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.
I’ve recently found myself cursing the gods, contractors, cars, and traffic as I’ve been forced off the usual trails and into sometimes sketchy detours around construction projects that are now getting into full swing in the metro region. It is something like Shakespeare’s ditty on love: “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Seemingly, there’s construction everywhere: Cherry Creek Trail, Clear Creek Trail, Sand Creek Trail, Westerly Creek, etc. Below are annotated construction and detour maps for the major, long-term construction projects I’ve encountered. Shoot me an email if I’ve missed something. Here’s one I missed: the obnoxious (and at night unmarked) steel plates between Monaco and Colorado Blvds. These are part of a Denver Water clean out and refurbishment project and they extend out into the bike lane along Montview. They are visible during the day but not lit by flashing lights at night. Use caution.
This first is the easiest, a construction project to allow for a new brewery’s sewer outfall into the South Platte. The stretch on the road easy and straightforward.Next up is the detour along the South Platte River Trail at Confluence Park. Denver Parks and Recreation suggests in this map a detour through Commons Park. That works OK, but is circuitous. On the plus side, it will allow you to stop off at the Porta-Potty in Commons Park (with a side trip to Stoner Hill if you need to toke up) and thus avoid the really smelly Porta-Potty at the Denver Skate Park. An alternate detour takes you between the old 19th St bridge and 15th St via Water St, a far more interesting route, with a side option to the Denver Beer Company on Platte St. South of 8th Ave construction continues on the 6th Ave bridge, and necessitates a longish detour out into what I think of as white bread country–not for the people but for the giant Safeway bakeries in the area. Good smells! The flyer for this one promised a two month detour, but construction drags on.
In the Stapleton area, construction of a new park and RTD East line construction have disrupted a portion of Sand Creek Greenway Trail, roughly between Central Park Blvd and Havana St. All of this should get better in the coming months as RTD is now testing the new light rail line and expects to open the line for service between Downtown and DIA in 2016. Slightly further east, Sand Creek Trail is disrupted again between Peoria St and Potomac St along Fitzsimmons Parkway. RTD was forced to realign the 225 FasTracks light rail project to protect sensitive research instruments at the CU Medical School and Anschutz Medical Plaza. The detour is pretty simple and not onerous if you are just trying to skip around the construction and get to Potomac and Colfax or the medical institutions, but more confusing if you are trying to continue east on the Sand Creek Greenway Trail. When I last road through there, late afternoon, I was able to leave Fitzsimmons, ride through the Park and north to the Greenway and Park Lane Drive. Alternately, you’ll be able to continue along the trail via Peoria St and 30th Ave. The Clear Creek Trail detour was my best adventure. I somehow missed the sign to continue east along 56th Ave and wound up on a sketchy muddy sidewalk on Federal Blvd, wandering through parts of Adams County I have not visited since I was a private eye in the 70s. I was glad to see that the strip club I had visited on official business looks likes it has survived, reincarnated as Adult World at 65th and Federal. The correct detour looks simpler, if less interesting. Incidentally, if you’ve been hoping to ride the Little Dry Creek Trail (an interesting experience almost on par with a visit to Adult World), you’ll have to ride the detour I made, along Pecos St to 70th Ave.
The Cherry Creek Trail at Arapahoe Rd is inching towards completion with work hopefully completed by July, 2015 in the trail extension under the new bridge. Go here for updates. Finally, if you like your Denver Trails detour information in a single handy place, go here. Note the suggestion that the CCT at Havana may be due for some flood mitigation work.
Get out there and ride.
