Small Ring Loop
This is another of the truly great loop rides Denverites have in their backyard. In terms of overall aesthetic quality, the Small Ring Loop ranks way high on my fun-meter, especially so since it traverse so much terrain–everything from Lookout Mountain to Red Rocks Park and nearly everything in between, including Kittridge, Bergen Park, Morrison, a trio of gulches, and two country clubs. A two mile stretch on the I-70 shoulder and a 1/4 mile stretch on and across US 285 are probably the only serious negatives. It rides well in both directions, though I confess to preferring to ride it counterclockwise. I’d rather come down Deer Creek Canyon than ride up, I prefer to ride Highway 8 into Morrison (it is downhill) than to ride out, and I love the steep climb up into Red Rocks from Highway 74 from Entrance #3. But that’s just personal preference. Ride it and find out for yourself. The route-finding through the Ken Caryl development can be tortuous, but it is hard to go too far awry–if you keep going generally north or south, you’ll come out OK. I’ve included a detailed map of the area below that you can tuck in your jersey to help you along.
Start this one anywhere on the loop or just off it. I’ve shown a few obvious starting places like Ulysses and Beverly Heights Park, Lookout Mountain, and South Valley Park, but the access to the loop is unlimited. There’s also a Park n Ride just east of Morrison and there’s always room at the bottom of Deer Creek Canyon Rd near Chatfield Reservoir. I like to start at Ulysses Park, near 10th and Ulysses just east of the Taj Mahal
in Golden. It allows a short warmup before heading up Lookout Mountain. Once you’ve topped out there, head on over to I-70 and Exit 254. You can optionally avoid the worst of the traffic by sneaking up through the Nature Center and there’s some good short steeps awaiting you along the Mt Vernon Rd, home to the eponymous Mt Vernon Country Club. You’ll see the tennis courts as you climb the first steep grade. At exit 254 join the cars on the interstate. If you’ve got mechanical troubles or just need a pick-me-up, drop into Foothills Ski & Bike or the Buffalo Moon Coffee Shop, both just up the hill from Exit 254 near the Chart House. There’s no real trick to riding along the interstate–you just need to pay attention. Stay to the right side of the shoulder and avoid as much debris as you can. There’s an intermediate exit in between 254 and 252 to Chief Hosa. Ignore it.
Exit to the Evergreen Parkway and climb up through the traffic to an uncontrolled left turn (i.e. no traffic light) onto Kerr Gulch Rd. The stretch along the Parkway can be tight at times, but with some heads up peddling you should be fine. Kerr Gulch is the second left after the traffic light. Once you are on Kerr Gulch Rd, you’ll be in another world. The houses start out all high and mighty near the top and dissolve into a sort of decaying squalor as you approach Highway 74. The road mimics the surroundings and the last mile or so is rough and narrow. Turn right, uphill, to reach Kittridge, then left to ride gulch number two, Meyers, a short, steep pitch of just two miles. If you are totally whipped at this point in the ride, just point your bike downhill from Kittredge and ride Highway 74 east to Morrison, cuting off something like 25 miles of the ride. A gentle descent of four miles down Parmalee Gulch Rd brings you to US 285. Jump on 285 by going left initially. Follow the signs to Fairplay, not Denver. Here you have to make a decision: either ride 1/4 mile on US 285 and exit across 285 to S. Turkey Creek Rd (as you did on Evergreen Pkwy) or ride 2 miles on the shoulder to the N. Turkey Creek Rd Exit, which swings under 285 and thereby avoids having to cross the highway. Your choice: 1/2 mile and left or two miles and under. I much prefer the short jaunt, a quick scan backwards and the left hand turn. There’s a dedicated turn lane so it is easy to jump across, pause, get your bearings, and then make a bee-line to the other side. The Deer Creek Century understandably routes you along the shoulder but the traffic is rarely so heavy through here that you cannot safely cross. And if you are coming from the other direction, you don’t have a choice: get on 285 just past Tiny Town and exit at Parmalee Gulch by using the dedicated turn lane.
From 285 to S Deer Creek Canyon Rd is a fine stretch. Aside from the almost 19th century quaintness of Tiny Town, there’s not much here beyond good bucolic cycling. At the Fire Station turn left to make a short, 200′ climb up Deer Creek Canyon Rd, then check your tire pressure for the long descent to S. Valley Rd. On most weekends, you’ll see lots of cyclists along here. Don’t miss the left hand turn to S. Valley Rd. If you are accustomed to the full Deer Creek descent to Platte Canyon Rd, the turn can come up on you pretty fast. Climb up Valley Rd to Valley Parkway, and join up with N. Ranch Rd to make your way through the heart of the Ken Caryl development. Mostly stick to the main road and you’ll be fine, except for a crucial link between the Ken Caryl development and the Willow Springs area. From N. Ranch Rd go left to Black Bear Ln or Golden Eagle Ln. Both take you where you need to go: a narrow, chained-off fire lane between Wilow Springs Rd and Golden Eagle Ln. The first time I made my way through here, it was an unrideable gravel passage. It is better now, but the exit onto Willow Springs may still make you hop off your bike. (As an aside, if all this route-finding is boggling your mind, it is always an option to go slightly further east (from Deer Creek, Ken Caryl or even Belleview) to the C-470 Trail and make your way north back to Golden that way!)
Now the fun begins. Follow Willow Springs through one of the coolest looking golf courses in Colorado to Belleview Ave and then west and north to US 285 (again!). This will be fast. A short, steep climb brings you to Highway 8 and, in two miles, to Morrison. Get refreshments, if you need them, in Morrison, then go west a short stretch on Highway 74 to the #3 Entrance to Red Rocks Park. A really steep climb
will take you up, to, and through the Park and out the other side, to Entrance #1. Cross the road to Dinosaur Ridge. Go north along Rooney and Johnson Rds and you’re back where you started. The only tricky part along here is finding the bike by-pass between Colfax and 6ht Ave. From the traffic light at Rooney Rd and Colfax Ave, look northeast. You’ll see the trail just to the left and in the shadow of the C-470 overpass.
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