Guest Blogger and local Estes Park cycling aficionado, Walt Hester shares his top five recommended bike rides in Estes Park - to make the most of your cardio and the mountain views:
Loveland to Estes Park via Glen Haven
For folks from the Front Range, this is one of the most popular rides around here. Of course, they take the easy approach, starting low, coming up, then bombing down again. Up here, we start this route by bombing down the Big Thompson Canyon, then turning around to start the long ride back. It's twenty miles from about the Lake Estes Marina down to just east of the Dam Store. The store has some food and drink if needed, and it might be a good idea just to stop to make sure you are loaded up before turning back around to take the first easy nine miles.
The climb back takes riders through the Narrows of the canyon where one will see the Big Thompson River crashing over boulders on its way to the South Platte River. If you are lucky, you might get a peek at bighorn sheep through this section. The rider will soon come to little unincorporated villages along the route. There are a few stores in these places, like the Colorado Cherry store and the Indian Store below Drake. At about nine mile, take a right onto County Road 43 to Glen Haven. The winding, sometimes challenging ride rewards cyclists with views of the north fork of the Big Thompson River, little homesteads and homes, and a few small ranches, as well as tree-lined roadway and the occasional wildlife sighting.
Seven miles in, the rider comes to Glen Haven. If you are riding in the summer, stop in the Glen Haven Store for a cinnamon roll or water. You will want the energy, as he hard part is just ahead. The Switchbacks start about a bit more than a mile southwest of Glen Haven. Its only a mile, but averages a leg-searing 10 percent. Stay seated and use a low, low gear.The top offers a view of a good portion of the Estes Park area before the final few rolling miles into town. The whole thing, Estes Park to the bottom of the canyon and back, is about 44 miles.
Deer Ridge Junction
For the rest of these descriptions, I'll start at Bond Park in the middle of downtown. There are two possible routes over Deer Ridge Junction from town. Either way, you will need a National Parks Pass or money for the entrance fee into Rocky Mountain National Park. This route is a favorite when short on time. Head west on Elkhorn Avenue to the junction with Wonderview/Fall River Road. Continue west, seven miles, to the Fall River Entrance of the national park. Shortly after entering the park, riders will begin a short, punchy climb into Horseshoe Park. All along this part of the route, riders are likely to see elk, deer, turkeys, coyotes and even foxes and moose. In Horseshoe Park, the road flattens for 2.3 miles. At that point, riders begin the 1.5-mile, 5 percent climb to the junction with Trail Ridge Road. For the short ride, you can turn left and take the fast ride back into town. This will dump you out on Moraine Avenue, where you can ride back into down town at Elkhorn Avenue. Riders can change this up by simply taking the route in reverse. This is a relatively short 22 miles.
Highway 7 to Allenspark
From Bond Park, head east. Stay right as you come to the end of Elkhorn Avenue as it splits toward Loveland or Boulder. As you approach the next stoplights, again stay right to merge onto Colorado Highway 7, or the Peak to Peak Highway. The first two miles are an easy climb to Peak View, then a short downhill to Carriage drive. From there, it is a steady climb for the next five miles. The road is not for the nervous or brand new road rider. There will be traffic and there is almost no shoulder to speak of. The road winds past Mary's Lake Lodge, the junction with Fish Creek Road, where you have a nice view of the Cheley Camp pasture, and on past Taharaa Mountain Lodge, where the road tilts upward a bit more. The grade is about five percent all the way to Lily Lake, where there are outhouses, if need be. The grade is a bit easier from Lily Lake to Wind River Pass, the top of the first climb.
At this point, riders start a short downhill past Aspen Lodge, the High Peaks Camp and the New Covenant Camp, when a short climb take you to the Longs Peak Road, about mile marker nine. From here, its rolling terrain, though a good bit of it is downhill. You will roll past Eagle Plume's Gallery, past St. Malo and the Chapel on the Rock while enjoying views of the Twin Sisters, Longs and Meeker peaks. After passing into Boulder County, you will roll through Meeker Park and past the turn to Wild Basin. Eventually, at about mile marker 14, riders will start the last mile-long climb to Allenspark.
If you stop in Allenspark before turning around, you will have several choices for a great meal to get some calories back before returning to Estes Park.
Once on the way back, its rolling terrain again until Wind River Pass. Be careful and keep in control of your speed as the road that seemed like an endless climb up will be a sometimes scary thrill ride back down. It is not unusual for an experienced rider to hit speeds of 40-50 mph between Lily Lake and the turn off at Fish Creek Road. Be careful as the last turn above Taharaa Mountain Lodge is a lot sharper at speed on the way down.This whole route from Estes to Allenspark and back is 30 miles.
Other rides can be as simple as just finding and linking all of the short, tough climbs in town:
- Moccasin Bypass, Driftwood, Aspen and the other short, steep climbs east of the hospital.
- Fall River Lane, off of Fall River Road, west of downtown, reaches 11.7 percent before tipping back down.
- Virginia Drive is also very steep, while relatively short.
Linking all the short climbs together is a great option if you are just out for a lunch ride, or just a little short on time.
Trail Ridge Road
If you find yourself with hours to spare, there is really only one bucket-list ride you need to do! This can be an out-and-back of nearly any length in the summer. I recommend going early to beat the heaviest traffic and the afternoon showers. The road averages 4.3 percent with sections as steep as seven percent. Starting in Bond Park, head west either out to Fall River Road or turning onto Morin Avenue. Either way, the roads will take you up to Deer Ridge Junction.
Up Moraine Avenue, the road take you in through the Beaver Meadows Entrance, past the national park's head quarters. After entering the park, riders get a short flat before the first climb, about 3.5 miles from the curve at Upper Beaver Meadows to the top of Deer Ridge Junction. Riders get to recuperate a bit between the junction and the turn to Hidden Valley. From here it is a relentless climb for as long as you might like. The ride from town to Rock Cut, just above 12,000 feet, is almost 22 miles at an average grade of 4 percent. While USA Pro Challenge rider Kiel Reijnen of United Healthcare finished the climb in 1:48:27, don't be surprised if it takes twice that time for you or me.
At this point you can turn, you can continue to the Alpine Visitor Center another few miles west, or turn it into a day-long epic by riding all the way to Grand Lake and back, a 90-plus mile round rip.
These are just a mere five choices for rides in the Estes Park area. A rider can make any of them longer or shorter. There is no limit to the riding if a rider has some imagination and fitness. Regardless of which way you choose, be safe. Wear a helmet and bring food water and a rain jacket. Weather can change quickly and it is no fun getting caught out in the cold rain. Let someone know where you plan to ride and carry an ID of some sort. Be careful and have fun!
Walt Hester is a photojournalist and writer, as well as cycling enthusiast, who has lived in Estes Park since 2000. You can read other work of his in the Estes Park Trail-Gazette, eptrail.com, or his own blog at WaltOutWest.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.