Metro Denver has a goodly number of fine roads that run east and west (think Dartmouth Ave, Montview Blvd, 26th Ave, and 46th Ave just to name a few) but not nearly enough that run north and south. I’m not sure why this is so and I speculate about it endlessly as I flog my way north and south, interrupted by stoplights, stop signs, hospitals, and golf courses. I’m being slightly hyperbolic. Tennyson St, Zuni St, and Lowell Blvd are good in stretches. Holly St is OK. Sable Blvd in Aurora works OK if traffic intensity is light. Further west Rooney Rd and Johnson Rd connect to create a really good stretch of climbing heaven. That dearth of good north south routes was the genesis of the Metro Loop de Loops ride. Garrison St on the west runs mostly uninterrupted from US 285 (Hampden Ave) to 26th Ave, much of it with a dedicated bike lane. It totals about 7 miles if you include the stretch of Estes St between Morrison Rd and US 285. The east side of this loop is a little more cobbled together: the “standard” route through Washington Park to Dartmouth Ave and then to Clarkson St. The beauties of this loop are many. You’ll use portions of five of the metro area trail systems (Cherry Creek, Clear Creek, South Platte River, Big Dry Creek, and Bear Creek). You’ll pass through or near multiple parks and golf courses. You’ll ride by at least five big lakes and reservoirs. Add in two KOM segments at Berry Ave and Tennyson St and you’ve got all the makings of a classic metro loop.
The route finding is pretty straightforward with maybe three tricky spots at Bowles Ave, in Wheatridge, and then in sneaking across 38th Ave to return to Confluence Park. These are all places you are likely to return to at some point in your cycling life so you may as well figure them out now. I’m including a couple of detailed maps to help you if this is your first time. If you’ve ridden some of CBM’s other routes, you’ll recognize this as a conglomerate of several other routes. The description below is for a clockwise ride, which I like for the short climbing segments on Berry Ave and Tennyson St. Switch them around in your head if you want to go the other way.
Start in Confluence Park. Head upstream along the Cherry Creek Trail to exit at Downing and make your way through Washington Park. Exit the park at Franklin St and work your way south and slightly west to Clarkson St. Ride Clarkson all the way south to Sunset Lane (3 miles) and watch for the Big Dry Creek signs. Jog over to Washington St and Powers Ave and you’ll soon be flying down the Big Dry Creek Trail to join the S Platte Trail, about 2.5 miles. Go south about 1.5 miles and exit at a roundabout immediately before Bowles Ave. Look for the big white tennis bubble as your landmark. Skirt the bubble to the south to gain the sidewalk of Bowles. Cross Federal Blvd (carefully!) on the sidewalk and ride west (still on the Bowles Ave sidewalk) to a narrow fence opening onto Julian St. Home free. Ride north on Julian St to Berry Ave. Go west. The first KOM segment begins at Lowell Blvd. and climbs 5-6 blocks steeply.
Ride through the Bow Mar area skirting Bowles and Marston Reservoirs on roads of your choice (there are several options, all good) or just stay on Bow Mar Drive to connect to Sheridan Blvd. Take note of but ignore the signs at the entrance to Bow Mar that say there’s no exit. They are liars. Ride out of Bow Mar on Sheridan to Quincy and turn east. Both Sheridan and Quincy are fine for riding a bike. At the Lowell Blvd traffic light go south (left) through a narrow opening in the chain link fence. If it is your first time, use caution: cars are not really expecting you to make a left turn here. Ride south on Lowell Blvd past Fort Logan, CMHI, and Mullen School. Just past Mullen, look for the Bear Creek Trail at grade on your left. Get on it and go. This used to be a nasty section of trail but has been considerably improved in the last year (2011) and now makes for some OK riding. (If you want more climbing, stay on Lowell north to Dartmouth Ave and ride it west until it joins the Bear Creek Trail at Webster St.) Ride the trail west to Estes Park, about 3.8 miles. Exit the trail to the north, across Bear Creek on a bridge. There’s no signage, so if it is your first time, watch your odometer: about one mile from Webster St where the trail crosses Bear Creek. Estes Park makes a fine snack/refuel/pit stop. There are restrooms located in the middle of the parking lot.
