Shelf Road derived its name from the lower section of the road which was blasted out of the steep Four Mile Canyon walls. 4-wheel drive vehicles are a must on the rugged, mountainous drive. The journey along Shelf Road is for the adventurous and not for the faint of heart. The climate and weather conditions in this Southern Colorado area are known to be somewhat volatile. Shelf Road parallels Cripple Creek, a popular rock-climbing area and home of the Garden Park Fossil Area. The road was formerly used as a stage route between Canon City and Cripple Creek. Shelf Road is part of the Gold Belt Tour that traces historic routes used long ago in this Southern Colorado region. Other similar routes in the area are Phantom Canyon Road, High Park Road, and Teller One. The Gold Belt Tour offers a vast array of scenery including canyons and gently sloping hillsides.
Visitors to this rugged but beautiful area are advised to follow some basic guidelines in order to be safe during their exploration of the Shelf Road area. Motor homes, trailers of any type, and campers should avoid the Shelf Road area, particularly the upper section due to the winding, narrow path. Make certain that you have sufficient fuel and water to make it from one town to the next. Weather is always a factor to be taken seriously since conditions change rapidly. Be aware of flash flood warnings during periods of heavy rain. When exploring the hillsides be cautious of loose footing and never climb alone. There are old abandoned mines throughout the area which can represent real danger to the unaware climber. Motorists are encouraged to pull fully off of the road to take pictures or go on foot to see the sights. The Shelf Road route between Canon City and Cripple Creek will take travelers approximately 2 hours, but weather and the amount of traffic may impact the overall travel time. Obviously, if stops are made along the way to take pictures or just to enjoy the beautiful scenery, the trip can take up to a few hours or even a few days longer. When driving the Shelf Road motorists should be on the alert for vehicles traveling in the opposite direction. Visibility is often limited so caution is advised. On blind corners drivers are encouraged to sound the horn to signal oncoming traffic. This drive is a lot of fun and can be safe if you drive slowly and use common sense.
In addition to hiking and rock climbing, mountain biking is popular in the area due to the substantial assortment of dirt trails. Horseback riding are also available on the Trails of Gold near Victor and Cripple Creek.
Shelf Road winds through public as well as private property. Visitors are asked to please respect private property by not trespassing. Maps of the area can be obtained in Canon City from the Bureau of Land Management. On the public sections campfires are allowed, but only can be made using only downed, dead wood, gathered for campfire purposes.
There are privately owned campgrounds along the length of the Byway. Modern conveniences such as water and electric hookups are available in most of these campgrounds. Camping is allowed throughout the area on public grounds. These camping areas have no facilities. Fishing is available in nearby Beaver Creek. Trout of various species are present to test the skills of any angler. Additionally, Skagway Reservoir and the Arkansas River are only a short ride away. Other popular, nearby attractions worth visiting include Arkansas River Walk, Garden Park Fossil Area, Red Canyon Park, Window Rock, and Carlton Tunnel.