Along the western edge of Cañon City lies a razorback ridgeline that’s doubled as a scenic drive since the early 1900s. The ridge is also the site of numerous newly discovered dinosaur fossils.
Constructed by local prison labor in 1903, Skyline Drive (not to be confused by the scenic drive of the same name through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia) begins its gradual ascent halfway up the ridge, just a short three miles out of town by way of Highway US-50, or a couple of thousand feet from town by foot.
There are several pullouts along the gradual ascent to the top. Visitors can take in fantastic views of YMCA Mountain and Fremont Peak to the west, and the Twin Mountains to the north, or inspect excellent rock exposures of the ridge itself, known as fossiliferous.
Reaching the top, another pullout provides a full 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape: the mountains to the north and the west, and all of Cañon City to the east. This panoramic view continues virtually uninterrupted for the remainder of the seemingly perilous one-mile rollercoaster ride across the top of the ridge. There is not much room for error along this portion of the route, and no further pullouts until near the end of the ridge.
Near the end of the ridge, Skyline Drive switches back to the north and begins its gradual descent to the smaller “Hogbacks” separating the ridge from the town. It switches back once more, then empties into a residential area.
There have been numerous new dinosaur fossil finds along the ridge and Skyline Drive over the years, one as recent as 1999. While out for a Sunday drive in 1999, a paleontology student from the University of Colorado discovered dinosaur tracks along the ridgeline. They had apparently been visible for years, but to the untrained eye, just another bunch of rocks.
Excavating the ancient track lines during early 2000, a crew took molds for display at the local Dinosaur Depot Museum, along with other fossils discovered at that time, including tree roots and branches. Most of the discoveries throughout the years are also on display there. Various signage along the route indicates the location of these finds and explain their history and relevance to the region in detail.
Know Before You Go
Take US-50 W out of Cañon City and watch for a small arch marking the road about 2.8 miles after heading north along US-50. Skyline Drive ends in a residential neighborhood, and becomes a residential street, which intersects with 5th Street. A sign points south toward U.S. 50 and "Historic Downtown Cañon City," allowing drivers to head downtown and return to the highway.
Do not remove fossils! If you think you found something significant, head over to the Dinosaur Depot and let them know about it. They will send a team up to investigate.
Skyline Drive may be closed at night.