Top Ten U.S. Road Biking Routes
|Rocky Mountain National Park (Corel)|
If you tell anyone that you are going to Colorado, the assumption is that you are headed straight for the mountains. Usually, this is not incorrect. With the Continental Divide loping nonchalantly across the state following range after range of 10,000+-foot peaks, there is little chance that the eastern plains are what's drawing you in. Well, why should you be different from anyone else? Besides, for the gluttonous among us, Colorado offers opportunities to tackle climbs not often found elsewhere in the United States.
The Peak to Peak Highway in the Arapaho National Forest runs for 55 miles from just outside of Boulder to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. With panoramic views out to mountains and dramatic fall foliage colors, this highway glides through nature as well as historic former mining communities with preserved period architecture. The road's average elevation is greater than 9,000 feet and will give the unacclimatized a taste of the challenge faced by hasty covered-wagon pioneers skeedaddling west before the snows caught them mid-mountain.
The town of Ward is pretty much the high point of the route, with Nederland to the south and Estes Park to the north the "low" points. Thus it doesn't really matter how you tackle the ride: You are in for hills regardless. From Boulder, give a thought to following the farmland side roads (not busy Route 36, although it does have a wide shoulder) as far as Lyons and then heading west over to Estes Park (some tough hills). (If you have plenty of time, you might consider a round trip from Estes Park on the Trail Ridge Road—the highest through-highway in United States—through Rocky Mountain National Park. Caution: Do NOT try this until you know what you are getting into!).
From Estes Park turn south on Route 7 and begin the climb up to what makes the Peak to Peak what it is. If you want to cut your trip short, head back to Boulder via Lyons on Route 7 or drop down to Pleasant Valley and then climb up to Ward (a long 10+-mile hill). Onward to Nederland and then out of the hills back to Boulder. Remember that cycling on 6W is not allowed, so if you go as far as the end of the Peak to Peak (at Black Hawk), make sure you have a ride home.
There are plenty of ways to extend the scope of this route or to shorten it, or even to ignore it completely and try other scenic routes in the area. Make sure you get a good map and study the options. Knowing the elevations will help!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication