Reservoir State Park, the second largest body of water in Colorado, now a birder's paradise.
Las Animas brings you to the Boggsville Historic Site. Also in Las Animas is the J.W. Rawlings Heritage Center featuring the history of this Santa Fe Trail town.
Going on, follow signs west to Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, now recostructed and managed by the National Park Service, bringing the 1840's back to life for visitors. This fort was once a strategic trading post located between fur trappers in the Rockies and Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche and Kiowa Indians who hunted in the area.
Westward again, the next major town is La Junta, a Colorado Main Street community. Here don't miss the Koshare Museum which houses one of the country's greatest collections of Native American art by some of the most famous Taos artists. The Otero Museum, also in La Junta, is filled with artifacts related to area history including a stagecoach.
Leaving La Junta, you head southwest on US 350 through the Comanche National Grassland. Managed by the US Forest Service, there are 3 interpretive sites that focus on the history of the Santa Fe Trail which parallels US 350 between La Junta and Trinidad.
Trinidad, another Colorado Main Street community, features El Corazon de Trinidad Creative District. Also in Trinidad are several historic homes and the Santa Fe Trail Museum.
From Trinidad the Colorado Santa Fe Trail Scenic & Historic Byway heads south towards Raton Pass, also along the National Scenic Byway for several hundred miles in New Mexico.

Driving Directions

The New Santa Fe Trail starts in Independence, Missouri and ends in Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Colorado portion extends from Lamar to Trinidad. From Lamar, follow US-50W and US-350W for 136 miles to Trinidad.

Points of Interest

  • Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

    Bent's Old Fort is an 1833 fort located in Otero County in southeastern Colorado. The fort was originally built by Charles Bent, William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain to trade with Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians and trappers for buffalo robes.

  • Comanche National Grasslands

    Comanche National Grassland, located in southeastern Colorado, contains both prairie grasslands and canyons; the sister grassland of Cimarron National Grassland.

  • John Martin Reservoir State Park

    John Martin Reservoir is a reservoir on the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado.

  • Raton Pass

    Ratón Pass is a 7,834 ft elevation mountain pass on the Colorado–New Mexico border in the western United States.

Itinerary

  • Lamar to La Junta

    Day 1
    Start your day early in La Junta with a hike in the Vogel Canyon Recreation Area. Follow the trails to a historic stage coach station, or hike the loops to view rock art. Return to town for a hearty lunch, then take your time at the Koshare Indian Museum. At night, enjoy dinner at a saloon or music at The Railyard before retiring.

    Day 2
    After breakfast, head to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site to learn about the fur trade along this mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail. En route to Lamar, stop at the John W. Rawlings Heritage Center and Museum and the Boggsville Historic Site. Settle into a hotel in Lamar before enjoying a show at the Lamar Theatre. The next morning, head to the Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site to learn more about the history of this area.

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