RoadTales: 5 Great Rocky Mountain Rides near Denver, CO
// September 27th, 2012 // RoadTales
by Jason Steele, guest blogger
[Editor's Note]: Jason Steele loves to ride the Rockies on two wheels. But as Jason says, “My twin engines are attached to my torso and extend to my feet.” Although he may travel at a more leisurely pace on his bicycle than we do on motorcycles, he’s ridden “all the great rides around here that are common to cyclists both in leather and lycra,” and whether we’re propelled by horsepower or human power, we’re all looking for the same things: twisty roads, great scenery, and a chance to get away from it all. Enjoy!
Bikers who arrive in Denver are often struck by an inescapable contradiction; the capital of the Rocky Mountain state is almost completely flat. Even worse, most of its roads are laid out in a grid and can be clogged with traffic during business hours. Fortunately, you only need to ride about 20 miles from downtown to find yourself in some of the more breathtaking scenery that Colorado offers.
1. The Lariat Loop. As you head west of I-70 out of Denver, you will pass through the city of Golden, Colorado. This scenic town is the home of the Coor’s brewery, which produces more beer than any other place on earth. Looming over the town is Lookout Mountain, one of the easternmost foothills of the Rocky Mountain range. Head up Lookout Mountain road and take in fantastic views along two-lane switchback roads that seem ripped from the pages of that magazine ad for That Bike You Want. The climbing culminates at the site of Buffalo Bill’s grave, but the ride continues through the towns of Bergen Park, Evergreen, and bike-friendly Morrison. On the ride back to Golden, be sure to ride up to the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is open to the public all year long when there are no events scheduled. Watch for free ranging deer and elk along the way, as well as the enclosed buffalo herd at I-70 and the Genesee exit.
2. Mount Evans. While Pike’s Peak 60 miles south of Denver is more well-known, Mount Evans is much closer to Denver and is home to the highest paved road in North America. When riding up above the tree line (approximately 12,000 feet), watch out for mountain goats strutting around like they own the place. From the town of Bergen Park, along I-70 23 miles west of Denver, ride up Squaw Pass road 18 miles to the Echo Lake lodge. From there, it is another 18 miles to the summit at 14,240 feet. Afterwards, continue down Chicago Creek Road another 13 miles to the town of Idaho Springs before riding I-70 back to Denver. Note that the road to the summit is only open in the summer and weather conditions can be extremely unpredictable with snow flurries a possibility every day of the year.
3. The Peak To Peak Highway. This designated scenic byway runs roughly south to north, from Interstate 70 to the town of Estes Park. From I-70, follow signs to the gambling town of Blackhawk and continue on state highway 119 through Nederland and Allenspark before arriving at the town of Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether or not you choose to pay the entrance fee and explore the park, you will probably see herds of elk roaming around town. Continue down highway 36 through the town of Lyons, the city of Boulder and back into Denver.
4. The Canyons of Boulder. For a shorter ride out of Boulder, there are three major canyon roads connecting the plains to the Peak to Peak highway. Between the cities of Boulder and Golden is Coal Creek Canyon or highway 72. It twists its way up to elevations, but has a couple scenic restaurants along the way. Coming out of the center of the city is Boulder Canyon drive which passes by several waterfalls as it winds its way up to the town of Nederland. And 13 miles north of Nederland is the entrance to Lefthand Canyon Drive, another local favorite.
5. Deer Creek Canyon. The southeast corner of the metro area, far away from Interstate 70, is one of the hidden gems of Denver area rides, Deer Creek Road. It climbs up from Wadsworth Boulevard and highway C-470, past the giant Lockheed Martin plant where rockets are built. Remain on South Deer Creek road through switchbacks before arriving on the appropriately named High Grade and Pleasant Park Roads. Riders will eventually find themselves on US 285 at the town of Aspen Park. From there, you can return to Denver on 285 or ride Colorado Road 73 north to Evergreen and join the aforementioned Lariat Loop.
So while you’ll have to escape the city of Denver, you won’t have to travel far to enjoy some of the best sights of the Rocky Mountains!
Jason Steele is a freelance writer who specializes in travel and personal finance for sites such as Card Wisdom. Jason lives in Denver where he enjoys riding the nearby mountains on his bicycle, his snowboard, or anything else he can get his hands on.