I am happy to announce the publication of my new bicycle map for the Denver Metro Region. With more than 600 miles of trails, 40 distinct trail systems, it’s color-coded so you can see if you’ll be on a paved surface (red), a dirt trail (brown) or a bike-friendly surface street (blue) to link different trail systems up. The front side is the metro region (Superior to Parker, Commerce City to Chatfield Reservoir) and the reverse side has 6 detailed maps of places you’ll want to ride, including the four main reservoirs (Chatfield, Cherry Creek, Aurora, and Bear Creek), the south end of the Cherry Creek Trail, and Horseshoe Park in Aurora. Waterproof and tear proof. Get ’em while they’re (and it’s still) hot, $12.95. Find it at Tattered Cover (all three stores), Evo-Edgeworks, Turin Bikes, Big Ring Cycles, and the Golden Bike Shop. The QR code on the map links you to a digital version you can use with your smartphone and the map app from Anveza Maps, $5.99. Happy Trails to all.
This one rides better than it reads. In fact the real knock on this route is that it is hard to figure out some times if you are on the right trail segment or not. Mostly, this is a signage problem, as in the City of Aurora is doing a terrible job labeling and signing their trails. It is really that bad and really that simple. But first, a few general thoughts on access and the ride character. I usually ride this clockwise and like heading out 7th Ave east across Colorado Blvd then continuing on 6th Avenue to Uinta St. Sixth Ave is not everyone’s cup of tea so feel free to ride east on 7th Ave instead. This ride takes you way out east, past all of the suburban sprawl, to a point where you can see the plains and nothing beyond them (at least if you look in the right direction). If you look to the northeast from Plains Park, you can also see the giant white bubbles that mark Buckley Air Force Base’s electronic monitoring stations. The dirt trail along the Plains Conservation Center is tricky in a few places but worth the extra effort. There are a few spots to pay attention, especially where the signage is inadeqaute.
Working clockwise, the exit from the High Line Canal to Toll Gate Creek Trail isn’t obvious. You’ll have passed under Chambers Rd, passed by an old historic farm, crossed over the High Line Canal and poof! there it will be. Look left, cross down and under Alameda Ave, and all will be well.
After that you’ll be riding south on Toll Gate. You’ll come into Horseshoe Park and will need to ride east on Powerline Trail. Your clue for when to turn is the power lines themselves. Look for them! They’re big and tall and hard to miss. Keep riding east.
You’ll eventually come to a park with a playground. Work your way around to the west side and you’ll have a choice of a dirt trail or a paved trail. Both are fun. If you ride the dirt, it stops (and you should, too) at Hampden. Ride the sidewalk east to Skills Park, and go north through the park then angle left onto a (you guessed it) No Name Trail. Crazy, isn’t it? No wonder they cannot stick a sign in the ground. If you are riding the paved trail, look for the no name trail angling sharply off to the right. Follow it to West Toll Gate Creek Trail back to Horseshoe Park and from there ride home the way you came or head southwest to Cherry Creek Reservoir. Alternately, there’s a short stretch of West Toll Gate Creek Trail that leads south to Dartmouth Ave if you’re interested in some of Aurora’s finest on-street riding.
If you’ve made it back to Horseshoe Park and want to ride the full loop, all you have to do is figure out how to get out and south the Spillway Trail. It is not easy, but well worth it, if only to try to imagine what kind of cataclysmic event it would take for the spillway to ever come into play. And if you can imagine that, what would Horseshoe Park look like under that much water? The map below probably explains the route and route finding difficulties better than I can, so take a look and give it a try. The neighborhoods just south of Horseshoe are not super busy, so even if you are off route somehow, nothing ugly is going to happen. Once you’re on the Spillway Trail, the only remaining obstacles are the several at-grade crossings just north of the park. Use the crosswalks, be patient, and all will be well.
One final note. I’ve shown this as a kind of open-jawed route with access from the north along 11th Ave to CU Medical School and the Anschutz Medical Plaza and from the south through the reservoir and from Denver along the Cherry Creek Trail. Rding in from northwest Aurora to Southwest Aurora is a tale of two cities (almost). The contrast is stark between the older and seemingly less affluent northwest and the suburban southwest. It is one of those things that makes riding a bicycle so interesting–there’s no screen between you and the world around you.
This loop is accessible from multiple major points: Stapleton, Lowry, central Denver, the Highline Canal, and the Cherry Creek Trail. It also gives riders a great opportunity to ride through parts of Aurora that see little cycle traffic and thus to get some relief from the crowding on the Cherry Creek and Platte River Trails. The maps shows the multiple entry points possible to the loop, including brand new connections from the Stapleton area between 26th and 25th avenues.Navigationally, there are a few tricky spots, especially as you make your way from Iliff south to the Cherry Creek Trail. These maps and photos will make it easier.
