Known for its sheer cliffs and dramatic vistas, Shelf Road near Canon City offers an exhilarating experience for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers alike.

One highlight of our camping trip at the Bank Campground in the Shelf Road Recreation Area was to bike down Shelf Road from the town of Cripple Creek and back to the Bank Campground.

shelf road sign near canon city
Shelf Road in between Canon City and Cripple Creek

This route is mostly downhill.

Shelf Road Route

The Shelf Road follows the old stagecoach toll route from Canon City to Cripple Creek, going from an elevation of 5,330 in Canon City, to 9,395 in Cripple Creek.

Canon City built it as a toll road in 1892, but it is now free to use. It winds north from Canon City, tracing Fourmile Creek through valleys and canyons.

Along the way the views are amazing as the road follows the limestone cliffs, through canyons, and along Fourmile Creek.

Shelf Road sign, aka County Road 88
shelf road historical sign
Historic Wagon Road to Riches sign
shelf road area map
Shelf Road area map

Vehicle Requirements

You can drive the route in a regular 2WD car, but do not pull your trailer or attempt to drive your RV along this route.

It is a narrow dirt road, along limestone cliffs, and with steep drop-offs and tight corners.

It works fine for a passenger car, but anything bigger is definitely not recommended.

no vehicles over 25 feet sign
Shelf Road sign advising no vehicles over 25 feet long

Starting in Cripple Creek

I got dropped off with my mountain bike in Cripple Creek, and then followed the road all the way back to the Bank Campground. It was amazing and easy to do.

cripple creek town sign
Cripple Creek town sign
downtown cripple creek
Downtown Cripple Creek

The route is about 14 miles and it’s mostly all downhill at a gradual slope, if you start in Cripple Creek at 9,395 in elevation.

The route is a National Scenic Byway, known as the Shelf Road Gold Belt Tour.

shelf road gold belt tour national scenic byway sign
Shelf Road Gold Belt Tour National Scenic Byway sign

The beginning of the route, starting in Cripple Creek, is less rocky, with old mines along the way with historical signs you can stop to read.

cripple creek historical sign
Cripple Creek historical sign
morning glory ore house
Morning Glory Ore House south of Cripple Creek
morning glory ore house sign
Morning Glory Ore House historical sign
shelf road near cripple creek
Shelf Road near Cripple Creek is easily drive-able

Camping along Shelf Road

There are a few campsites along the way that are designed primarily for tent camping.

You may be able to fit a truck camper in a few of these, but definitely not an RV as you couldn’t get there anyway since you’d have to drive along the narrow road.

camping along shelf road
Tent camping along Shelf Road south of Cripple Creek

The area is still filled with active mines, and signs warning you of them.

cripple creek active mining sign
Cripple Creek active mining sign
mining operations on shelf road
Signs of mining operations

You’ll also be warned that much of the land along the road is privately owned.

private land sign on shelf road
Private land along the route

The closer you get to the Bank Campground area from the Cripple Creek area, the more rocky and interesting the terrain becomes.

shelf road scenery
Scenery as you get closer to the Bank Campground area
shelf road views
Rocky views along the route

You’ll also pass by the window rock, which is a popular landmark.

window rock along shelf road
Window Rock

I passed several people in jeeps who were enjoying the scenery, but no RVs, thankfully!

jeep driving shelf road
Jeeps driving along Shelf Road

The views are definitely worth the drive if you’re camping in the area and have a vehicle or bicycle to get you safely up and down the road.

views along shelf road
More views
shelf road near bank campground
Shelf Road near the Bank Campground
shelf road cliffs
Cliffs along the route

Final Thoughts

Taking the lazy route, as I did, by biking downhill from Cripple Creek back to the Canon City area was an easy way to take in the sights along Shelf Road.

The scenery is amazing and by biking, you can stop anywhere you want to take in the views.

If you’re more ambitious, you can take the route from Canon City towards Cripple Creek, but you’ll be going up in elevation the whole route.

Either way, it’s a fabulous experience!