Colorado Classic High Country
Explosions of wildflowers, alpine vistas, passes exceeding 12,000 feet in elevation, and iconic Colorado mountain towns — this tour has them all. We’ll start in Summit County’s Dillon, embarking on a counterclockwise loop that takes in Hot Sulphur Springs, North Park, Steamboat Springs, State Bridge, Glenwood Springs, Aspen, and Leadville.
We’ve arranged for you to enjoy layover days in a pair of North America’s premier winter- and summer-recreation meccas, Steamboat Springs and Glenwood Springs. We’ll summit a total of four high-mountain passes — Willow Creek, Rabbit Ears, Independence, and Fremont — and visit hot springs in two towns along the way. Although we’ll camp most nights and share in the cooking and other group duties, the Adventure Cycling van will be there to do the heavy lifting, permitting us to tackle the hills and valleys almost load-free.
"This was my first organized biking trip as well as my first camping experience, and all round it was a very good experience. You must be doing lots right!"
Day 1. Dillon, Colorado, 0 miles
We'll gather in the town of Dillon, in the recreation hotbed of Summit County, where the leaders will conduct an orientation meeting, filling us in on ride logistics, cooking rotations, the route, and more. Plenty of diversions are at hand if you arrive early including exploring the Dillon Reservoir and the many recreational opportunities it provides.
Day 2. Dillon to Hot Sulphur Springs, 60 miles
We'll head out early in the morning for our destination of Hot Sulphur Springs, where we'll stay near the hot springs resort. The first 40 miles of the ride follow a stretch of the TransAmerica Trail, so don't be surprised to see some loaded, road-toughened, cross-country riders who are near the halfway point of their journey regardless of which direction they're going. To the west, we can savor views of the sky-scratching peaks of the Gore Range and its protected Eagles Nest Wilderness. After arriving in Hot Sulphur Springs, we can soak away that first-day-in-the-saddle muscle soreness in the town's namesake naturally heated waters.
Day 3. Hot Sulphur Springs to Walden, 61 miles
After riding east for a few miles on US 40, we'll turn north onto the largely deserted State Highway 125 to inch our way up Willow Creek Pass. From there we'll zoom down into the high-elevation basin known as North Park. Approaching the dusty Old West town of Walden, we'll skirt the Arapahoe National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1967 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in part to compensate for lost migratory waterfowl nesting habitat in the prairie wetlands of the Midwest. More than 200 species of birds have been recorded in the refuge's mix of riparian, meadow, wetland, and sagebrush steppe habitats.
Day 4. Walden to Steamboat Springs, 63 miles
Today we'll flirt once again with the TransAmerica Trail as we ride southwest on State Highway 14. At the first major intersection since leaving Walden, right at Muddy Pass, we'll steer back onto US 40, following it up and over Rabbit Ears Pass and down into Ski Town, USA, a.k.a. Steamboat Springs, our home for two nights.
Day 5. Layover day in Steamboat Springs, 0 miles
Ski Town, USA, could just as well be called Mountain Bike Town, USA, as the fat-tire riding opportunities stretch away in every direction -- and they even include the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which runs right through Steamboat. But if you'd rather not rent a mountain bike and instead make a true rest day of it, there's a ton of other stuff to do. You could go to the top of Mount Werner in the ski area's eight-passenger gondola, visit Howelsen Hill (the "town hill") and ride the 2,400-foot Howler Alpine Slide, treat yourself to a massage at one of Steamboat's numerous spas, or sit and sip and people watch downtown at Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill. And who knows, we might even ride up the hill to Strawberry Park Hot Springs.
Day 6. Steamboat Springs to State Bridge, 63 miles
Today's route is most interesting, as we make our way south to and through a string of tiny dots on the map known as Yampa, Toponas, McCoy, and Bond. We'll end our ride at State Bridge, situated right on the Colorado River. A popular rafting spot, State Bridge is a fun place to spend the night, and we'll feel like we are away from it all.
Day 7. State Bridge to Glenwood Springs, 60 miles
More hot springs -- in fact, the world's largest hot springs pool -- await us at today's destination. Oh darn! We'll continue south for 15 miles before hanging a right to negotiate the Interstate 70 corridor, where much of the riding takes place on the popular Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path, squeezed between the interstate and the Colorado River. Glenwood Hot Springs has been attracting visitors from across the globe since 1888 -- and even before that, the region's Ute Indians and other native peoples no doubt availed themselves of the area's waters heated courtesy of Mother Nature.
Day 8. Layover day in Glenwood Springs, 0 miles
There's plenty to do and see, and also plenty of places to hang out and do nothing in Glenwood Springs, named one of the most walkable towns in America. Spend time in the Glenwood Hot Springs pool, the world's largest mineral springs pool, or hit the Colorado River on a rafting trip. You might even consider taking a hike to Hanging Lake just east of town, one of the most popular hiking destinations in Colorado. With so many options, it will be hard to choose!
Day 9. Glenwood Springs to Aspen, 50 miles
Today we'll make our way from Glenwood Springs to Aspen by way of the Rio Grande Trail. This stellar rail trail follows the course of the Roaring Fork River along State Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, passing through Carbondale, Basalt, and Snowmass as it goes. Once we reach the famous ski town of Aspen, which began life as a silver mining boomtown, on this relatively short riding day, we'll get to explore a bustling scene in a remote location under the shadow of the Sawatch Range and Elk Mountains.
Day 10. Aspen to Leadville, 53 miles
Today we'll gain -- and earn -- our independence as we navigate one of the most scenically stunning roadways in North America, which crests at 12,095-foot Independence Pass. While a rudimentary wagon road over the pass opened way back in 1881, the paving of the road wasn't completed until 1967. How many mountain passes can claim a nonprofit foundation? The mission of the Independence Pass Foundation is "to promote the ecological, historical, and aesthetic integrity of the Independence Pass corridor and to encourage enjoyment, safety, and appreciation of the pass." On the other side of the summit, sitting at the rarified elevation of 10,152 feet (making it the highest incorporated city in the U.S.), is Leadville, which is about as different from Aspen as Mayberry is from New York City. Well, that may be an exaggeration because Leadville also started life as a center for the silver-mining trade. The community's grandiose Tabor Opera House, built in 1879, and the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum are a pair of sites worth seeing while you're in town. We'll camp tonight next to the headwaters of the Arkansas River.
Day 11. Leadville to Dillon, 39 miles
Today we'll regain Dillon by way of another Continental Divide crossing at 11,318-foot Fremont Pass, named for the early explorer John C. Fremont. On meeting up once again with Interstate 70, we'll follow the Frisco/Vail Pass Bike Trail back to our point of origin, brimming with tales of silver miners in mind and flash disks full of images of some of Colorado's most spectacular high country.