If you are coming or going from the Stapleton area, the route between Montview Blvd/25th Avenue and Sable Blvd at 13th Ave is pretty straightforward. The Denver portion of Montview has a dedicated bike lane that disappears at the Aurora/Denver border, at Yosemite St. I recommend using 25th Ave to ride between Clinton St and Peoria St. The traffic intensity is lower and the views are better. Once you’ve gotten to Fitzsimmons Parkway near the Anschutz Medical Center, cross over Sand Creek on a bridge just east of the golf course to reach 29th Ave and Sable Blvd. A small amount of dirt (crusher fines) is involved. And if you are coming from Stapleton and are looking for a slightly shorter approach to and from the loop, use Moline St between 25th Ave and 2nd Ave with a jog west to Lima St to reach 1st Ave and the loop itself.
If you riding from Denver, 6th Ave is a great, if surprising choice, between Colorado Blvd and Uinta St. There’s a narrow parking lane in this stretch, but I suspect it is so narrow that most people are reluctant to park in it and it becomes a good de facto bike lane instead. Once you’ve worked your way through the Lowry neighborhood leave Lowry Parkway at Yosemite Way and work you way east and south to Moline and then Lima St. From there it is a fine ride on dedicated bike lanes south to the reservoir, interrupted only by traffic lights at the major intersections. Once across Iliff Ave, work east and south on Wesley and Nome St to reach Yale Ave and then Peoria St. The stretch between Peoria and Parker Rd is fast and reasonably safe, even at rush hour. There are three lanes and drivers are mostly friendly. Watch out for the multiple deep manhole covers in the right lane. At Parker Rd, take the western turn lane to access a wide sidewalk and underpass that avoids the off ramp from I-225. Then ride east to the RTD station (Nine Mile) and south through it to join the Cherry Creek Trail.
If you are northbound on Peoria from Parker or even if you find the traffic intensity not to your liking, there’s a sweet neighborhood route that takes you across Yale from Nome or Oakland streets, through a quiet residential area, and then out to Cornell St on a narrow path through the Cherokee Apartment complex. The path runs parallel to a shallow drainage ditch and shows up as public bicycle route on Arapahoe County GIS maps. I found it odd the first few times I rode the path but nobody I’ve encountered has ever said anything at all.Ride the Cherry Creek Trail into the state park, then follow the trail easterly (towards the east park entrance) until you come across the exit to the Spillway Trail, on your left. Leave the park. Cross on-and off-ramps to Parker Rd to reach the Spillway Trail proper. Follow it northeast, crossing Chambers Rd and Iliff Ave in the process and passing through a nice succession of local parks. North of Iliff you’ve entered the Horseshoe Natural Area, a place where multiple trails converge without great signage. Although it looks as if you should maintain a northerly direction after entering the natural area, it is more convenient to turn right after approximately .3 miles and work your way around the north and west sides of the baseball fields. Hug the creek on your left to reach the Tollgate Creek Trail. Anything else will take you further east (Power Line Trail) or south again (Tollgate Creek Trail and West Tollgate Creek Trail). Ride north.After crossing or passing under the major east-west roads of the metro area, the trail sneaks off to the right just before Alameda Ave so that you do not have to cross Alameda at grade. The by-pass is narrow, looks almost like a concrete foot path and is easy to miss. As you emerge on the north side of Alameda, turn right to ride the Highline Canal Trail under Chambers Rd, pass the Aurora City Government Center, and continue on to Sable Blvd. Ride north on Sable in the right lane, jog right, then left on Sable at 6th Ave and continue north to 13th Ave or 29th Ave, depending on your route selection. 13th Ave dead ends at what will be (in 2015) a major transit center for RTD buses and a FasTrack Light Rail stop. It is a huge construction zone at the moment (mid-2014) but a path still runs to and under I-225 and across the creek on a sketchy metal bridge. It is narrow, but safe. Plans call for a continued trail through the new station area.
Ride east on 13th Ave to Del Mar Parkway. A quick left and a right on Geneva Street bring you to 11th Ave. Ride it west to Uinta St, go south and you’ve completed the loop.
