I got some great drives during a recent trip to Colorado, including the legendary Pikes Peak hillclimb route. After a week in the area, I discovered that the really fun roads are the smooth but unpaved mountain roads in the region.
Included in the first Travel Adventure Series, here are descriptions, maps and video of a 22-mile stretch of rally-style gravel heaven called the Phantom Canyon Road in Adelaide, Colorado.
My criteria for off-roading trails are pretty wimpy. My car, a 2005 Subaru Legacy GT, is all-wheel-drive but very, VERY low. I know this from extensive previous damage, including ripping off all the undertrays and both bumpers on previous outings.
So what I want is basic: unpaved, but not rocky. Ideally, a smooth, hard surface covered in layers of gravel. This road is totally safe for all cars but only during the summertime. In the winter, the road is nearly impassable.
As the name implies, Phantom Canyon Road weaves between two giant, 1000-foot mountain walls on all sides. As an added bonus, there are two rock-blasted tunnels that bookend the best parts of the trail. The sun and shadows are always changing as the path winds far below the canyon walls. The elevation change is about 4000-ft when going south, from 9500-ft in Victor to 5500-ft toward Florence, Colorado.
The road is a two-way affair but there are many spots that are too narrow for both cars. Tread carefully as there are hundreds of surprise corners, sharp drop-offs and changing traction. Most cars will be breathing really heavy at this altitude anyway, damping any Colin McRae ambitions.
As far as directions, the road is basically the only route between the two towns above. I started at Victor near the gold mine and the operating casinos on Cripple Creek’s wild-west Main Street.
The Phantom Canyon Road is an old trail that dates to Native American times but was refined for gold rush wagon traffic. My favorite part of the trail, aside from the incredible tunnels and views, was a stunning hardwood bridge that forms one corner. The bridge is more than 80 years old and is tight as a drum. Enjoy, be safe!