Cycling in Colorado

Many of the rides are climbs described in John Summerson’s book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike). When describing one of these climbs, I use Summerson’s distance and elevation gained. I also include (S-#) in the name to indicate that the ride is described in his book. The # shows the climb’s category given by Summerson (1, 2, HC=hors categorie). When I describe a climb, the distance is usually one-way, to the top.

Note: MM = Mile Marker

I’m having a difficult time deciding what to write about the Colorado rides because I lived there for so many years and have done so many of the rides. But since I’m writing mostly for people searching for information I’ll at least describe the rides that we did on our road trips.

Five Big Loops

Back in the past when I was fit and strong, I did several long loops which I’ve described in a separate page.

Summit County

Up in the heart of the Rockies, Summit County has lots of spectacular rides with glorious views of the high mountains. As you ride you’ll see plenty of peaks over 12,000′, and several of Colorado’s 14’ers. Here’s a web page about cycling in Summit County. And a pdf of the wonderful bike paths. Of course, some of the rides I describe in the section aren’t actually in Summit County but I rode them while staying in Summit County.

Loveland Pass (both sides – East: S-2, West: S-1)

Loveland PassLoveland Pass is a lovely climb on both sides, with spectacular views in the upper sections. The traffic is reasonably light as most vehicles go through the Eisenhower Tunnel, with only hikers, people wanting to look at the views, and trucks carrying hazardous materials going over the pass.

As an over-and-back from the Keystone ski area it’s 24.6 miles with 3,800 feet of climbing. The pass is at 11,990 feet and you’ll probably feel the altitude. It goes through a cutting in the rock and I’ve always wondered why they didn’t just make the pass be at the lovely round number of 12,000 feet.

LovelandPassEither drive to the Keystone ski area and park in the huge parking lot, or ride there. From Keystone head uphill on Hwy 6 for almost 5 miles and about 1,510 feet of climbing to the A-Basin ski area. The next 3.6 miles and 1,130 feet of climbing to the pass are spectacular, with four big switchbacks and amazing views. You reach the pass after 8.5 miles and 2,640 feet of climbing.

Head down the east side to the Loveland ski area then turn round and ride back up to the pass again, which you reach after 3.8 miles and 1,160 feet of climbing. The last long switchback is magical as you look up and across to the pass, and also down at the road you have just ridden up. From the top it’s a lovely descent back down to Keystone.

Ute Pass

DSCN2719A lovely hidden gem of a climb, with gorgeous views of the rugged Gore Range to your west as you climb. The whole ride from Silverthorne and back is 35 miles and 2,000 feet of climbing. The climb itself is about 5 miles and 1,400 feet of climbing.

Starting at the Silverthorne Recreation Center on Rainbow Drive, head north then turn left on Center Circle, then left again (on 6th Street) to reach Blue River Parkway (Hwy 9). Turn right and head north towards Kremmling.

After 12.1 miles and about 600 feet of gradual descent, turn right for Ute Pass, just after MM 114.

After about 5 miles and 1,400 feet of climbing, just after MM 5 (marker on the left), you reach the top, with big parking areas on both sides of the road. The last half mile before the top is almost flat. (You can continue from the top but eventually the road turns to gravel.)

Admire the views, then head back to Hwy 9, then do the very gradual climb back to Silverthorne.  Just after Target on the right, turn left at the traffic light onto 6th Street (signs point to Police and the Recreation Center). Turn right on Center Circle and right again to reach the Recreation Center.

Hoosier Pass (North: S-2, South: S-2)

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The beautiful east ridge of Quandary Peak

This ride heads south out of Breckenridge, climbing about 2,030 feet in 9.9 miles. In some ways it is a disappointing ride, as it climbs very gently for almost 7 miles on a road with a lot of traffic and a shoulder that alternates between crap, non-existent, and good. But after 6.8 miles the ride blossoms and the views start to become spectacular.

