20 April 2015

Pedal Dancer® Guide to Summit County Cycling

I recommend Summit County for where to ride a bike in Colorado

Summit County is a wonderful place to ride a bike. If you haven't yet ridden a bike in Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain or Keystone - you need to give it a try this summer. Centrally located in the high mountains of Colorado, Summit County, contains the climbs of Vail Pass, Loveland Pass, Boreas Pass, Hoosier Pass, Fremont Pass and Ute Pass. That is a lot of passes.

Summit County also has miles of bike paths and roads connecting mountains, valleys, lakes and small towns over diverse terrain with spectacular views; perfect for the intermediate to advanced cyclists, with sections suitable for beginner cyclists.

I recently completely a huge project, I wrote a Cycling Guide to Summit County.

Inspired by my recent selection as an Ambassador with Ride with GPS, I wrote a cycling and travel guide to one of my favorite areas to ride a bike in Colorado - Summit County. I had previously written posts to recommend bike rides near Aspen and Vail, so when Ride with GPS gave me first choice of selecting any area in Colorado, I wanted a new challenge - I wanted to map out rides in a county where I previously lived and often play. Summit County was my first choice.

Links you might like:
Descending the road between Loveland Pass and Keystone. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

On the new guide to cycling in Summit County you will find 6 recommended routes. For each route, ride FAQs are given for distance, altitude, max grade, etc. I also offer where to find water and restrooms on route, cautions to look out for and points of interest along your ride, with plenty of photographs added in for fun.

On the Guide Page to biking in Summit County, there is a list of bike shops (with bike rentals noted), area history, and where to find my favorite local eats and drinks along your bike ride. 

Are you ready to visit Summit County to ride a bike?

Location of Summit County, Colorado in U.S.A.
Summit County is located inside the red circle west of Denver, Colorado
Lost to do on this map of Summit County by Colorado-Directory.com


I have chosen to highlight 6 ride routes for you (and Ride with GPS). Within the description of each route, I mention route options and local tips and recommendations. I suspect you love maps as much as I do; I know you will love riding in Colorado as much as I do.

Although two routes begin from Frisco Marina, one from Dillon Marina, one from Breckenridge, one from Copper Mountain and one from Keystone - you may begin any of these rides from the towns within Summit County. Copy these routes to your own Ride with GPS account and make custom changes.

In 2015, the USA Pro Challenge will feature 2 stage finishes, 1 stage start, and 1 full day of individual time trial racing in Summit County, Colorado. That is four out of seven stages hosted in Summit County. Why - because Summit County has magnificent cycling. Come discover the RIDE!


Please follow the ROUTE MAP links for more information about each recommended ride.
All photos on this page and on the Ride with GPS Ambassador pages ©by Karen Rakestraw and Laurie Decoteau.

1. Vail Pass from Frisco through Copper Mountain (Route Maps)

Frisco to Vail Pass bicycling map
Frisco to Vail Pass bicycling map (route link)
Bike path on Vail Pass. Photo by Laurie Decoteau
Bike path on Vail Pass. Photo by Laurie Decoteau
Frisco to Vail Pass - A popular Colorado bike ride

RIDE: Frisco - Copper Mountain - Vail Pass - Copper Mountain - Frisco
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

Be ready for high altitude riding in the midst of tundra and rocky mountain peaks. You will enjoy a low-stress accessible scenic bike ride from the quaint mountain town of Frisco, Colorado, to the top of Vail Pass.

Vail Pass is a highly recommended road ride in Summit County, Colorado, perfect for solo, group or family rides (with older children). You will join a steady stream of cyclists three seasons of the year on this popular route; not accessible in winter. Round trip distance is 25.8 miles (half of it is downhill!).

Some local bike shops (see the list here) offer a tourist shuttle service (with bike rental) to the rest stop at the top (located off of I-70, exit #190). The shuttle vans conveniently unload you and your bike on Vail Pass and set you free to quickly descend all the way back through Copper Mountain Village to Frisco.

For much of the way, you will follow a nice paved two-way bike path - free from traffic - with open mountain vistas. Although the route parallels I-70, the large highway is audibly noticeable only at times during the ride. Beautiful in summer and fall, occasional flooding may occur over the bike path (usually passable) in early spring. Watch for late afternoon rain showers (be sure to bring a jacket). Look for mountain goats peering down from rock outcroppings along the path.

I like the relaxed vibe at the Frisco Marina, be sure to bike out to the point. The Island Grill (next to the Marina store) has outdoor seating, there is also a lawn for post-ride picnics.

Your ride:
  • Start: Frisco, CO, US
  • Distance: 25.6 mi
  • Elevation: + 1664 / - 1664 ft
  • Max Grade of climb: 6.9 %
  • Avg. Grade of climb: 2.8%
  • Finish: Frisco Marina
  • Difficulty: Moderate steady climb at altitude. Easy for children if you shuttle to the top and ride down.

