A Mini Tour of Colorado

October 15, 2017  •  1 Comment

Our 5-day, 240 mile route

Our 5-day, 240-mile route

There is a 5-day, 240-mile route in the Colorado high country that we have had our eye on for a while now and when it came time to plan a test ride in preparation for our upcoming tour of New Zealand, we decided to try it out.  Test rides are handy for trying out new gear or a new riding configuration or just for making sure we are in good enough shape for the real thing. 

A little leftover snow and ice on the bike path from a recent storm.

A little leftover snow and ice on the bike path from a recent storm

We had planned to start out from our condo in Silverthorne on a Monday in early October, but an early winter storm delayed our departure by a couple of days.  When we started out on Wednesday, the air was brisk and there was still snow in some areas, but the forecast promised warmer temperatures and plenty of sun (and maybe some wind too).

 

Day 1 - Silverthorne to Leadville

Riding past Copper Mountain ski area.

Riding past Copper Mountain ski area

Our route took us on the familiar bike path around Lake Dillon and up past Copper Mountain ski area, where we had to walk a few stretches to get around ice and snow on the path.  Once on highway 91, the grade steadily increased as did the headwind.  Fremont Pass features several long, straight, steep stretches of highway and tops out at 11,318 feet.  

At the top of Fremont Pass

At the top of Fremont Pass

As we stood at the top of the pass taking pictures in the gusty wind, a car pulled over and a man approached us eyeing our bicycles and gear.  He introduced himself as "Al," explaining that he and his wife are also into long distance bike touring, and invited us to a get together at his house in Leadville later that evening.  How about that??  We hadn't even gotten to Leadville and we already had social plans!  But we had to get there first.

Long steep stretch of road on the way up Fremont Pass

Long steep stretch of road on the way up Fremont Pass

Even though the rest of route was mostly downhill, the strong headwind made the ride more challenging than it should have been and we pulled into Leadville around 4 pm.  If you've never been, Leadville is a funky, charming old mountain town with its origins in silver mining.  Situated at 10,152 feet, Leadville used to be the second most populous city in Colorado after Denver back in the 19th century.  Today, the population is around 2,700.  There is a huge variety of people that live up there, but they all must love the outdoors and also love the snow.  The friendly get together at Al and Wendy's house turned out to be lots of fun.  The wind calmed down and until the sun went behind the surrounding peaks, it was unseasonably warm for early October and so we all sat out on the patio sipping and eating.

Riding through downtown Leadville

Riding through historic downtown Leadville

 

Day 2 - Leadville to Aspen

The next morning, we waited until the temperature was in the 40's before departing.  This was to be our longest and hardest day, so we couldn't wait too long!  We planned to take a short cut along a dirt road that would take us off the highway some and our new Leadville friends had confirmed that this was a good plan.  Their nickname for this route - "Shore Is Pretty" - turned out to be quite accurate.

Shore is pretty indeed

Shore is pretty indeed

We stopped for lunch in the tiny town of Twin Lakes which has one of my favorite views in the entire state, especially in the fall when the surrounding Aspen trees are blazing gold.  During lunch, we psyched ourselves up for the ride over Independence Pass which starts right outside of town (the gas station in Twin Lakes is named "Pass Gas" - haha!). 

Scenic lunch spot in Twin Lakes

Scenic lunch spot in Twin Lakes

This one pass dictated the timing and direction that we decided to take on this mini-tour.  During the summer and early fall, Independence Pass attracts drivers looking for spectacular views of the Continental Divide and the fall colors are especially spectacular in this area.  For this reason, we wanted to avoid riding this pass on a weekend when there would be more traffic, and we waited until later in the season when tourist traffic would be less.  

A view of what's to come - the red arrows point to the road running up the side of the mountain. I always find this view particularly daunting.

A view of what's to come - the red arrows point to the road running up the side of the mountain.  I always find this view particularly daunting.

Also, since there are stretches of road with drop offs of several hundred feet (some without guard rails), we wanted to ride the pass from east to west so that we would be on the mountain-side of the road for most of the route.  If you're interested, the best time to ride Indy Pass is in mid to late May when the snow has been cleared from the road but the pass has not been opened to cars yet (which typically occurs right before Memorial Day weekend).  It really is a spectacular ride.