I’m describing the ride as it leaves the south end of Breckenridge, at the intersection of Hwy 9 and Main Street.

After 6.8 miles of gentle uphill you make a right hand switchback and the ride now starts to feel like a real climb in the mountains. After 7.5 miles you see spectacular views of Quandary Peak (14,265′) on the right. After 9.9 miles you reach Hoosier Pass (11,542′).

It’s a pretty short climb to the top, so once there you might as well descend the south side of the pass for about 4 miles to where the road flattens. Turn round where County Road 4 heads off to the right. Climb 3.7 miles and 1,000 feet back to Hoosier Pass. If you want more miles, continue at a very gentle gradient down to Alma or Fairplay before turning back.

Gore Pass (both sides)

Gore Pass

The gradual climb through high meadows on the West side of Gore Pass

Unlike some of the other climbs around Summit County, the two sides of Gore Pass (9,524′) are relatively gentle, going through high meadows and rolling tree-covered hills. The whole ride is almost 54 miles, with 4,430 feet of climbing.

Drive north from Silverthorne to Kremmling. At the T-junction in Kremmling turn left on Hwy 40. Follow this for 6.2 miles and turn left on Hwy 134 to Toponas. Immediately after turning left, turn around and park in the pull-off at the side of the on-ramp to Hwy 40 South (yes, I know this sounds weird, but trust me.)

From the intersection of 40 and 134 it’s about 11 miles and 1,970 feet of climbing to Gore Pass. It starts very gently and there’s even some downhill. After 5 miles the angle steepens.

From the pass, continue for 16 miles to the junction of Hwys 134 and 131 at Toponas. It’s mainly  downhill but you climb 660 feet, including an almost 2 mile climb. At the the junction turn round and climb 1,800 feet back to the pass, then back down to the start.

Guanella Pass (both sides)

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Looking up the south side of Guanella Pass

Guanella Pass (11,670′) is a tough but good ride of 47.4 miles with 6,400 feet of climbing. The ride is distinctly different on the north and south sides, with the north side containing many more switchbacks but the south side perhaps feeling more alpine.

Start in Georgetown at the intersection of Rose St and 6th St.

North side. Head west then turn left on Guanella Pass Rd. You’ll go through a strange space-inversion because you’ll immediately see a white sign telling you it’s 11 miles to the top and 24 miles to Grant. Soon after that you’ll see a green sign telling you it’s now 12 miles to the top.

Switchback out of town until you are high enough to head south. You pass three small lakes, with the road flattening as it passes each one. The next section contains long easy sections interspersed with short steep pitches until you reach Guanella Pass after 10.7 miles and 3,140 feet of climbing. On your left you will see the trailhead parking for Mt Bierstadt (14,065′). Immediately left of Mt Bierstadt is the rockier Mt Evans (14,265′). Keep going down the other side to Grant and Hwy 285. The last 10 miles of the descent are on new, beautifully smooth asphalt.

South side. Climb back up the way you came down. After about 5 miles the road flattens out in a long wide valley, but of course it eventually steepens again. Around MM 10 you make two big switchbacks out of the valley and climb up to the pass, which you reach after 13 miles and 3,030 feet of climbing.

The Copper Triangle

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The climb up Fremont Pass

The Copper Triangle is one of the best one-day loop rides in Colorado – if not the country, climbing through beautiful mountain scenery over three passes (Fremont – 11,318′, Tennessee – 10,424, Vail – 10,662′). In 79 miles it climbs about 6,100 feet.

The loop is most commonly started in Copper Mountain, although you can obviously start anywhere on the loop.

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The clockwise profile

If you go clockwise, Freemont Pass has a lovely stretch of about 2.5 miles which climbs 800 feet, the rest being gentle ascent or rolling. (There are four troughs in the bike lane which will swallow your bike if you go into them 🙂 ). After Fremont Pass, it almost feels downhill all the way to Vail.