If you ride this loop in the opposite direction, one of the tricky spots is the left turn from Sable Blvd southbound to the Highline Canal. There’s a median through which you pass–but the pass-through is at an angle, is narrow, and is raised. Patience works well here, first to let southbound traffic behind you pass and clear and second to let northbound traffic go by, as well. The only other tricky spot is northbound on Peoria St between Parker Road and Yale Ave. As discussed above, traffic intensity on the weekends is not terrible on Peoria northbound, but if that’s not a happy option, use the neighborhood by-pass through the Cherokee Apartment complex.
Tollgate Creek is the major tributary of Sand Creek and drains (or at least used to before Cherry Creek and Aurora Reservoirs were built) the eastern plains between the two reservoirs. As close as it is to most urban cyclists, it sees little bicycle traffic. If the lack of use reflects uncertainty about how to link it up to make a loop, this map will help. The trail proper runs from the historic Delaney Farm in Aurora south to Iliff Ave. A branch of the trail heads southeast at Horseshoe Park and winds down to Quincy Ave with an optional tour on the Highline Canal further south to the Aurora Reservoir.
The route shown here is Denver-centric and takes advantage of Montview Blvd and the little-used but very quiet 25th Ave to reach Fitzsimmons Parkway. A bridge across Sand Creek spills you out on 30th Ave and then to Sable Blvd. Sable Blvd will carry you south to the junction with the Highline Canal (apprximately 2nd Ave). Sable Blvd between 30th Ave and the Highline Canal offers very good on-street cycling. There’s a jog at 6th Ave and a left turn back onto Sable, but it’s entirely manageable if you make the turn from the right (north) turn-lane of two. The intersection with, and turn onto, the Highline Canal Trail is not so friendly. First, a very narrow bike lane carries you up a hill to where the trail crosses Sable. Second, the concrete median has a diagonal cut in it for cyclists but it’s a hump, it’s narrow, and not easily accessible if there’s traffic behind you. Third, there’s no turn lane. So if you’re feeling pinched by traffic your first time through, stop to the right, in the bike lane. Wait for traffic to clear behind you and roll into the median slowly while you gauge the flow of northbound traffic. Once across you’re on a great stretch of the Highline Trail. It winds along the canal, passes by the Aurora city center and joins the Tollgate Trail at Alameda Ave. Exit right and up then immediately down to access Tollgate Trail. I’m always a little confused here because you leave a smooth gray concrete trail and connect to Tollgate on a rough, dusty looking stretch of pavement that hardly looks like a trail at all. Go south from here to smooth sailing on Tollgate Trail. At Mississippi Ave you surface, go east, then drop down again to creek level. At Mexico and Iliff Ave negotiate at-grade crossings with traffic lights. You’ll approach a triple trail junction just before Iliff. There’s little signage but the baseball field at Horseshoe Park will be your sign to turn west to cross the creek and then head south.
Follow the trail south through the sprawling Wheel and Olympic Parks to reach the Cherry Creek Reservoir Spillway Trail. Fine riding continues. Cross Chambers Rd at the light. Ride south. Just before reaching the reservoir be wary of high speed traffic at the Parker Rd and Hampden Ave interchange. There are traffic lights at both crossings and they are essential at rush hour. Enter Cherry Creek State Park and make choices about returning to where you start. Turn right for the direct route (along the Cherry Creek Trail) or left to circle the park or explore points beyond.
If you ride this in reverse order, the only caution is the turn from Fitzsimmons Parkway onto Peoria St to reach 25th Ave. It is uphill, there are only two lanes, and there can be high traffic intensity during rush hours. It is a short tenth of a mile but if you are feeling beleaguered, there’s a narrow sidewalk you can use.
This loop ride is similar to the Cherry Creek-Heather Garden Loop that appeared in Great Road Rides Denver. When it was originally produced, I had not yet discovered Lima and Moline streets or Tollgate Creek as better options to ride north and south through Aurora. You can find those routes here and here. Although this route is probably outdated, I’ll leave it up for the curious–it is an interesting route north-south through a part of Aurora that sees very little traffic.
This one came about when a friend asked if there wasn’t a way to do the same ride without riding on Sable Blvd. Sable, in case you don’t know, can be quite busy and the bike lane there comes and goes randomly–usually when you most need it. I started scouting this one more than a year ago and finally think I have it right. The route finding is more than simple, and in a few places indistinct, but mostly if you keep moving north (or south if you’re going clockwise) you’ll be fine. Take this map the first few times you go, and all will be well. You can ride it both directions but it was made to ride counterclockwise to take advantage of the inbound leg on 13th Ave. I know that sounds a little crazy but 13th is a surprisingly good bike route, especially in the off hours. I’ve laid out the directions below assuming you’ll start at 1st Ave and University Blvd, but as with all good loops, you can start and finish this one anywhere. Oh, and the “hills” in the title are a misnomer. There’s a golf course and a subdivision called Aurora Hills, but there are no hills to get in your way. This is a flat and relatively fast route.
