Aspen road biking talk about scenic |

Aspen road biking talk about scenic

Aspen Times Staff ReportAspen, CO Colorado
Bicyclists near the top of Independence Pass, a classic ride east of Aspen. (Aspen Times file)

ASPEN Mountain biking not your thing? No worries. The Lycra-clad, skinny-tire set have no trouble finding great rides around Aspen just follow the pavement in any direction. The scenery, if not the hill climbs, will leave you breathless.Independence PassWhere: From Aspen to the top of Independence Pass via Highway 82Elevation gain: 4,100 feet in 20 milesTime: 3 to 6 hours round-trip (How good are your legs? What about your brakes?)Difficulty: Strenuous with some (as in not many) moderate stretchesNo list of Aspen’s best road rides would be complete without Independence Pass. Some riders would argue that no list should start without the pass. This ride has got it all – amazing views of majestic mountains; the gushing headwaters of the Roaring Fork River; the otherworldly feel of the Independence ghost town; and the bald peaks of the Continental Divide.The pass provides a great challenge for riders of every level, says Aspen Velo bike shop owner Michael Wampler. A rider can tackle half of it in early season, then shoot for going a little farther each time out. And every time will provide a great workout with great views.After soaking in the peaceful vista around North Star Nature Preserve, you start working hard on the climb above Difficult Campground to the winter gate. Beyond the gate, you’re officially on what locals call the pass.If you make it from the gate to Weller Campground, you’ve done about 2 miles. At Lincoln Creek, 4 miles. Just when you’ve recovered on the Lincoln Creek to Lost Man straightaway, you start the long, hard climb to the top, an effort that doesn’t let up until you top out at 12,093 feet.At the ghost town (about 10 miles up) the climb’s not steep, but “you always have a headwind,” notes Wampler. And you’ve also got that special feeling that you’re really accomplishing something as the vegetation and air thin. As you reach the end of that last steep stretch known as the top cut, you can glance down at the ribbon of highway below and experience the pleasure of doing something only relatively few people can do. Just when you think you’ve got the pass licked, you rediscover just how steep that last short stretch to the summit is.”That last 300 yards seems like about three miles,” Wampler says. Soak in the views from the top for a couple of minutes, then throw on all your clothes for the lightning-quick descent back to town.The best time to ride the pass is in the spring, before the gate is opened to traffic for the Memorial Day weekend. But, traffic isn’t too harrowing once the highway is open, since motorists can’t go terribly fast on the narrow, winding road. Early morning in the summer is a good time to ride it, though you’re more likely to have a chilly ride down.