You will hardly notice the climb up Tennessee Pass but the descent is long and varied – and interrupted by a short climb up Battle Mountain. As you go down the longer, north side of Battle Mountain you pass the strange abandoned mining town of Gilman.

Just past I-70 you’ll turn right on the bike path and follow this, roads, and more bike paths up through Vail to Vail Pass. This is the big climb if you go clockwise.

CopperTriangleMapI prefer the counter-clockwise direction. An easy ascent of Vail Pass followed by the long, long descent through the Vail Valley. Turn left on Hwy 24 to Minturn and Leadville. This is mainly a long, relatively easy angled climb. However, there’s a steep 4 mile climb up Battle Mountain (followed by a descent), and there are several other short steep segments. Eventually you’ll pass the huge flat meadow that once contained Camp Hale, the training camp that housed about 15,000 men of the 10 Mountain Division during WW2. At the top of Tennessee Pass you’ll pass Ski Cooper. Whenever I pass this I wonder how many people have booked ski vacations there thinking they were booking at Copper Mountain.

Easy riding leads to Leadville where you turn left onto Hwy 91. A slight downhill then lots of flat riding leads to the climb up Fremont Pass. I prefer Fremont Pass from this side because it’s a straight climb, while from the north there are several miles of rollers before the pass. Thus, once you make the big left-hand turn and climb more steeply to Fremont Pass, you are faced with several miles of rollers before the fast descent into Copper Mountain.

Lake Dillon Loop

DSCN2734A wonderful ride around Dillon Lake, it weaves and ducks, constantly changing direction, constant short climbs and descents. There’s one big climb, over Swan Mountain. The whole ride is about 19 miles with 1,100 feet of climbing. The best way and most common way to do it is clockwise.

The one section on the road with cars is the west side of Swan Mountain. Riding clockwise you get to ride down this section fast rather than climbing it slowly (although the climb does have a bike lane.)

(My one peeve about this loop is the signs. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which way to go, especially as the route works its way through Frisco. Given how popular the loop is, I wish whoever created the bike path had put up signs for “Lake Loop”, telling you which way to go at each decision point. On top of that, many of the signs have tiny writing which makes them difficult to read as you are cycling.)

Get on the path at any point and continue round the lake until you get back to where you started! Here’s a map of the route, but be aware that the path does sometimes change as construction is done on roads or the path. Key decision: as you do the loop clockwise, just  as you are reaching the big Medical Center on the south end of Frisco, turn right and follow the bike path down to Highway 9 and across. This puts you on the correct bike path for going through Frisco.

Montezuma

DSCN2780The ride from Keystone to Montezuma is a very popular little climb of about 5 miles and 900 feet of climbing, but only about half of the distance is real climbing, the rest being false flats. The car traffic is pretty light and we saw more serious cyclists on this than any other climb we did in Summit County.

It’s a fun little climb and worth doing from Frisco, Dillon or Silverthorne, or as an add-on to the Lake Dillon Loop.

Wildernest Road / Ryan Gulch Road

WildernestA fun little climb out of Silverthorne, 3.2 miles and 1,000 feet of climbing. The road is smooth and wide and would be a great finish to a bike race. It winds up through vacation homes and rentals and finishes at a large trailhead parking lot.

Start at Lowe’s in Silverthorne. If you are riding from Frisco along the Dam Road, turn left once you are past the dam, then left again. Follow the bike path through a tunnel then down a series of tight switchbacks and under I-70 to Lowe’s.

Ride up Wildernest Road, which soon becomes Ryan Gulch Road. After 3.2 miles and 975 feet of climbing you reach the big trailhead parking area. Continue around the loop and you’ll come back out on the road you just climbed, after a short ascent that brings the total climb  to just over 1,000 feet. Turn right and head back down the way you came.

Variation: Instead of heading up Wildernest Road, turn right in front of Lowe’s and climb up Buffalo Mountain Drive. After 0.9 delightful miles turn left on Buffalo Drive to join Ryan Gulch Road. Or continue up Royal Buffalo Drive and turn left after 1.7 miles on 20 Grand Road to join Ryan Gulch Road.