2. Loveland Pass from Dillon Marina through Keystone (Route Maps)

Bike Ride Dillon to Loveland Pass
Bike Ride Dillon to Loveland Pass (route link)
South side of Loveland Pass. Photo by Karen Rakestraw
South side of Loveland Pass. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

The climb to Loveland Pass - south side - Big mountain climbing over the Great Divide

RIDE: Dillon - Keystone - Loveland Pass - Keystone - Dillon
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

Your ride starts at the high mountain lake of Lake Dillon in Summit County and ends atop a glorious 11,990ft mountain pass on the Continental Divide. One of my favorite climbs in Colorado, I enjoy the relatively flat warm-up with a gradual climb through pines trees, opening to big mountain vistas and dramatic switchbacks to the summit.

You will start at Dillon Marina, cycle the bike path along Lake Dillon and through neighborhoods into Keystone Ski Resort. This is where the real climb begins and sweeping mountain views surround you as you climb to the top. There are sections of on and off 8% as you ascend the final switchbacks.

The top of the pass is without facilities but a great place to people watch, take photos and enjoy the view. Pause at the summit to celebrate your achievement with other cyclists who have reached the top from both sides. Join the tourists marveling at the engineering of this road built over the Great Divide in Colorado.

Your ride:
  • Start: Lake Dillon Marina, CO, US
  • Distance: 30.8 mi
  • Elevation: + 3163 / - 3162ft
  • Steepest grade on climb: 9%
  • Average grade: 3.7% (from Dillon), 5.9% (from Keystone)
  • Max altitude at summit: 11,990ft
  • Finish: Lake Dillon Marina (out and back)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate ride for cyclists who enjoy a steep climb. Due to long descent on road, this is not a ride for children.

3. Montezuma from Frisco over Swan Mountain and back (Route Maps)

Cycling from Frisco to Montezuma CO
Cycling from Frisco to Montezuma CO (route link)
Swan Mountain bike path. Photo by Karen Rakestraw
Swan Mountain bike path. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

Frisco to Montezuma - From lake to pines and back

RIDE: Frisco - Swan Mountain - Keystone - Montezuma - Keystone - Swan Mountain - Frisco
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

A nice bike ride with varied terrain sure to entertain your legs with the challenge of short and long climbs and your eyes with scenes of lakes and pine trees. Swan Mountain will satisfy your quest to climb to a view. The road to Montezuma along the Snake River is relatively quiet; a place to get into a rhythm of climbing. This route mixes bike paths with roads. It does not matter exactly how you get through Keystone, just keep going until you find the road to Montezuma (Rd 5, Montezuma Rd.). This is a day to explore and enjoy being in the mountains on your bike.

I would recommend riding steady, but taking a break on Swan Mountain and in Beaver Run Village in Keystone. Enjoy a drink at the Marina, or picnic on the lawn, near the boats, upon your return to Frisco Marina.

A good ride for all levels of cyclists (allow more time for climbing if needed).

Your ride:
  • Starts in: Frisco, CO, US
  • Distance: 36.9 mi
  • Elevation: + 2703 / - 2704ft
  • Max Grade 8.8 %
  • Finish: Frisco Marina (out and back)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate ride (with one steep climb) over bike paths and road

4. Breckenridge around Lake Dillon to Keystone loop (Route Maps)

Breckenridge to Lake Dillon bike ride map
Breckenridge to Lake Dillon bike ride map (route link)
Breckenridge ski resort, view from Boreas Pass in fall
Breckenridge ski resort, view from Boreas Pass in fall. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

Breckenridge - Lake Dillon Loop - Ride central Summit County

RIDE: Breckenridge - Frisco - Dillon - Swan Mountain - Breckenridge
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

Breckenridge is a colorful bustling mountain town known for skiing, mountain biking, and year round special events. This year Breckenridge will host 4 stages of the USA Pro Challenge in August 2015.

Your ride starts near Main Street Breckenridge and heads down valley toward Frisco. The Blue River flows north through the valley toward the lake. The initial part of your ride will be a smooth downhill ride on the bike path from Breckenridge to Frisco.

It is possible to loop either way around the lake, but most locals prefer to ride clockwise through Frisco first, Dillon, and then ride the bike path up Swan Mountain (the east side is not as steep as the west side) before returning to Breckenridge.

The most important things to know about this route is that the bike path back to Breckenridge is a somewhat uninspiring uphill false flat for 10-miles. You will notice on the profile map that most of the climbing is tackled on the way back to Breckenridge. You will certainly be happy to reach the numerous bars and restaurants along Main Street upon your return.

