Ten Legendary Summer Bike Rides in Colorado
by Adam Perry for Westword 6/17/2015
Metro Denver is such a great place for cycling that you could pretty much head in any direction from your front door and find kindred spirits and stunning scenery. But there are many rides that have rightfully reached legendary status; here are ten that should have you on a roll this summer.
Downtown Denver to Oskar Blues
(Start at Platte River Trail)
We’re sure you have friends who crave Oskar Blues’s ever-popular beer and comfort food as much as you do but don’t have the legs to bike 55 winding miles from Denver to Lyons in order to indulge. So ask them to meet you there; that way, they can give you a ride back. From downtown Denver, take the Platte River Trail all the way to Arvada, use the Little Dry Creek Path to make your way through Superior and Louisville, then head north on Broadway Street in Boulder until it becomes the idyllic rolling hills of Highway 36, which is full of cyclists of all skill levels every weekend. Have a Dale’s Pale Ale to celebrate the end of the run: Some nutritionists are now calling hoppy beer a bona fide recovery beverage.
(Start at Boulder Creek Path)
If you work in Boulder and need a perfect hour-long lunchtime ride or are simply a newbie cyclist looking to strengthen your legs, try tackling the ten-mile Poorman loop this summer. With a road, hybrid or mountain bike, start anywhere along Boulder Creek Path (pavement and then gravel) and take it until you see the porta-potties, then cross carefully to flood-damaged Fourmile Canyon, where you’ll climb gradually about two and a half miles to a sharp right turn onto Poorman. It’s a grind from the start, feeling significantly steeper than the top elevation of 14 percent because of the dirt surface (which will make subsequent road climbs seem easy), but the awe-inspiring rush of flying down Sunshine Canyon after conquering Poorman is worth it.
Boulder to Coors Field on “Bike to the Game” Sundays
(Start at Lucile’s Creole Cafe, 2124 14th Street, Boulder)
Chicory coffee, two eggs, red beans and a couple of beignets: That’s the perfect way to fuel up before biking south on Broadway in Boulder to Arvada — via Marshall, McCaslin and Coalton roads, then Interlocken and Wadsworth boulevards. From there you’ll jump onto the Little Dry Creek Path at 80th Avenue and take the smooth and serene (except for the smelly Commerce City “Poop Loop”) route to Gate E at Coors Field. At noon on Sunday game days, the Rockies offer monitored bike parking, complimentary energy bars and bottled water, and entry into a lottery for in-game prizes like autographed memorabilia, tickets and invitations to batting practice. Bike all the way from Boulder (forty miles, two and a half hours) and you’ve burned enough calories to justifying inhaling hot dogs and beer during the game, too.
Denver to Red Rocks
(Start at Washington Park)
There is surprisingly little climbing in this genuine bucket-list ride, which takes you from downtown Denver to the greatest outdoor music venue in the world in just over twenty miles. But after you’ve made it through Bear Creek, the steeper-than-steep (but thankfully short) climb through sandstone to Red Rocks Amphitheatre won’t feel like a “little” climbing. On a summer night — say, July 27, when Alt-J and TV on the Radio play Red Rocks — check out 303Cycling.com’s intricate directions and bike from Denver to Morrison, toward the waiting music and a waiting friend who’ll drive you home after the show.
Boulder to Ward
(Start on Broadway in Boulder)
Good for professional training, preparation if you’re planning a bike tour, or just a mid-summer quest for some cool weather, the challenging climb from Boulder to Ward via Lefthand Canyon is a staple for Front Range cyclists more interested in physical and mental challenges than scenery. From Broadway in Boulder, head north to Lee Hill, then make a left to begin an unforgettably punishing climb that finishes with a view of a junkyard. Continue over Olde Stage Road — a heart-pumping ascent — until the relenting roll to Lefthand Canyon. There you’ll climb a couple of gradual miles until the iconic left turn that begins the real deal: eleven miles of steep, mostly nondescript climbing that is almost masochistic in the final mile (a 20 percent grade) to Utica Street Market, where you’ll find hearty cyclists sipping espresso and munching on snacks. With 4,000 feet of climbing in forty miles, you’ll need snacks on the way, too.