Head out the Cherry Creek Trail from 1st and University. After you pass under the I-225 bridge, climb east on the Park Trail and look for the underpass under I-225 and into the Nine Mile RTD station. Ride north to Parker Rd, then northeasterly, staying on the sidewalk and looping under the exit ramp from I-225 to the intersection of Parker Rd and Peoria St. This is a very high traffic intensity intersection, so use some heads up thinking when you cross Parker Rd, heading north on Peoria St. If you are coming from the north, beware the set of steps leading into the underpass–they are not well marked and easy to inadvertently ride down (I know, because I did). Ride two blocks, turn right on Cornell Ave and the fun begins. Cornell twists and turns east and north until it a three-way stop. Turn right on Ursula St and keep winding your way north to Yale. Cross Yale and find the sinuous trail that will take you all the way to Overland High School, just south of Jewell Ave. There’s a retirement community just to the east, so use a modicum of care for those with less mobility than you. Circumvent the school to reach the Jewell Wetlands. At the south side of the school, look for the diagonal road west of the school and east of the track field. It will take you northwest to Jewell. Use the street or the north sidewalk to go east to the wetlands, which you’ll see just past the school. Look for a trail running north along the wetland’s eastern edge. Take it. Bomb north to Uvalda St and keep going, crossing Mississippi Ave at the light. Go north to Kentucky Ave, right a block and north on Victor St to Alameda Ave. You’ll see the Queen of Peace Catholic Church on the corner as a cue. The route finding here is a little indistinct, but you want to cross Alameda at Xapary St, which is three blocks east of Victor. You can go north indiscriminately until you hit Nevada Ave and then east, or zigzag from Utah Pl north and east to Xapary. Cross Alameda into the parking lot of the Peace Mennonite Community Church. Go north and west through the lot to pick up a tree-lined trail along the west edge of the Aurora Hills Golf Course with great views to the west.
The trail connects to the Highline Canal Trail. Go east on the trail then north in two blocks to Ursula St. Ride north to 6th Place, then east to Vaughn St, where there’s a traffic light to cross 6th Ave. Pick any street starting with T, U, or V and go north to 13th Ave. Go west. Two way traffic persists on 13th until Yosemite Ave, then it is all one-way back into Denver. The street is wide, traffic generally light, there are few interruptions, and it is slightly downhill, all making for a fast and enjoyable ride home. Use 12th Ave if this seems intimidating. I usually cross Colorado Blvd on 13th, then detour south at Jackson to cruise along 12th Ave, back into Cheesman Park, then south again through the Country Club neighborhood to rejoin the Cherry Creek Trail at Gilpin St.
Metro Denver is blessed by miles and miles of dedicated, multi-use trails. Shown here, in a map revised and adapted from Great Road Rides Denver, are the major paved (mostly) trails systems in the metro area. I say “mostly” because a few sections shown here are neither concrete nor asphalt, like the quarter-mile section of dirt between the Platte River Trail and the Sand Creek Greenway. They are just plain dirt, crusher fines usually, but still easy enough to ride on. The trails shown here add up to more than 200 miles. Were you to add in the shorter stretches of dedicated trails, the many miles of unpaved trails, and the stretches of streets and roads with dedicated lanes, you would easily have more than 600 miles of roads and trails. If you are new to cycling or to the area, this is a good place to start. But don’t stop there, as so many do. On weekends, the trails are becoming more and more crowded and less and less friendly. This is especially true along Cherry Creek and south from Confluence Park along the Platte River Trail. So use them when you need to, but get out there and see the rest of the city. Ride the streets. Especially on the weekends, when there’s less traffic than during the commuting hours. Ride to Arvada or Golden or through Lakewood. See the Coors Beer operation up close and personal or wander on your bike through Crown Hill Park. Take in Loretto Heights or the urban hipness of the Highlands. Stretch on out to the farthest reaches of the city with a loop out to Bow Mar Lake. Wind around the perimeter of Stapleton or find the secluded copse of cottonwoods past the Anschutz Medical Center along Sand Creek. By my unofficial count, there are at least 25 distinct municipalities in the Denver region. Ride to or through each one of them. Buy the book if you’re not sure where to begin, or track down one of the free urban bike maps that are available. If you find yourself riding the same route day after day, decide today to go somewhere new. Get off the trails. Get out on the streets, and have some fun. And remember: Never let the anxiety of being lost, interfere with the enjoyment of not knowing where you are.