Boulder

It’s even more difficult to write about Boulder as I’ve done all the rides around here many times. But, sticking with my decision, I’m just describing rides I did on our road trips. For information on other rides, check out the The Guide to Bicycling the Roads out of Boulder by my friend Terry Struthers. Or try the hardest ride I’ve ever done around Boulder, the Boulder Big 8.

Flagstaff and Super Flagstaff (S-1)

FlagstaffFlagstaff Mountain is the iconic climb in the Boulder area. It starts right out of town and is a very popular and spectacular ride, with many twists and turns, steep sections and easier sections, and amazing views of Boulder and the University as you come down.

Since there are many ways to approach Flagstaff, I’m describing the distances and elevation gained from the bridge at the west of Baseline Rd, where the road turns sharp right and starts climbing steeply. If you start at the intersection of Canyon and 6th Street, you add 1.3 miles and another 350 feet of climbing.

The most popular way to do this climb is to ride to Flagstaff Amphitheater. This ride is 3.7 miles with 1,138 feet of climbing. It climbs steeply for 0.7 miles to the Flagstaff House restaurant, then the angle becomes much more gentle as the road twists and turns through the trees and past various bouldering area. After about 3 miles turn right and follow the road to the Amphitheater.

The much harder finish (Super Flagstaff) is to continue up the main road instead of turning right to Flagstaff Amphitheater. The next section has the hardest and steepest climbing on the ride. From the bridge to the mailboxes at the top is 4.6 miles with 1,972 feet of climbing.

Optional extra: From the mailboxes, continue along the steeply rolling road to Gross Reservoir. As a round trip, this adds 7.8 miles and 1,300 feet of climbing.

Magnolia Road (S-1)

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The steep initial section

Viciously steep, this is the hardest climb in the Boulder area. It’s only 4.5 miles long but climbs 2,170 feet. It’s #87 in Summerson’s list of the hardest climbs in the country.

From the Justice Center at 6th & Canyon, continue up Boulder Canyon for 4.5 miles to where Magnolia Road heads off to the left.

The first 0.7 miles are brutally, consistently steep. After that the gradient eases, with steep stretches interspersed with easier riding. After two very short downhills, at around 2.8 miles the road rears up again but fortunately this steep section is much shorter than the initial section. A few more switchbacks and you finish where the road crests and starts to go downhill.

The descent is fast, steep, and fun, but watch out for possible gravel on some of the tight corners. Once down, head up Boulder Canyon for a few hundred yards and ride Sugarloaf Road.

Sugarloaf Road (S-1)

The Sugarloaf Road climb is 4.7 miles with about 1,900 feet of climbing. It is almost a partner ride to Magnolia Road, starting just a few hundred yards up Boulder Canyon from Magnolia. It’s not as brutally steep as Magnolia, but still has some long steep sections in the 9-11% range. Do both Magnolia and Sugarloaf and you will have had a good day.

Sunshine Canyon

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The beautiful upper section

This is a very varied climb with plenty of climbing in the 9-13% range. The climb is about 5.7 miles with 1,695′ of climbing.

Start at the intersection of 4th and Mapleton then head west up Mapleton. Almost immediately you pass the trailhead for the lovely South Ridge of Mt Sanitas.

Climb steadily up the road until at 1.8 miles you make a very sharp turn to the left. (There is a parking area on the right for the West Trail up Mt Sanitas. If you enjoy hiking, a fun hike is to do the West trail, the South Ridge, and the East Ridge in a day. The East Ridge trailhead starts just west of 4th and Hawthorn.)

