So far we've hit the Colorado River Headwaters and the Flat Tops Trail byways; it's time to head to the foothills of Colorado and hit the Gold Belt Tour. The largest of these four byways we're highlighting, the Gold Belt Tour can be a monster of a drive if you want it to be, with three options for getting from Florence, along the Arkansas River, to Florissant, 60-70 miles north depending on route.
Option 1 is to follow Colorado 67 to the Phantom Canyon Road (gravel) up winding Eightmile Creek and through Victor, which is our favorite town on the loop. More on that in a bit.
Option 2 is to take Colorado 115 to Canon City, then jog east on U.S. Highway 50 to Shelf Road (gravel; 4WD recommended for upper section) through Cripple Creek; this is also a very fun route if you do have the 4WD, but has the least sites on this leg.
Option 3 is to stay on paved roads following U.S. 50 west over the Royal Gorge Hills and up Colorado 9 and 11 to Florissant. See the map here to clarify these routes.
If you start in Florence, there is lodging both at the Florence Rose Bed and Breakfast as well as the Super 8. The Bed and Breakfast has a garden studio that is fully accessible, but assume you will be dining alone, as the main building has stairs galore. All of the dining in Florence is accessible, as is the Town Park, and the Price Pioneer Museum has a tight path of travel but is do-able.
From there, if you follow our route, take the Phantom Canyon Road up to Victor, one of the last operating gold mines in the U.S. The road has three interpretive sign pull outs and rest stops, that are all accessible, but don't provide any braille, and this is by far the prettiest of the three options.
In Victor, the Victor Motel is one of our favorites in the state, and was one of our first articles for Examiner. It's remarkable this hotel is even accessible, bird cage elevator included. Don't miss the NY style pizza at Sally's Restaurant here, or have great burritos at the Aspen Deli, your two options are both moderately accessible with a small step out front. When we were there, Sally's was planning on adding an accessible restroom, so stay tuned for that. Victor isn't modern, so don't expect sidewalks with cutouts here.
But spend some time in Victor if you have it, the American Eagle Overlook Road will take you to the mill and mine and overlook, all well worth the stop if you can. The history here is fascinating.
From Victor, it's a short jaunt up to Cripple Creek, one of Colorado's gambling meccas catering to the retired, which means great access for all. It's not a matter of who's accessible here, it's a matter of how many rooms they have! Double Eagle Casino wins with 6. Cripple Creek Hospitality House=4. Cripple Creek Inn and Gold King Mountain=3. JP McGills=2. Hotel St. Nicolas and Midnight Rose=1. All the dining is accessible in Cripple Creek as well.
Up to Florissant, the best stop here would be the Florissant Fossil Beds National Park, with trails, visitor center, amphitheater, and homestead to view, all accessible. We enjoyed this national treasure, and the llama farm nearby. I covered this park in our National Parks group as well.
In Florissant itself, there's not much in the way of dining; the Costello Coffee House and Oney's Restaurant are both accessible but nothing to write home about, and the Thunderbird Inn is not accessible, nor were they very friendly about it.
From here if you go back down the Shelf Road, you need to go back through Cripple Creek, but not Victor, and will have to back track to get to Canyon City. So for an easier ride back, the paved High Park Road will take you back down to Canyon Creek past the Royal Gorge area. This is a great option if you like history as well, though not officially on the byway, the Buckskin Joe Frontier Town is mostly accessible, as is the Royal Gorge Bridge and Tram. This festive park is fun for the whole family.
Once in Canon City, you can stay in any of the lodging options, but the Holiday Inn Express has the most ADA rooms (4), and along with the Comfort Inn and the Super 8, all have roll-in showers. The Quality Inn and the Best Western Royal Gorge also both have one accessible room, but as with Florissant, the Best Western needs to work on their hospitality.
All of the dining in Canon City is accessible, but DiRitos Italian has one of the best accessible restrooms I've ever seen. There are four museums in Canyon City, all accessible, as are the Veterans Park and River Walk cultural attractions.
Overall, this is among the funnest byways in the state if you like history and backwoods charm.
Last up: Los Caminos Antiguos!