Ride north on Estes St and Garrison St. As you cross Morrison Rd look for the sidewalk+path on your right. Take it and ride up the hill to Baltic Ave. I don’t usually strongly recommend a sidewalk, but I make an exception here. The short stretch between Morrison Rd and Baltic is scary-narrow with little room for recovery from another’s inattention. Southbound riders have a good bike lane. Ride north until you reach 26th Ave. The bike lane disappears in a couple of places but heads up riding is all it takes to stay safe along this fine stretch of urban riding. Between Colfax Ave and 20th Ave follow the path of least resistance through a series of Scottish themed streets. At 26th Ave ride west. Cross Kipling St. Go north on Paramount, Twilight and Hillside to reach 32nd Ave. Alternatively, you can easily ride one of the many trails through Crown Hill Park to reach 32nd Ave. At 32nd Ave access Holland St, 37th Ave, and Independence St to make your way north to the Clear Creek Trail.
Ride northeast on Clear Creek Trail. This is probably the nicest stretch of Trail, good shade cover from the many large cottonwood trees, proximity to the creek itself, and little of the urban industrial blight that plagues the stretch between Tennyson St and and the confluence with the S. Platte River. It is about 4.3 miles to the at grade intersection with Tennyson St. with all of it on the trail except for a two block stretch between 51st and 52nd Aves at Gray St. Follow the signs northerly (or southerly if you’re coming the other direction) and you’ll be fine.
Ride south on Tennyson St, jogging west and south at 52nd Ave to gain the high ground next to Willis Case Golf Course. This is the other short KOM segment. Ride south to 46th Ave. Turn east and ride to Lipan St. Go south to 37th Ave, east to Inca St and south to a short spur of trail that disappears under the bulk of the I-25 overpass looming in front of you. Follow the spur to Rockmont Dr and Platte St (the one turns into the other at Cuernavaca Park). Platte Street returns you to 15th St and Confluence Park. If you’re smart, though, you’ll stop at the Denver Beer Company for a pint to celebrate.
This route is a crowd-pleaser. Remember the old jingle about Sara Lee? “Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.” That’s a phrase that Don Draper could come up with. This route is Mad Men good. It is a longer variant of several shorter rides that are in Great Road Rides Denver combined to make a longer mash-up. There are stretches on good cycling roads like Dartmouth and Quincy, stretches on three different trail systems, and a long loop around Cherry Creek Reservoir. Were that not enough, there are also two sneaky moves through fences–surprise passages that appear like some deus ex machina to whisk you through a fence just when you think you’ve hit a dead end. And did I mention the three killer KOM sections? And, of course, there are multiple ways to shorten it if you hit by bad weather or just feel guilty that you are outside having so much fun.
Start it anywhere on the loop. For descriptive purposes I’ll assume you are beginning somewhere along the Cherry Creek Trail. Ride to Confluence Park. Follow the Platte Trail upriver (south) until you come to Dartmouth Ave. Some people prefer to get to the streets immediately and if you are one of those, you can jump onto Jason st around Habitat Park and ride it and Platte River St south to Dartmouth. It is probably faster to stay on the trail, but the view never really changes if you do. Head west on Dartmouth and climb up to the old Loretto Heights College campus, detouring (if you’re interested) at the Bryant St hill for the first KOM section. Circle the campus to the south using Irving St, Girard Ave, and Knox Ct to reach your southbound goal, Lowell Blvd. The school on the hill has had multiple names and identities in the last few years, too many to keep track of really, so I just keep calling it the old Loretto Heights College. By any name, the main building is worth a second look.
Cross Hampden Ave and keep riding south on Lowell Blvd with a detour at Oxford around the historic Fort Logan parade ground if you are interested. Otherwise exit through the fence at Lowell and Quincy Ave and keep riding south to Berry Ave. Go west for the second KOM section into the little burg of Bow Mar. Make a loop as you wish through the quiet roads taking in both the main reservoir (Marston) and the smaller Bowles reservoir where there’s a swim beach for the residents. (Don’t even think about taking your clothes off for a quick dip on a hot day.)
