24 June 2014

Recommended Road Bike Rides Near Aspen

6 bike rides near Aspen, Colorado

There are a few towns in Colorado perfectly situated to stay and ride - Aspen is one of them. Aspen is a beautiful location to plop yourself down and ride in various directions - out and back or happily looping around the area on a bicycle. Depending on your desired ride distance, these rides can be combined or done separately allowing for time in the day to also hike, fish, eat good food or sit on a patio with a cold beer, whatever makes a weekend in the mountains just right for you.

This past weekend I played in Aspen, taking in even more rides and exploring this wonderful Colorado town. As I rode along I couldn't help but think - forget Europe, if I was a pro rider and paid to do this - I would live in Aspen, Colorado. 

Recommended road bike rides near Apen:
  • Maroon Bells (Maroon Creek Road)
  • Castle Creek Road
  • McClain Flats to St Benedict's Monastery
  • Independence Pass
  • McClure Pass
  • Aspen to Snowmass Village and McClain Flats Rd Loop
  • Bike Paths in Pitkin County


All photos and maps by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

I like all of these rides because the roads vary enough to allow changes in gearing, which to me, means a perfect mountain climb. Be aware that the road to McClure Pass has no real shoulder, also be aware that the road surface when descending the west side of Independence Pass has dips, bumps, potholes and patches.

The town of Aspen is a wonderful with good restaurants and plentiful hotels or campsites (I usually camp). The Rio Grande Park in Aspen or the Aspen Recreation Center make for a good starting points for any of these rides, or you can depart from your accommodations. My suggestion for the top two must-do rides would be Maroon Bells and Independence Pass.

Maroon Bells (Maroon Creek Road) - 17 miles

The Maroon Bells are a Colorado geological landmark, they are truly special. This road is a pure pleasure to climb. The road is closed to car traffic (tourists being shuttle to the top via bus) from 9:00am-5:00pm, resulting in pure heaven for cyclists. With this kind of quiet, you will hear the river flowing and birds singing along the route. You will also likely see deer, marmot and maybe even moose. A highly recommended ride, rated difficult, but the views entertain. Free to cyclists, $10 for cars (when road is open) before 9:00am or after 5:00pm.

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453810798
The highly recommended road to Maroon Bells
With resident moose in the pond near Maroon Bells
Castle Creek Road - 24 miles

Another relatively quiet road because the only people driving up this road are locals or those going to the Pine Creek Cookhouse ($$$$). The peaceful beauty is a real treat. Easy to access and ride (although rated difficult), the descent will delight. 

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453791350
The beautiful climb up Castle Creek Rd

Independence Pass - 40 miles, elev. +4200ft

This is your chance to climb to 12,095 ft on a bike. Within this one ride you will ride your bike through Valley Floor, Montane Zone, Subalpine, and Alpine Tundra environments, as well as see a ghost mining town in the valley below. The climb to Independence Pass is a true accomplishment, don't miss out on this one if you are in the area. Definitely a long difficult climb at altitude but totally worth it! (more climb details by mybicyleroutes.com)

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453823332
Ghost town of Independence
The last big switchback before the summit of Independence Pass - west side
Last mile to top of Independence Pass, just around that corner is the top!
Independence Pass summit
Yes, it was worth the effort to get to the top of this mountain!

McClure Pass - 50 miles, elev +2600ft

Another pass in the area and often featured on the routes of Ride the Rockies, Bicycle Tour of Colorado, and in 2014, the USA Pro Challenge. There is a gentle bike path for much of the distance up the Crystal River until the final miles wind up the pass. (more climb details by mybicyleroutes.com)

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453907378
The beautiful Crystal River on the way to McClure Pass
The coke ovens near Redstone Colorado
The climb up McClure Pass
Summit of McClure Pass
McClain Flats to St Benedict's Monastery - 43 miles

McClain Flats Rd parallels Hwy 82 taking the high route, this road offers sweeping views of the mountain range encompassing Aspen through Snowmass and beyond to Mt Sopris. No shoulder, but usually light traffic, this rolling road is a gem. Crossing Hwy 82 is made easy by using the signal traffic light.

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453902336
Sweeping views from McClain Flats Rd

Aspen to Snowmass Village and McClain Flats Rd Loop - 23 miles

You can ride the route of the USA Pro Challenge Stage 1 (2013 and 2014) with a variation using local bike paths for added safety. The route is 23 miles. The pros do three circuits (22 miles each) of this route using the main roads. 

View map on Map My Ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/453933262
The pros riding up Owl Creek Rd to Snowmass Village in 2013

Bike Paths in Pitkin County

Bike paths are plentiful in the area. If you prefer their structure or ease in linking up to other beautiful roads in the area, here is the map of local bike paths in Pitkin County (Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt, Carbondale, all the way to Glenwood Springs). From Glenwood Springs you can ride the bike path east up the canyon. 

map of bike paths near Aspen, Colorado

Bike paths can take you swiftly to the inner and outer limits of Pitkin County, designed to keep you off major roads while allowing you to enjoy the beautiful surrounding views. I personally find the seams (tatink tatink) annoying for great distances and the safety questionable, but I do appreciate any local government which has place funds into providing a path for its citizens.

Enjoying downtown Aspen
I have yet to see a bear in downtown Aspen
Other activites in the area:

The very small towns of Carbondale to Redstone to Marble have a collection of art, cafes, or incredible fall foliage scenery in the autumn.  

Aspen has a wide variety of events, see a summer calendar here: Aspen Chamber.

Enjoy semi-free bluegrass music at the top of Aspen Mountain, June to September, noon-3pm. You will have to pay for the gondola ride to the top, $19 each, dogs can go along with you for free. More information: Bluegrass Sundays

Some restaurant recommendations may be found at the bottom of this link: USA Pro Challenge in Aspen/Snowmass

Fishing recommendations: some of the largest trout in the state at the Taylor River tailwater. Or fish in the Upper Arkansas River north of Buena Vista. If he has to wait until the Stage is done, the Roaring Fork and Fryinpan rivers near Aspen hold nice browns and rainbows. http://coloradofishing.net/wtf_aspen.htm

Mountain bike recommendations: near Buena Vista there are some good stretches of the Colorado Trail http://comtb.com/alpine/. Also Aspen isn't too far from Poncha Springs where the Monarch Crest loop starts and stops. This is a classic ride that's worth the side trip. Leadville has lots of old high-altitude mining roads to ride, and there's always the Leadville 100 course. More Colorado Trail (CT) sections nearby. Snowmass and in Beaver Creek offer lift-assisted riding.

Tent Camping: I like Difficult Campground (5 miles east of Aspen center), be sure to reserve ahead of time, this is a popular campground located in an aspen grove on the way to Independence Pass. There is also a nice campground up Maroon Creek Rd on the way to Maroon Bells called Silver Bells Campground.

Enjoy your rides and visit to beautiful Aspen, Colorado. I sure did!