The next time you find yourself bored with whatever your standard route is around the Lookout Mountain area, check out the Grapevine Loop. It’s got great aesthetics, challenging hills, serious remoteness for being so close to I-70, and bomber descents. Many variations are possible. I’ve shown it here the way I discovered it, as a counterclockwise loop from Golden. I have a slight preference for counterclockwise because it means you are descending Highway 74 and the Genesee roads (Trail and Ridge)–and I like that better than having cars whizzing by me while I’m plugging along at 10 mph uphill. But you’ll see lots of cyclists coming up 74 from Morrison en route to Kittredge and Evergreen, so it is not all bad to go clockwise. If you are in a hurry, skip Mt Vernon Rd and drop directly down to I-70 from Lookout Mountain Road via Charros or Paradise roads. Both will put you near Exit 256 and the beginning of Grapevine Rd. Another challenging option is to ride down to 74 then turn around and ride back up. There are definitely some steep spots, and the dirt road can be tricky, but there’s rarely much traffic and you can use the whole road if you need to. Finally, you can also skip the Shingle Creek and Lininger Loop section, especially if short, super-steep hills intimidate you.
Start this one in or near Golden. You can ride in from the east or drive out and find ample parking at Ulysses Park, Beverly Heights Park, or almost anywhere along Illinois St. On the weekends there’s also easy parking in and around the Jefferson County Justice Center Complex. Make your way up Lookout Mountain. For extra climbing points, take the optional detour up to the Nature Center before dropping back down to Lookout Mtn Rd. Ride along to Mt Vernon Rd, climbing steeply but briefly to the high point of the ride at 7,837 feet. The red barn is the conic marker here. Cross I-70 at Exit 254 and head down the frontage road, stopping if you’re inclined or in need at the espresso shop or bike store conveniently located here. It is around four miles to Grapevine Road, all of downhill save a short stretch linking Genesee Trail and Genesee Ridge roads. At the stop sign near exit 256 ride east. Grapevine Rd begins here. A swooping right turn brings you to Shingle Creek Rd. Go right for some extra climbing, go straight to stay with Grapevine. If you head up the Lininger Loop, know that clockwise is steeper than counter-clockwise. This is a pretty remote part of the development, so respect the residents’ privacy by neither clustering loudly at the top of the Loop nor leaving your trash behind. Return to Grapevine Rd and climb south.
Shortly after the Shingle Creek junction, Grapevine’s pavement begins to deteriorate and eventually turns into a full on dirt road. After the high point you’ll encounter a cattle guard, some interesting dirt switchbacks, and yet another cattle guard. Whatever else you might do on a cattle guard, don’t stop and try to put your foot down. Just keep going. And keep going straight! Admire the views in all directions. Two-thirds of the way down, the road becomes paved again. Follow it to Highway 74. Ride down to Morrison, about 3.5 miles. Look for Red Rocks entrance #3 just outside Morrison. Turn left. Climb sharply up to the south parking area of the amphitheater along Ship Rock Road. Jog around the amphitheater to Trading Post Road, then exit the park at Highway 93, crossing over to Alameda Parkway to climb up and over the car-free Dinosaur Ridge. After where you’ve been, this short climb is a piece of cake. Find Rooney Road on the east side of Dinosaur Ridge and head north, crossing I-70 (under it) and US 40 (at the traffic light), and locate the bicycle trail that sits in the shadow of C-470 just after the junction of Rooney Rd and US 40. From the light look for the sidewalk on the north side of US 40. Cross 6th Avenue to reach Johnson Rd and make your way back to your parking place. With FasTracks construction in full bloom, the Golden Bike Trial between Johnson Rd and Jefferson County Parkway has been disrupted. Use the west sidewalk along Johnson Rd or ride directly on Johnson Rd.
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.
Once you’ve mastered Lookout Mountain, conquered the Nature Center and Mt Vernon Country Club, and overcome the final 1/2 mile dirt climb up Genesee Mountain, you’ll be ready for the Giro di Genesee, a 36 mile rollicking, frolicking, tour of the best that the Genesee area has to offer. The GG differs from the Genesee Mountain Loop in two important particulars. It adds a tremendous set of steep rollers in the quiet, far south of the development, along Foothills and Montane Drives, and for the climber within, it offers one of the best short steep climbs in the Front Range, the Lininger Loop.