At 2.6 miles you’ll see Poorman Rd on the left. This is a well-graded dirt road that connects Four Mile Canyon and Sunshine Canyon. The next section is the hardest part of the climb – it’s steep and sustained with some 12%. At the top of this, at about mile 3.2 you go slightly downhill and from here on, flats and downhills alternate with short vicious climbs. The upper section is beautiful, with wide open meadows and lovely views of the Indian Peaks. As you near the end of the paved road you can see barren slopes above you, ravaged by the 2010 Fourmile Canyon fire that destroyed 169 homes.

The paved road ends at an intersection. If you turn right you can ride to the little town of Sunshine. If you continue straight you can climb up the dirt road to Gold Hill.

Four Mile Canyon

IMG_1277This is a lovely climb, never very steep, but very pretty and extremely twisty. It’s a good ride to do if you want to climb but don’t want anything too difficult. It’s about 5.5 miles with 1,130 feet of climbing.

Starting in the west of Boulder at the intersection of Canyon and Arapahoe, ride up the canyon for 1.8 miles then turn right into Four Mile Canyon, following the sign for Salina. (Alternatively you can ride the creek path, which is a good gravel trail.)

There are quite a few houses along Four Mile Canyon, so it never feels remote, but not enough houses for it to feel residential. In 1.8 miles Poorman Rd turns off to the right, almost doubling back on the main road. Poorman Rd is a well-graded dirt road that connects with Sunshine Canyon and is a popular climb for people wanting to make a loop of Four Mile and Sunshine Canyons.

At about 3 miles you’ll pass a house perched spectacularly on the edge of a big cliff, then at 3.8  miles you pass Logan Mill Road on the left. This is a fantastic dirt road climb that leads over to Sugarloaf Road. Just after this you’ll see the hillsides covered with dead trees, burned in the 2010 Fourmile Canyon fire. At 4.8 miles you reach an intersection. The left turn takes you to Wall Street and the Switzerland Trail. Turn right and ride up through Salina, past the church and the fire station. Turn round at 5.5 miles.

(When I rode this in July, 2017, the road through Salina was mainly dirt. The pavement was destroyed by the 2013 flood. I was told that the road is scheduled to be repaved in late 2017 but the person I talked to did not know how far up the pavement would go.)

Boulder-Lyons-Raymond-Nederland-Boulder Loop

SouthStVrainA wonderful loop in the mountains north and west of Boulder, this ride is 67 miles with 5,600 feet of climbing. The classic loop is Boulder-Lyons-Raymond-Ward-Boulder but as of summer 2016 there’s still a lot of construction work going on in Left Hand Canyon as a result of the 2013 floods. So instead of descending through Ward, continue along the Peak to Peak Highway to Nederland and descend Boulder Canyon. This extra section on the Peak to Peak is beautiful, but the ride down Boulder Canyon is not so much fun.

From the north end of Boulder, where Broadway meets Highway 36, ride almost 11 miles to the traffic light and T-junction. Turn left and ride into Lyons. At the traffic light and T-junction in Lyons turn left on Highway 7 to Allenspark. After about 11.7 miles, turn left at the sign that shows 1 mile to Riverside and 3 miles to Raymond. In Raymond, there’s a small store where most cyclists stop to refuel. After refueling, continue 1.7 miles to the Peak to Peak highway. Turn left and follow the Peak to Peak highway for 8 miles to the turnoff to Ward. At this point you can descend into Ward, either to do the classic loop or to refuel again. Otherwise continue almost 12 miles to the roundabout in Nederland. Follow the signs for Boulder and ride for about 15 miles down Boulder Canyon into Boulder. Turn left and follow 4th Street and other streets back to where you started.

Other

Grand Mesa

IMG_1250Grand Mesa is a strange mountain; from a distance it looks so big and flat on top that it doesn’t seem to be very high.

However, it’s the largest flat top mountain in the world, has about 300 lakes and reservoirs on top, and rises about 6,000 above the surrounding valleys.

There are two main road bike climbs, and one mixed paved/dirt climb. The two road bike climbs both follow Highway 65, one from the north and one from the south. The northern one is perhaps the better climb.

