It’s time to start planning your riding vacation, and Colorado offers some of the best asphalt riding on the planet.
How can you go wrong riding roads with names like the Trail Ridge Road in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park or the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway?
The expansive views are breathtaking, from brilliant blue skies to white-capped peaks to tree-covered slopes to stream-crossed valleys.
Here are five roads you should consider. Start planning now. You won’t be disappointed.
1. The Peak-to-Peak Highway, Colorado Route 72 from Central City to Estes Park. This 55-mile stretch of Colorado Route 72 starts just outside greater metropolitan Denver, and offers the perfect intro to the Rockies.
Just west of Colorado’s capital, the mountains rise up in the Front Range, where the peaks are more than a mile higher than mile-high Denver. Those mountains form a solid wall that must have seemed impenetrable to early settlers, because it still looks that way today.
The Peak-to-Peak heads north along the base of the Front Range, with the high plains to your right, and dizzying heights to your left.
There’s a reason this is Colorado’s oldest scenic byway, having been designated as such in 1918. It’s impressive. Most of the curves are sweepers, rather than switchbacks, which is good, because every time the road turns west, you’ll find your neck craning backward to admire the skyscraper scenery.
Along the way, don’t miss stops to enjoy the rugged beauty of Golden Gate Canyon State Park, practically a city park for Denver residents, and historic Nederland, founded as a mining community in the 1870s.
Eventually, you wind your way into a scenic, bowl-shaped valley where the town of Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, sits at 8,500 feet. And if you’re looking for more riding, hang a right onto U.S. Route 36 headed east for a twisty trip through Little Thompson Canyon.
2. Trail Ridge Road, U.S. Route 34 from Estes Park to Granby. This road seems to exist purely for its entertainment value. Sure, it also takes you through Rocky Mountain National Park to points west, but if you’re thinking about destinations while riding Trail Ridge, you’re doing it all wrong.
Starting from Estes Park, Trail Ridge Road cruises through high meadows where you may glimpse elk or mountain goats. Then it quickly kicks up toward the treeline, where conifers give way to scrub growth, and scrub yields to tundra in the span of a few miles.
Finally, you follow an exposed shelf road over a barren, otherworldly landscape heading toward Fall River Pass at 12,183 feet, making this the highest, continuous paved road in the United States.
The view from any of the turnouts is staggering, as you gulp in thin mountain air and look out over more than 60 peaks that rise above 12,000 feet within the park boundary’s alone.
Slowly descending, you find yourself following the course of the Colorado River, which has its origins in snowmelt from the park’s high country. Up here, the mighty river that carved the Grand Canyon and filled Lakes Powell, Mead and Havasu is merely a babbling brook.
By the time you exit the park near the town of Granby, you know you’ve enjoyed one of the most spectacular riding experiences anywhere.
3. Loveland Pass, U.S. Route 6, looping off Interstate 70. Colorado is famous for its high mountain pass roads, and one of the best is within sight of busy Interstate 70, about an hour west of Denver.
Even the interstate makes for an exceptionally scenic ride when you’re heading through the heart of the Rockies, but as I-70 climbs to its highest point to cross the Continental Divide, it disappears into the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel.
Almost no one jumps off the interstate at the sign designating U.S. Route 6 to Dillon, but those who do are rewarded with incredible views from atop 11,892-foot Loveland Pass.
From the turnout at the top, you look down into valleys that may be a mile below you. Best of all, most of the traffic is over there on the interstate, so you can often have the views and the curves of Loveland Pass all to yourself.
4. The 10th Mountain Division Memorial Highway, U.S. Route 24 from Dowd to Leadville. You’ll find both beautiful scenery and fascinating history along this route, named for servicemen once based at the U.S. Army’s legendary Camp Hale, near Vail.
You can ride to the remains of the camp today, but all you’ll find are a few concrete barracks foundations, and several broken, overgrown road beds. During World War II, though, Hale was a busy place, serving as the training ground for the first Army division to specialize in winter combat. It provided the perfect location to learn everything from survival skills to skiing techniques.
More than 14,000 soldiers passed through Camp Hale during the war, but the camp’s legacy went far beyond impressive victories in the European Alps. After the war, several of those soldiers, taken with the beauty of the Colorado peaks, returned to open up ski resorts—including nearby Vail Mountain.
In all, more than 60 ski areas across the country were founded or run by 10th Mountain Division vets, who played a large role in opening up America to what was then an unfamiliar sport.
You’ll see what brought them back to Colorado as you follow the Arkansas River through a valley lined by 14,000-foot mountains and cruise into Leadville, North America’s highest incorporated city at 10,430 feet.
5. Independence Pass, Colorado Route 82 from U.S. 24 to Aspen. Looking to do some Continental Divide pass-bagging in Colorado? Look no further than this ride, which takes you over 12,000 feet before descending into one of America’s most famous hideaways for the rich and famous.
Climbing out of the valley where U.S. Route 24 and the Arkansas River run, Colorado Route 82 curves past Twin Lakes Reservoir, doubling back on itself as it picks its way among the high peaks.
A stop at the top is a breathtaking experience, both because of the view and the thin air. At times, you find yourself above the weather here, emerging into brilliant sunshine after climbing through a layer of clouds. It’s like a visit to another world.
On the way down, you’ll be glad you’re on a motorcycle, as the road narrows to about a lane and a half, with a cliff wall on one side and a sheer dropoff on the other. We don’t know what two oncoming cars do when they meet in one of the narrow sections, but on a bike, you can just ride on by.
Near the bottom, you find the remains of Independence, a ghost town full of mummified, bleached wood structures and rusted mining equipment. Miners who founded the town more than 100 years ago faced incredible hardships willingly for the chance of striking a rich vein of silver.