Start somewhere in Golden, along Illinois St, at Ulysses Park, or even at Lookout Mountain itself. The possibilities and permutations of this ride are endless. Ride up Lookout, pass by the Nature Center, wave to the tennis players at Mt Vernon Country Club, and snort at the bison in Genesee Mountain Park as you climb to the top and enjoy the views to the west of Mt Evans. From here, make a long descent along the Genesee Trail Rd and climb briefly to a high point on Genesee Vista Rd. 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. Within the Genesee development, the route finding can be tricky, but only because the names are so similar: Genesee Trail Rd to Genesee Vista Rd to Foothills Dr N and S, to Montane Dr W and E and finally back to Genesee Ridge Rd. The trickiest turn for me in my earliest ventures here was from Genesee Vista Rd to Foothills Dr N–it comes up on you quickly on a fast, sweeping descent. If your spirits or your energy flag en route, there are a couple of shortcuts to relief: from G Trail Rd to G Ridge Rd (shown in red); from G Vista Rd to G Ridge Rd; and from Foothills Dr N back to G Vista Rd. The Foothills Dr and Montane Dr sections of the Giro face south and look down into the Bear Creek watershed–the views are spectacular.
A fast descent brings you to I-70 and exit 256. From here, choose to return to the Lookout Mountain area and Golden by riding up Paradise Rd (a better way than the traditional Paradise to Charros that all the cars take) or head out to the little-known Lininger Loop, best ridden clockwise to get the most out of the steep climbing found there. From the stop sign at exit 256 follow Grapevine Rd to Shingle Creek Rd, then Lininger Dr up and around to Winston and Hagler drives.
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.
What do you do when you’re over Lookout Mountain, when you’re ready for more? Something longer, steeper, and harder. Lookout is the pre- and post-work standard for many in the Golden area and frequently they tack on a loop down to US 40 and and a steep ascent back up Paradise and Charros Roads to Lookout Mountain Rd. That makes it a respectable ride. But wait, there’s more. The Genesee Mountain Loop takes you up and over Lookout Mountain, skims by Mt Vernon Country Club, then climbs up behind Denver’s famous buffalo herd and tops out on Genesee Mountain at 8,235 feet with a short stretch of dirt. A bomber descent and a ticket up Paradise Rd finish things off.
There are multiple starting places for the Genesee Mountain Loop: in Golden or anywhere along the Golden Bike Trail (head to and then west on 19th St), at Beverly Heights Park (parking and Porta-Potties available), and even along I-70, between US 40 and the highway near exit 256, or even at the Hogback Park-n-Ride lots along the Hogback Ridge.On Sundays when things around the courthouse are not busy, I like to start there, usually parking near the Jefferson County Open Space building between Illinois St and 10th Ave on Jefferson County Parkway. I don’t know if its truly legal but nobody’s ever harassed me there. Starting from anywhere but Beverly Heights Park gives you some warm up time before you start climbing. The map here and following description assumes you’ll be starting from Golden or Beverly Heights Park.
The best (and worst) thing about the initial climb up to Lookout Mountain is the sheer amount of activity you’ll see in all directions. There are motos, scooters, hang gliders, long boarders, joggers, mountain bikers, hikers, dogs, roadside deer, pickup trucks, and small fast cars out practicing their handling skills. Get a drink at the top (you’re mostly surrounded by JeffCo open space) and move on. Head southwest briefly along Lookout Mountain Rd then go right on Colorow Rd to climb some more, up to the Nature Center and Boettcher Mansion. Loop back briefly to Lookout Mountain Rd, then leave it behind as you climb up Mt Vernon Rd. There’s some good steep stretches through here, together with hordes of tennis players and herds of elk. When you see the bright red barn in the distance you’ll have reached the top.
Drop sharply south to I-70, cross the highway, and go right at the T. Climb to Genesee Mountain through the pine forest. The road is narrow but there’s not a lot of traffic here. On early summer mornings there are usually more elk around than people. Admire the views from the top. Reverse direction. 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. Fly down to I-70 and keep moving east along Genesee Trail Rd. This is one of the main arterials for the Genesee area but you’ll be going so fast that few cars will need or want to to pass you. Wind around and then slightly up to Genesee Vista Rd and finally to Genesee Ridge Rd. The Ridge Rd is a bomber descent. Frequently there’s a JeffCo sheriff lurking in the shadows just around the corner, but they are usually after bigger game than you.
Return to Golden by crossing I-70 and climbing sharply back to Lookout Mountain Rd on Paradise Rd. Most bikes (and cars) tend to follow the sign that says, “This way to Lookout Mountain.” It leads you quickly up via Charros Rd. But there’s a better way that avoids the narrow, cramped Charros Rd. Ignore the sign. Stay on Paradise Rd. Or jump onto Lamb Ln. Either way, you’ll get back to Lookout Mountain Rd and you avoid the traffic intensity found along Charros Rd. A short jaunt along Lookout Mountain Rd will bring you back to Buffalo Bill’s grave and the final descent back to Golden.