Crawford Gulch Loop & Mountain Base Loop
Between highway 93 in Golden and Colorado 119 (Peak to Peak Highway) lies some of the best hill riding Colorado has to offer. The standard route in most guidebooks is a simple out and back from Golden, or more specifically from the intersection of highway 93 and Golden Gate Canyon Rd. And its a good route, with 3 long climbs of 6.7, 3.6, and 5 miles. The second climb, though the shortest, steepens to almost 14% as it nears the top. This also marks the line between Jefferson and Gilpin counties. The return is mostly a long descent, with two short but steep climbs to slow you down. Traffic intensity can be high on Golden Gate Rd and CO 46. The road traverses eastern Gilpin and western Jefferson counties and is a major east-wet connector as well as the primary access to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. On a busy weekend, make it a point to get out early to avoid the crush. If you don’t start in town, park on Golden Gate Rd just west of the Highway 93 junction. If you need quick refueling, there’s a 7-11 at 93 and Washington St, just before the turn off to park.
My favorite alternative to the standard out and back is the Crawford Gulch Loop, with or without an additional 14 miles along the Mountain Base Loop. As an aside, this chunk of road between Golden Gate Canyon Rd and the Park Visitor Center is sometimes also known as Drew Hill Road or Ralston Creek Rd. Crawford Gulch Rd, which spurs off at mile 4, takes you away from the traffic on Golden Gate Rd in favor of superb views to the east and north, and includes a 4 mile jaunt along the remote, southeast edge of the Golden Gate State Park. The steeps are significant: the maximum ascent logs in at 12% and there is a challenging descent on dirt at 19%.
Climb gently and then sharply for 9 miles along Golden Gate Rd and Crawford Gulch Rd, which breaks away to the north at mile 4. A short, steep descent at mile 6 provides some relief. At mile 8, pavement yields to macadam and dirt, but it should present no great trouble to the careful rider. Descend 1.5 miles on dirt to enter Golden Gate State Park, where the pavement resumes. This is the most technically difficult stretch, at an average of 9%, with many portions approaching 20% slope. Shift your hips well back, ride slowly, and use your front brake at least as much as your back brake to take you safely to the wooded road along Ralston Creek. Begin a moderate, 4 mile climb mostly through the park. Look left through the willows, just before rejoining Golden Gate Rd for the Golden Gate State Park Visitor Center, open 8-5, where you will find shelter, water, bathrooms, and pay parking for your car. This is a good place to park if you want to avoid the crush of traffic sometimes found on Golden Gate Rd, if you want to ride the Mountain Base Loop, through the park, or to access the Peak to Peak Highway. Unless you are headed further west or retracing your path along Drew Hill Road, head east along Golden Gate Rd to return home. Two significant but relatively short climbs await you. The first is 1.5 miles long and saves it steepest sections (12.5%) for the last 200 yards. After a blazing 4 mile descent, you’ll climb again, 1 mile, up a winding canyon wall. A final 7 mile descent will bring you back to the parking area at CO 93 and Golden Gate Rd.
The recommended direction on the Crawford Gulch Loop is counterclockwise: the 1.5 mile ascent out of Ralston Creek on a steep dirt road has bruised many a fragile cycling ego. It is remote back there–carry adequate tubes, air, water, and food.
Mountain Base Loop
Not for the faint of heart, this route begins from the Golden Gate State Park visitor center and can be ridden as a short loop or as a challenging addition to Crawford Gulch or Central City loops. Ride it counterclockwise if you really love steep climbs, clockwise if you want your elevation gain spaced out over a longer distance. Start either way from the Golden Gate State Park Visitor Center, open 8-5, near the intersection of CO 46 and Crawford Gulch Rd. Be sure to call ahead early season if you’re hoping to ride Mountain Base: sometimes it does not open until mid-April or later. There’s pay parking here and restrooms if you need them, but nothing in the way of food or refreshments. You’ll have a short warm-up from the visitor center to the turnoff to Mountain Base Rd. As you approach, ominous signs will warn you of the folly of your task. “Beware,” they say, “19% grade ahead.” Press on. A couple of big rollers will help you warm up further before the main event: .8 miles averaging 11% with a maximum that comes close to 20%. The good news is that the views west and east will distract you and there’s not a lot of traffic to contend with on this narrow road. At Gap Rd go left and ride for 1 mile on good, firm dirt to CO 119, a/k/a the Peak-to-Peak Highway. It will loop you back around to CO 46 and has a good shoulder the whole way. The descent back to the visitor center is fast and curvy.
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