Written by Alchemy’s custom bike painter, Phil Harwood.
Do you have a road ride bucket list? If so, making a trip out to Colorado should be your top priority (if you’re not lucky enough to live here).
Our state has some of the best road riding in the world, especially in the summer months when the snow melts off the high-elevation, less-travelled tarmac.
While there are many famed routes that riders from all over the country are itching to check off their list, there are also many less-obvious choices that offer just as much natural beauty, high-elevation climbing, and feelings of accomplishment when you’re done.
Here are our five favorite underrated road bike routes in Colorado.
1. Fall River Road at St Mary’s Glacier
Fall River Road is located near Idaho Springs, and this route would be much more popular if it were easier to access.
To ride it, you either need to park at the base of the road, or ride along the shoulder of I-70 from Idaho Springs. This is legal, but can be a little dicey because of car traffic.
The climb is just about ten miles from bottom to top. It rates as a Cat 1, and features steep grades of 18%, big towering switchbacks, and amazing views of the Continental Divide and the valley below as you ascend.
The road tops out just above ten thousand feet. If you keep riding past the often-crowded trail head for the St Mary’s Glacier hike, you end up at picturesque Silver Lake (featured image above). This is a great place to rest your legs and soak in the view before descending back down.
Fall River Road is usually an out-and-back ride, although the more adventurous riders can loop from Idaho Springs. But beware — after coming down, you have to continue west on I-70 to Dumont, where you can exit and cross over the interstate to a much more enjoyable creek-side ride, Route 40, back to Idaho Springs.
2. Witter Gulch
Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado, is probably the most famous climb in the Front Range. But in my opinion, the real hidden gem is Witter Gulch in Evergreen.
While both are similar in length at 4.5 miles, Witter Gulch starts at a much higher elevation, has steeper pitches, climbs 500 feet more, and tops out at over 9,000 feet!
Not to mention this road has more than twice as many switchbacks — and far less traffic.
That said, Witter Gulch is a much more difficult ride than Lookout Mountain. But the logistics of riding it are pretty simple.
It’s easily accessible as a loop from downtown Evergreen, or a big day out from the Denver metro. Bonus points if you detour past the start of the climb to check out Willie Nelson's former ranch property on Bear Creek!
3. Cottonwood Pass
Located about 2.5 hours from the Denver metro area, the Cottonwood Pass ride is worth the drive. It’s a great 20-mile climb to the pass from Buena Vista, out and back up a windy high-alpine road with amazing views of the Collegiate Peaks.
The Cottonwood road crosses the Continental Divide at the pass. The road is in great shape, and is a blast to descend back to Buena Vista.
Buena Vista is probably the most underrated mountain town in the state because it has no ski industry. But cool breweries like Eddyline and hot springs like Mt. Princeton make this a great place to spend the weekend riding, then relaxing afterward.
Of note: Cottonwood Pass just reopened all the way to Almont on the west side, so traffic is sure to increase as more high-altitude roads open up throughout the summer. Be prepared!
4. Guanella Pass
Guanella Pass runs north to south from Georgetown to Grant, Colorado.
The great thing about Guanella Pass is that there’s nothing on this road except hiking and camping. This means there’s usually less traffic than some of the other high-alpine climbs.
It’s also closed to car traffic in the winter, so the best time to ride it are the days just before the gate opens!
Climbing from the south, the road is a bit steadier and features big sweeping turns. From the Georgetown side, the climb is steeper, with tighter switchbacks.
Overall, Guanella is an awesome ride because it’s challenging and tops out above the tree line at 11,600 feet, offering great views of the 14er Mt. Bierstadt. Georgetown is a fun place to finish the ride due to the abundance of breweries and great food. In fact, Guanella Pass Brewery sits right at the base of the climb — good marketing!
The Grant side doesn’t have much in the way of services, so I usually start there, refuel in Georgetown, and ride back over when I’m finished. It's a bit much to ride it both ways in one ride (both climbs are rated hors catégorie), but it’s probably the best way to experience this absolute gem of a ride!
5. DIA Loop
Okay, this route is a little different that you’d expect, but it’s actually quite popular among small groups of friends looking to get out on the plains and squeeze in some power training.
This loop takes cyclists east out of downtown Denver, past the Denver International Airport (to the north) and the smaller Front Range Airport (to the east) before heading back west into town.
It's a flat-to-lightly-rolling ride. If you're pressed for time, take a right on Picadilly Road to cut down on the distance.
I advise using the app Strava for the route. The challenge isn’t that there are so many turns on the route — it’s just if you get off course, it can take a while to get back on track.
The ride itself can be hot and windy during the summers, and features miles of arrow-straight, gently-rolling, empty gravel farm-roads. There's not much out here in the way of services, so pack extra tubes and lots of water!
Visit Us At Alchemy
So there you have it. My five favorite underrated road bike trails in Colorado.
Of course if you make it to Colorado, don’t forget to visit our headquarters in Denver, where we design and craft custom road bikes, carbon fiber road bikes, and titanium road bikes. We have a full showroom and can take you on a factory tour, where you can catch me painting your next dream bike.
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For over a decade, Alchemy has built a reputation on hand-building carbon and titanium dream bikes in Denver, Colorado. And while Alchemy continues to receive accolades for crafting carbon bikes in the US, our painting capabilities make us one of the most unique and sought-after bike designers in the world. Find out more about our painting capabilities by reading our latest journal post. Link in our bio. . . . #road #denver #colorado #madeintheusa #denvermade #alchemypaint