11 March 2015

Cycling Climbs of Colorado - a Fine List

The very best bike climbs in Colorado with all the facts

I just completed a very fun project - I created a brand new Pedal Dancer® Guide Page for Colorado bike climbs. A list of the most popular mountain passes to ride by bike in Colorado, with all the facts in one convenient online place. See the new Pedal Dancer Guide Page to COLORADO CLIMBS now.

I think of it as the ultimate resource list for cycling climbs in Colorado, offering ride facts and links to ride descriptions, maps and climb profiles by those who know best -- the individuals who get out and ride the rides: MyBicycleRoutes, CyclePass, ClimbbyBike, 303Cycling, SteepClimbs, ColoradoGuy, Colorado-Cycling.com, SummitBiking, Rocky Mountain Cycling Club, Trimble Outdoors, Colorado Bike Maps, 5280, Team Evergreen, STRAVA, MapMyRide, RidewithGPS, Pedal Dancer, local websites and bloggers.

I have included the climbs I have ridden and know best; there are 26 climbs highlighted on the guide page. A drop in the bucket, but a good start.  Jon Summerson wrote a fine book, worth buying, in which he details 144 climbs in Colorado, titled The Complete Guide to Climbing by Bike in Colorado. Read my 2011 book review: Recommended Reading: Guide to Climbing.


Map of 26 recommended bike climbs in Colorado: interactive map link

Best bike climbs in Colorado
Map of popular cycling climbs in Colorado by Pedal Dancer (link)


What I hope to accomplish through compiling this list, is to provide you with one place to locate and read all the resources available about a specific climb you plan to conquer; planning ahead to make your ride better and your bucket list more complete.

Presented in alphabetical order, I detail the climbs I am most familiar with, beginning with the FAQs for each of these popular rides (or ones I really think you should ride), then offer links by the experts.

26 Colorado Passes are featured:

Battle Mountain, Berthoud Pass, Colorado National Monument, Cottonwood Pass, Deer Creek / High Grade Rd., Fremont Pass, Grand Mesa, Guanella Pass, Hoosier Pass, Independence Pass, Lizard Head Pass, Lookout Mountain, Loveland Pass, Magnolia Rd, Maroon Bells, McClure Pass, Monarch Pass, Mount Evans, Rabbit Ears Pass, Red Mountain Pass, Squaw Pass, Super Flagstaff, Swan Mountain, Tennessee Pass, Trail Ridge Road, Vail Pass.

I now have two Guide Pages to cycling in Colorado: 

Path over Swan Mountain looking toward Breckenridge, Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer

Colorado Climb Records:

Most Difficult: Mt Evans is rated as the most difficult climb in Colorado at 9.0 (if the rating considered altitude and weather it should be doubled!). Grand Mesa from either side is also very difficult, but the north side is the second most difficult climb in Colorado. At third most difficult is Trail Ridge Rd - East side.

Highest: Mount Evans is the highest climb with a maximum elevation reached of 14150 ft. Trail Ridge Road is 12183 ft and Cottonwood Pass is 12126 ft. Next is Independence Pass at 12095 ft in elevation.

Longest: Of the climbs listed below, Lizard Head Pass (south side from Delores to Telluride) is the longest at 49.2 miles, although it is not very steep (1.3% average grade). The entire climb of Mt Evans from Idaho Springs is 28 miles. McClure Pass (north side) is also long at 25.4 miles . Trail Ridge Rd (east side) is another long climb at a distance of 24.3 miles.

Longest Hardest: Mount Evans, Grand Mesa (both sides). Hard hard hard.

Steepest: Magnolia Rd is thought to be the steepest paved road in Colorado with a 9.1% average grade and a maximum grade of 17%.

The Shortest Hardest: If you like your climbs intense, then you will want to ride East Portal (max 16%), Magnolia Rd (max 17%), and Flagstaff Rd (max 14%). 

Greatest Ascent: The honor of most effort goes again to Mt Evans with 6240ft gain in elevation during the climb, followed by a tough Trail Ridge Rd with 4663 ft gain, barely edging out Grand Mesa (south route from Delta) with 4620 ft elevation gain (although these figures vary by resource).

Fastest Descent: Hold on for the ride down the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass, the south side of Wolf Creek Pass, and the south side of Hoosier Pass. 

Most Scenic: My vote would go to Independence Pass, Trail Ridge Rd, Mt Evans (on a good weather day), Red Mountain Pass or Colorado National Monument. I like open vistas!

Closed for Winter: Trail Ridge Rd, Independence Pass, and Mt Evans. 

My Top Bucket List Climbs: Cottonwood Pass, Independence Pass, Trail Ridge Rd, Mt. Evans, Loveland Pass (south side), Grand Mesa.

Climbs that cross the Continental (Great) Divide

Popular cycling climbs that cross the Continental (Great) Divide. You could do all eight in one week-long vacation to Colorado:

Classic Climbs:

According to Rocky Mountain Cycling Club (RMCC) there are 46 paved passes in the state of Colorado, 27 of those are over 10,000 ft in elevation. I need to give the fine folks at RMCC credit for compiling their list of 15 Classic Colorado Climbs listed, in alphabetical order, as:
  • Black Canyon (north rim)
  • Black Canyon (south rim)
  • Cheyenne Canyon
  • Colorado National Monument
  • Deer Creek / High Grade
  • Golden Gate Canyon
  • Grand Mesa
  • Lefthand Canyon
  • Lookout Mountain
  • Magnolia
  • Mt. Evans
  • Rist Canyon
  • St Mary's Glacier
  • Super Flagstaff
  • Trail Ridge Rd

Loveland Pass - south side, Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer

My favorites Colorado ride areas:

I am certain every cyclist has their own personal favorites, my favorite cycling areas in Colorado are:
  • Copper Triangle (Copper Mountain, Leadville, Battle Mountain, Vail Pass loop)
  • Squaw Pass/Mt Evans/Idaho Springs Loop
  • Lyons, Old St. Vrain Canyon, Peak to Peak Hwy, Ward, Lefthand Canyon, Boulder Loop
  • Lyons, Allens Park, up Trail Ridge Road / Grand Lake
  • Deer Creek, High Grade, Turkey Creek area loop, SW Denver
  • Frisco, Keystone, Montezuma, Loveland Pass, Georgetown area
  • Cottonwood Pass between Crested Butte and Buena Vista
  • Deckers Loop south of Denver
  • Colorado Monument near Grand Junction
  • Independence Pass/Aspen (both sides)
  • Maroon Bells + Castle Creek, Aspen
  • Grand Mesa and Paonia area

Once again, read more about these climbs in detail: distances, profiles, ride reports, and more FAQS by visiting the new Pedal Dancer® Guide Page >>>> COLORADO CLIMBS. It should truly inspire you to conquer a new mountain in 2015!