There were still some fall colors left on the east side of the pass

There were still some fall colors left on the east side of the pass

At the top of the pass, the temperature was in the mid 40's.  Considering that we thought it might be raining or even snowing, this wasn't so bad.  We bundled up for the 20 mile ride down into Aspen where the temperature was in the low 60's when we arrived.  

At the top of Independence Pass - finally!

At the top of Independence Pass - finally!

We were wiped out by the time we got there - I was even too pooped to get in the hot tub.  However, we spent an extra day in Aspen (because it's pretty much my favorite place in Colorado - not because of the glitzy shopping or the expensive restaurants, but because it's just a beautiful place) and we made good use of the hot tub then.

Stopping at a scenic overlook on the way down Independence Pass

Stopping at a scenic overlook on the way down Independence Pass

 

Day 4 (Day 3 of riding) - Aspen to Glenwood Springs

There is a bike path called the Rio Grande Trail from Aspen to Glenwood that was created as part of the "Rails to Trails" project, which converts old abandoned rail lines to bike paths.  The nice thing about Rails to Trails paths is that they generally have gentle grades and the Rio Grande Trail is no exception.  It was an easy, slightly downhill cruise from Aspen to Glenwood.  

On the Rio Grande Trail just outside of Aspen

On the Rio Grande Trail just outside of Aspen

The path follows the Roaring Fork river and cuts through residential, ranching and agricultural lands, staying away from the noisy highway for most of the route.  The path runs right by the cute little downtown area of Carbondale which was a great place to stop for lunch before continuing on our leisurely way to Glenwood Springs.  

Crossing the Roaring Fork river on the way to Glenwood Springs

Crossing the Roaring Fork river on the way to Glenwood Springs

Although we had ridden part of this path previously, this was the first time riding the whole distance and we both agree that it is one of the most scenic bike paths in Colorado.

 

Day 5 (Day 4 of riding) - Glenwood Springs to Avon (or let's make that Eagle)

Just outside of Glenwood Springs is Glenwood Canyon which is a spectacular canyon carved by the Colorado river.  I had been wanting to ride this trail for years, and we were treated to lots of warm sunshine for this special ride.  

A sunny morning in Glenwood Canyon

A sunny morning in Glenwood Canyon

Although I-70 also runs through the canyon, a series of tunnels and raised sections makes the highway relatively unobtrusive.  The bike path goes through the Hanging Lake rest area which is the jumping off point for one of the most popular hiking trails in Colorado.  There was a line of cars waiting for a parking space for a chance to hike to the popular lake, and new cars were being turned away.  It seems to me that if you want to hike to Hanging Lake, you might consider renting a bike in Glenwood Springs and riding there instead.  There is plenty of bicycle parking available.

Some parts of the canyon remain in the shade until late in the morning         

Some parts of the canyon remain in the shade until late in the morning

We had been keeping an eye on the forecast which was promising yet another winter storm, so at the last minute we changed our plans for the remaining tour.  Instead of riding to Avon, we changed our hotel reservations to stay in Eagle instead because there is a bus that stops in Eagle and gets us close to home.  We would have to forgo the last day of the tour which would have taken us from Avon over Vail Pass back to Silverthorne.

Taking a rest along the Colorado River

Taking a rest along the Colorado River

If you are interested in doing some cycling in the Colorado mountains but would like something a little less challenging, I would encourage you to consider a modified (and much easier) version of this tour.  Starting in Dillon, you can ride to Vail, Glenwood Springs, and Aspen while staying almost exclusively on bike paths the entire way.  This 140-mile, one-way route takes you over Vail Pass, but the east side of the pass is relatively short (4 miles) and less steep than the west side.  It really does make for a spectacular multi-day ride through some of the best that Colorado has to offer.

 


Comments

Beverly Rost(non-registered)
Beautiful pictures, as usual.......You guys are so brave....Best of everything on your new adventure! Will look forward to our next post.....
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