Cherry Creek Reservoir
(Start anywhere in downtown Denver)
It’s a great, mellow ride from downtown to the heart of Cherry Creek State Park, with barely any climbing but lots of classic scenery on a jaunt you could fit in at lunchtime or make a day of, depending on your starting point. According to local attorney Tim Franklin, who has lived in Denver for nearly 25 years, “No matter what part of town I’ve lived in, it dawns on me when cresting the hill on the south side [of Cherry Creek Reservoir] how lucky we are to have such a beautiful ride in the middle of the city. The Denver skyline framed by the Rocky Mountains, with deer eating grass by the side of the road, has to be one of the best go-to in-a-hurry rides in the country.”
Boulder to Gold Hill
(Start in downtown Boulder)
About 3,000 feet above Boulder sits Gold Hill, with its general store and the Gold Hill Inn (a respected music-venue/restaurant), a population of about 200 people, and a history — dating back to the 1850s — of legendary gold discoveries. For a very challenging ten-mile climb with a maximum ascent grade of 23 percent, take Mapleton Street west from downtown Boulder until it turns into Sunshine Canyon and leads all the way up to Gold Hill, traversing pavement, gravel and dirt. For a more gradual, casual climb to the funky former mining town, take the Boulder Creek Path to serene Fourmile Canyon, where you’ll see lingering damage from the 2010 fire that destroyed about 170 homes in and around Gold Hill. Bring full-fingered gloves if you’ll be bombing back to Boulder near sundown, as it gets cold quickly up there.
(Off of Fourmile Canyon)
Non-cyclists drive past the pristine, gorgeous and pretty technical mountain-biking trails of Betasso Preserve every day on drives through Fourmile Canyon without realizing the local gem is there. A set of steep stairs leads down to the heavenly mountain-biking haven, which features mostly one-direction trails good for longtime riders shredding and newbies just getting familiar with the enjoyable flow of forested singletrack that intermittently offers sweeping canyon vistas and, once in a while, glimpses of bears and mountain lions. Betasso is closed to cyclists Wednesdays and Saturdays — no doubt part of the reason it stays so pristine.
Golden Gate Canyon
(Start at Parfet Park, Golden)
The words “classic” and “Golden Gate” are heard together a lot in these parts, though immaculate Golden Gate Canyon State Park is known more for fishing, hiking and camping than the stellar cycling routes surrounding it. For a fun half-day loop, begin at Parfet Park in Golden, climb Golden Gate Canyon Road until it hits the Peak to Peak Highway for a few epic miles, then bike up and down Coal Creek Canyon before making your way back to Golden. With 5,000 feet of climbing in fifty miles, you’ll get in an impressive workout and some seriously stunning views. Take a detour to Crawford Gulch Road and get a picture by the “Caution — 19% Grade” sign if you want to gloat.
(Start in downtown Boulder)
Meet a friend for coffee and a snack at the hip Trident Cafe before climbing Ninth Street to Chautauqua Park, where a right on Baseline Road will take you to the internationally famous six-mile climb known as Super Flagstaff, put on the cycling map in part by local legend Andy Hampsten. Cyclists new to difficult climbs will relish the challenge of switchback after switchback as Boulder and the Flatirons start looking smaller and smaller and your legs get used to the unrelenting ascent to the iconic panorama at Sunrise Amphitheatre. But a bigger challenge — which includes an even more beautiful view, at Lost Gulch — is the 1,000 extra feet of climbing if you skip the amphitheater, continue all the way to the mailboxes at the beginning of Boulder Open Space, and roll over the other side to Meyers Homestead. Fair warning: The almost unbelievably steep, twisting climb just before Lost Gulch is a heartbreaker.