The two climbs are both big and long and not too steep, and are rather lacking in interest. In my opinion Grand Mesa is much better done as part of a point-to-point ride. As a point-to-point, the ride will typically be from Delta or Hotchkiss over to Grand Junction, or the reverse. Both Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado have ridden over Grand Mesa. Below I describe just the climbs.

From the North (S-1), you can start at the intersection of Interstate 70 and Hwy 65 but the first 10 miles or so are very low gradient through some pretty sandstone canyon country. The real climb starts at the intersection of Hwy 65 and Hwy 330 to Collbran. From here the climb is 21.4 miles with 5,622 feet of climbing. The steepest part is the first few hundred yards up to the little town of Mesa. After this it eases off until you reach the Powderhorn Mountain Resort after about 9 miles. The gradient now increases a bit and remains fairly consistent until you are up on the mesa. Finish at a loop parking area at the top.

From the South (S-1) the usual start of the climb is in Cedaredge. From here it’s 20.7 miles with 4,652 feet of climbing. The climb starts fairly easily and eventually steepens a bit and is consistent but never very steep. Finish at a loop parking area at the top.

Lands End

How could you not want to ride these dirt switchbacks?

The third big climb up Grand Mesa is up a paved then dirt road to Land’s End. I rode it on a mountain bike in 2013 but I suspect it would be better on a gravel bike. If you head south from Grand Junction on Hwy 50, between MM 45 and 46 you will see a turnoff to the east signed for Land’s End. You start up the paved Kannah Creek Road, which becomes Land’s End Road. After about 9 miles the paved road ends and you now ride a dirt road to the top, which you reach in another 12 miles. The whole climb is 21 miles with 5,100 feet of climbing. From Land’s End you can continue another 12 miles of flattish riding to Hwy 65, or just return the way you came.

Mesa Verde

IMG_1322In southwest Colorado, on Hwy 160 between Mancos and Cortez, lie the spectacular Indian cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde.

The road up into Mesa Verde is a pretty climb, varied and with some lovely views, especially on the way down. You can see the initial part of the climb slashing diagonally left across the side of the mesa as you drive west on Hwy 160 from Mancos.

The climb from the Visitor Center to Park Point, the highest point in the park, is 11.2 miles with 1,880′ of climbing – plus 393′ of descent. So for the out-and-back you will climb 2,273′. The gradient varies, with plenty of 3-5% a small amount of 6-7%, plus two decent length descents that you climb on the way back. Depending on the time of year and day, there may be a lot of traffic. Early morning is best if you don’t like traffic.

There is a tunnel, a few hundred feet long, and the park service requires that “Each bicycle must exhibit a white light on the front visible from 500 feet and a red light or reflector on the rear visible for 300 feet during periods of low visibility and in the tunnel.” Personally I think that just a reflector in the tunnel is asking for trouble, and highly recommend a good rear light.

Park at the Visitor Center then ride up past the pay station ($10 for bicycles if you don’t have a Pass). The first 3.5 miles are the main part of the climb, then you have a long gradual downhill, followed by the tunnel. More climbing with a few good curves leads to the second downhill. Another uphill, then at 10.6 miles turn right following the sign for Park Point, which you reach at 11.2 miles.

IMG_1334If you want a longer ride, you can follow the rolling main road along the mesa to Far View Terrace, then the Chapin Mesa road out towards the Cliff Palace and Balcony House cliff dwellings. As an out-and-back this will give you an additional 25 miles and 2,113′ of climbing.

After the ride, treat yourself to a chocolate macaroon at the Absolute Bakery in Mancos.


Links and Other Clicks

Other Cycling in the USA

Other Cycling Pages


Ride the Rockies. RTR is a wonderful week-long tour around Colorado. It’s usually done starting in one place and finishing in another.

Bicycle Tour of Colorado. BTC is another wonderful week-long tour around Colorado, lower-key than RTR. It’s always done as a loop, which makes getting there and back easier than with RTR.