The twin creeksWhat: Maroon/Castle Creek roadsWhere: County roads in the twin valleys southwest of AspenElevation gain: About 1,580 feet in 10 miles for Maroon; about 1,730 in 11 miles for Castle CreekTime: 2 to 3 hours round-trip, depending on time spend soaking in the sceneryDifficulty: Moderate to strenuous (let your quads be the judge)These rides are the favorites for many locals, given the scenery and the lack of traffic, compared to Independence Pass. In fact, Maroon Creek Road is limited to occasional buses during the day in the summertime, so traffic is blissfully limited.Yep, Maroon Creek Road is hard to beat, given that it boasts the internationally famous view of the Maroon Bells. There is nothing more rewarding than working your way to the top of that relentless climb, rounding a corner and having the Bells pop into view. The combination of the exercise required to get to the top and the serenity of the scenery is worth every labored turn of the pedals.Castle Creek is the slightly less popular twin. Maroon Creek garners the attention because of the Bells, Pyramid Peak and the controlled traffic. But Castle Creek remains the favorite for many. “I never get tired of the views,” said Aspen Velo’s Wampler. In contrast to the steady climb up Maroon Creek, Castle Creek offers a succession of hills, with level stretches and even an occasional short downhill, ending with the climb up the ghost town of Ashcroft, then on to the end of the pavement.The ‘Century Ride’What: Aspen to Redstone and backWhere: County roads to Carbondale, then Highway 133 to RedstoneElevation gain: Actually a loss of about 1,700 feet from Aspen to Carbondale, then a gain of 900 feet to RedstoneTime: Varies widely for a ride pushing the 100-mile “century” mark Difficulty: Moderate, with special consideration for fatigueIf you like long hauls, one of the kindest in the early season is from Aspen to Redstone and back. It’s about as easy a 100 miles as a road biker can get in these parts.The climb from Slaughterhouse Bridge at the bottom of Cemetery Lane up onto McLain Flats is the biggest single grunt on the way downvalley. Otherwise, it is relatively flat from Aspen to Carbondale on a route that lets riders avoid Highway 82. McLain Flats combined with Upper and Lower River roads or the bike path alongside get a rider to Old Snowmass. From there, the bike path takes you to Basalt. Follow the old highway, now Two Rivers Road, to Willits Lane, then Valley Road to old Highway 82 to Catherine Store, then the back road into Carbondale. That brings you to Highway 133 and the slow, steady, 18-mile grind up to Redstone. The highway is wide enough that traffic is annoying rather than horrific, but the motorists do zip by at a speedy clip.The Crystal Valley provides great views of Mount Sopris and the wonderful red rock of Redstone. Count on chowing down in Redstone, whether it’s a meal at one of the restaurants or a snack at the general store. You’ll need it for the ride home – especially as you approach the end of the ride and have to climb Jaffee Hill, back up onto McLain Flats. “It’s not up there with the Pass,” Davis said, “but it’s all right.”The Fryingpan climbWhat: Fryingpan RoadWhere: East of BasaltElevation gain: Roughly 1,000 feet in 14 miles to Ruedi Reservoir; roughly 2,200 feet in 35 miles to the end of the pavementTime: 2 hours from Basalt to the reservoir, round-trip, for a strong rider; at least 5 hours round-trip to the end of the pavementDifficulty: Moderate with strenuous stretchesMidvalley riders who want to get their climbing in have ample opportunity in the Fryingpan Valley. The trip up to Ruedi Reservoir makes a perfect after-work ride. “I like the challenge of dodging the fishermen’s hooks when the road goes close to the river,” quipped Basalt rider Jim Paussa. Actually, he loves the beauty of valley: the soaring Seven Castles of red rock; the placid view of the Fryingpan River, often ass-to-elbow with wading anglers; then the short but steep final climb up to the reservoir’s dam.The narrow valley usually provides a surprise on the downhill run. “You think you’re going to cruise down to Basalt, but you always have a head wind,” says Paussa. When time allows, he sucks it up after the climb to the dam and keeps on trucking. The steady, sometimes steep climb, takes riders around Ruedi until a downhill sends them screaming to the far end of the reservoir and into the little burg of Thomasville. Then it’s a steady climb to Meredith and eventually a steep climb past Chapman Campground to the end of the pavement.

Far afield, but spectacularWhat: Colorado National MonumentWhere: Grand Junction and FruitaElevation gain: 1,950 feet in 13 miles from the Fruita entranceTime: 4 hoursDifficulty: StrenuousOK, so it’s not in the Roaring Fork Valley. We made an exception because, just a two-hour drive from Aspen, it is the favorite ride many an Aspenite, particularly in the early spring, when it still feels like winter in Aspen, but Grand Junction offers beckoning warmth.The sandstone towers and deep canyons at the Colorado National Monument make the grunt up the steep road bearable, even enjoyable. For someone who likes to climb, this is the place to go. You can start the ride at either end: from Grand Junction or Fruita.Starting at the Grand Junction end – follow the signs through town from the Horizon Drive exit off Interstate 70 – is the quicker but steeper route. You top out at 6,640 feet after 10 miles of steady, sometimes strenuous climbing, then go gently downhill to the visitors’ center before plunging down the steep slopes to the Fruita entrance. Rim Rock Drive is 23 miles. It is about another 15 miles back to the Junction entrance via sleepy roads through orchards and rural subdivisions.Coming up the Fruita side provides some truly spectacular views, makes for a longer, but slightly gentler climb and provides a rocket-inspired downhill on the east side. Dunaway has altered his route through years of riding the Monument. He climbs up the Fruita side, tackles the steep traverse from the visitor’s center to the high point in the park, then turns around. The sandstone monuments and canyons are just too alluring, he said.A map will help you find your way back to your vehicle on one end or the other and keep this in mind: Grand Junction is a heck of a lot hotter than Aspen in the summertime (that’s as in 90 degrees-plus, sometimes over 100.) On the other hand, it’s a great place to be in the spring and fall.