Explore Shelf Road

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Added by Kyle C

Shelf Road is an old toll road that goes past steep drop-offs, scenic rock formations, abandoned buildings, and old mines.

Shelf Road, which was once a toll road from Cripple Creek to Canon City, is now a maintained dirt road that most high clearance two wheel drive cars can make. It will take over an hour to travel the 25 miles or so, and it can be completed going from north to south or the opposite. I will explain the route from south to north.

From the town of Canon City, follow Highway 9 north. You will go through a canyon at points with cliffs on both sides and open range cattle so be on a lookout for wandering cows! Here you will pass two old quarries, or areas where fossils were once uncovered back in the late 19th century. There is also the Oil Well Flats trail system – a popular mountain biking area. If you are in to target shooting, there is also the Dinosaur Flats shooting range on the way up this road as well. A few miles up the road from these points are Sand Gulch and The Bank campground. These are popular campgrounds for climbers. After these landmarks, you will soon reach the road’s toughest portion and where I have marked the beginning of the true Shelf Road.

The road will turn to dirt here and you can descend down into the canyon on a steep graded road. You will follow the “shelf” for a few miles.  There will often be 100+ foot drops to your right while driving on road that really only has room for one car. There have been deaths on this road, so drive slowly. Up to your left by the obvious sharp turn, you can see the cliffs and possibly some climbers.

Continue north through more areas of open range cattle until you get to the point where you parallel a stream. This area can be dangerous after or during rainstorms as it can get very muddy. There is also an area where you will have to cross the creek over a spillway. If the spillway has water running over it do not continue. There are signs marking this point.  

Some points further down the road aside from the constant scenic views include Window Rock – a large obvious arch to your right, and mines once you get closer to Cripple Creek.

This is a fun drive that most rental cars can do and you are able to explore both the attractions around Canon City and Cripple Creek in one day if you are staying in the area.

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We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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