Skyline Drive above Cañon City, Colorado


I do a lot of planning before I set out on a vacation, but the most memorable moments often occur when I find something completely by accident.  That’s what happened as I drove into Cañon City, Colorado on US 50, heading east.  Just a mile or two before arriving in town, I noticed the entrance to a road that was cut into the side of the hill.  It’s name, Skyline Drive, seemed to suggest I’d find a good view at the top.  I found a lot more than that.

Skyline Drive is a one-way, one-lane paved road, just wide enough for a normal car, but not safe for an oversized vehicle like an RV.  The road begins here, as it passes through this archway.

There’s absolutely no logical reason for anyone to have built this road.  It’s utterly unnecessary, except to provide a thrilling drive and an incredible view of US 50 (and later, the rest of Cañon City).  The only reason it was built, was because of the plentiful source of very cheap labor in Cañon City.  You see, Cañon City has had a rather large population of bad guys and gals for well over a century — most of them living in prison cells. Currently, Cañon City is home to 9 state prisons, and 4 federal lock-ups.  Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, those prisoners went to work, chiseling a 3-mile road out of the rock.

Skyline Drive runs parallel to US 50, climbing quickly along the western side of this long, narrow mountain.

As you climb, there are several places to pull out (very carefully — there are no guard rails) and take pictures of the 4-lane highway, that’s now several hundred feet below.

As you ascend Skyline Drive, there’s one turnout that promises a view of dinosaur tracks.  I looked, but didn’t see them.

I thought the climb up the side of the hill was dramatic, but the top was truly breathtaking, and a little nerve-racking.  The hill is no wider than the pavement in some spots along the top of the ridge, and one wrong turn would mean a very quick descent into Cañon City (on the left) or US 50 (on the right).

Here, you can get a clear view of this precarious road.  That’s US 50 on the right, and in the distance, you can see where it curves around the foot of the hill and enters Cañon City.

I parked my car in a safe spot and walked back to the most narrow portion of the road.  I wasn’t the only one driving along this hill’s narrow spine. Fortunately, everyone else was smart enough to obey the 15 mile-per-hour speed limit.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Just before the road heads back downhill, there’s a good spot to take in a panoramic view of Cañon City.  From here, you can also hike further out onto the ridge, but certain areas are off-limits, since some of Cañon City’s prisons are located at the foot of the hill.

After you leave this spot, the road drops down into a residential area, and signs point you back to US 50, assuming that’s the way you want to go.

Instead of heading back to US 50, find your way to Shelf Road, for the drive north to Victor, Colorado on another nerve-racking narrow road.  The easiest way would be to turn left on 5th Street, right on Harding Avenue (which becomes Central Avenue), then left on Field Avenue.  I, however, made a bunch of wrong turns, but eventually got on the right track.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive up and over Skyline Drive:

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