Ride east on Berry Ave to Jason Street. Go south a few blocks to where the street seems to dead end in a mandatory right turn. Sneak left here through an opening in the fence to gain a sidewalk next to Bowles Ave. Cross Federal Blvd at the light and continue east to the Platte River Trail. The access is a little obscure but you’ll get there if you aim for the white bubble building and bear right. Ride north on the trail to Big Dry Creek and cross the South Plate on the bridge to go east and south on the BDC Trail. It will dump you at Powers Ave and Washington St. Go north on Washington to Sunset and Clarkson St. Ride south on Clarkson to Quincy Ave. If you are running out of time, keep riding north no Clarkson to return to Denver, using Dartmouth and Franklin St, for example to return through Washington Park.
Ride Quincy Ave east to Monaco St, passing Cherry Hills Country Club and Kent Denver School along the way. The third KOM usually begins at Colorado Blvd and runs to Happy Canyon Rd. Go right to Monaco and ride to Union Blvd, then east through the Denver Tech Center to Cherry Creek Reservoir. Circumnavigate the reservoir or bypass it depending on your mood. Return to Denver on the Cherry Creek Trail.
Here’s a map of the Bow Mar section, the most likely spot where things can get confused. PDF link.
Sometime when all you have time for is something short and easy, a ride that allows you to spin the pedals easily and slowly, go check out the Stock Show Loop. Others in this category include the Bible Park Loop, the Bryant Street Loop, and the Eisenhower Park Loop. Start on the Cherry Creek Trail. Ride to Confluence Park, then north to and through the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) complex, lately in the news because a plan’s afoot to move the show to Aurora. The show–a sort of early 20th century cattleman’s convention–has been a Denver fixture for more than a century, attracting cowboys, ranchers, bulls, and livestock to Denver during the slow month of January. The rest of the time, the complex gets used for Alpaca, cat, martial art, and music shows, judging by a recent scan of the calendar. It was the recent host of the first inaugural Denver County Fair, a kind of post-modern, hipster county fair that featured a bike rode, chickens, baby goats, bees, a Goth-themed freak show, and drag queens vying for the Miss Denver County title.
Route finding to the NWSS area is relatively easy. Head down to Confluence Park, then make your way north along the Platte River Trail to 29th or 31st Street, where you can (and should) exit to Arkins Ct. Getting through Confluence Park can be confusing, as can getting from the river left side of the Platte to the river right side. I’ve shown here the simplest approach: stay on the Platte Trail as it wends its way under 15th Street, then exit left at the historic 19th Street Bridge to cross to the other side.
Exiting at 29th or 31st streets takes you away from river and the street people up to street level on Arkins Court, a surprisingly good and wide ride north to the NWSS grounds. If you need an espresso, dart across the river at 31st St to Fuel Cafe in the Taxi Development for a pick-me-up and look around. It’s a fascinating mixed use community. Follow Arkins Ct past the huge Pepsi bottling factory and through the vacant areas to the south of the Coliseum. From time to time you can get a whiff of the past as you ride through here (mostly from the Purina plant nearby), but all of the stockyards and packing plants of yore have long been closed, so you probably have to resort to the Denver Public Library to get a good sense of the original Denver Union Stockyards that lay to the northwest of the Coliseum, where 3-4 million head of livestock annually were sold and processed. Wind your way north around the Coliseum on Humboldt St to 47th Ave, then go east to York St, where a funny little jog will allow you to continue east to Clayton St. Duck under I-70 and work you way south and east to Steele St, avoiding the traffic on 40th Ave.
Steele is one of Denver’s surprisingly good cycling streets. It is wide and the traffic intensity is relatively low. Drop down to 26th Avenue and fly west alongside the City Park Golf Course across York St to Franklin St to work your way (slowly, most of the time) through the hospital district Ride through Cheesman Park, then the Country Club District to return to your starting place.
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.