The second thing to be aware of is following the bike path around Lake Dillon takes some attention to route finding, there are a few tricky path connections; keep in mind you will be going clockwise around Lake Dillon, which is due north of Breckenridge. Study the route ahead of time and ask for directions if needed.

Your ride:
  • Starts in: Breckenridge, CO, US
  • Distance: 40.7 mi
  • Elevation: + 2003 / - 2004 ft
  • Max Grade 7.0 %
  • Distance: 30.8 mi
  • Elevation: + 3163 / - 3162ft
  • Finish: Breckenridge (out and back)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate ride for cyclists who enjoy bike paths and great scenery.

5. Summit County East to West - Loveland Pass to Vail Pass (Route Maps)

Loveland Pass to Vail Pass climbs
Loveland Pass to Vail Pass climbs (route link)
View over Lake Dillon
View over Lake Dillon. Photo by Laurie Decoteau

Loveland and Vail Pass - 2 Big Mountain Passes in one day

RIDE: Keystone - Loveland Pass - Keystone - Swan Mountain - Frisco - Vail Pass - Frisco - Swan Mountain - Keystone!
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page

Ride two of the best local passes in Summit County in one day. Climb breathtaking (in beauty and oxygen) Loveland Pass and gentle Vail Pass. After this ride, having ridden border to border from east to west, you will feel as if you know Summit County very well.

This route offers plenty of choices: you may start in Dillon or Frisco, or reverse the route. Simply copy the route to your Ride with GPS account and modify the route if needed.

Loveland pass has a maximum grade of 9% and is my favorite climb in the area. I like the atmosphere at the top of the pass and the descent off the south side seems to never end. The climb up the gentle bike path to Vail Pass is stress free and often populated, but Vail Pass feels like an accomplishment in its own right. Connecting the two routes takes some time as you wend your way through towns, over Swan Mountain and past Lake Dillon.

This is a long morning to mid-day ride, allow enough time and be sure to start early. Enjoy an outside patio after your ride to soak in the high mountain scenery and revel in your accomplishment of two summits in one day.

Your ride:
  • Start: Keystone, CO, US
  • Distance: 66.5 mi
  • Elevation: + 5907ft / - 5911ft
  • Steepest grade on climb: 8.9%
  • Average grade of Loveland Pass: 5.9% (from Keystone)
  • Max altitude at summit of Loveland Pass: 11,990ft
  • Finish: Keystone (or Frisco, Dillon, Breckenridge)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate-Advanced ride for cyclists who enjoy a steep climbs. Due to long descent on road down Loveland Pass, this is not a ride for children.

6. Copper Triangle - Traditional Route, Vail Pass last (Route Maps)

Copper Triangle loop ride
Copper Triangle loop ride (route link)
bike path on Vail Pass
The last part up the small bike path on Vail Pass is the steepest. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

Copper Triangle Traditional - One of the best loop routes in Colorado

RIDE: Copper Mountain - Fremont Pass - Leadville - Tennessee Pass - Battle Mountain - Minturn - Vail - Vail Pass - Copper Mountain
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

At a distance of 79-miles, the Copper Triangle is a classic Colorado high mountain loop bike ride. Departing Copper Village and immediately ascending Fremont Pass, you will skirt the city of Leadville, continuing over Tennessee Pass, past Camp Hale, up Battle Mountain through the town of Minturn and enter Vail Village. You only have the steep climb up Vail Pass ahead of you before an easy descent returning into Copper Village to complete the loop.

This route is recommended for advanced-intermediate to advanced cyclists: long climbs, exposure to the mountain elements, cycling at altitude.

The Copper Triangle is a long tradition for Colorado cyclists and a definite bucket-list ride. It is the route used annually for the Colorado Cyclist Copper Triangle event ride to benefit the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s disease. Held the first week of August, the ride typically sells out in capacity. The special event is relatively expensive but does donate to charity and provides a great expo, lunch and live music afterwards in Copper Village for all participants. Although beautiful on any quiet weekend, this route is lots of fun with hundreds of other cyclists peppered along the climbs.

Your ride:
  • Start: Copper Mountain Village, Summit County, CO, US
  • Distance: 79.0 mi
  • Elevation: + 5949 / - 5409 ft
  • Max Grade: 9.9 %
  • Avg. Grade: 1.1 % (there is a lot of downhill)
  • Finish: Copper Mountain Village (loop route)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced cycling at altitude over semi-isolated mountain passes. Long route, come prepared.

That's it! Six routes, but more are planned in the future
Please visit and scroll down my new guide page to discover local food and bar recommendations, read the history of the area, find tips on riding in our high mountains and of course, see a photo of a moose!

I would like to thank Laurie Decoteau, A.G. Bradley and Sue Stokes for their help in recommending local restaurants and ride details. I would like to thank Laurie Decoteau for her wonderful photography featured on all of the routes.