Close Climbs to Denver

Sherry SchulzPeak Pedaler, Scenery, Training

Riding up Lookout Mountain is almost a rite of passage for cyclists.

Riding up Lookout Mountain is almost a rite of passage for cyclists.

Each of us want to try and get as much climbing as possible done before the big tour–but it isn’t always easy to get way up there in the mountains for good climbing. Late-season snowfall adds an extra layer of challenge.

With limited hours in the day (and limited days before the start of the tour), here are some scenic and challenging climbs close to the Denver metro area that you can fit in on a weekday evening or turn into a full weekend day excursion.

Lookout Mountain

lookout 2

Not much of a shoulder for much of the climb.

Riding up Lookout Mountain is almost a rite of passage for cyclists on the Front Range. Parking is right in Golden (6th Ave and 19th) so it’s easy to get to. The actual climb from the gate to the top is under five miles, with total elevation gain of about 1,600 ft., making it a short but very strenuous ride. There is no real shoulder for most of the route. However, many cyclists ride it so vehicles are familiar with common courtesies and know to keep their eyes open. At the top is Buffalo Bill’s Grave. You can continue on down the other side, or enjoy the screaming descent back into town with lots of hairpin curves. You might even see some hang gliders floating by, as it’s adjacent to a popular launch. If that wasn’t enough…turn around and do it again!

Dinosaur Ridge to Red Rocks
Dinosaur Ridge has been closed to traffic for several years now and has fast become one of my favorite local climbs. You can park at Fox Hollow Golf Course (or further away if you want more mileage). You can ride through the backside of the golf course all the way up the winding switchbacks of Mount Carbon. It’s not a long climb, but fairly steep. Then work your way through Bear Creek Lake Park. Cross over Morrison Road and follow Rooney Road up to Alameda. You can choose the bike path or the road, which has a pretty good shoulder. This is a gentle climb. Then cross over Alameda and go left as you follow the road up through the pedestrian gate. It’s wide enough for cyclists but be cautious. There are electric cars bringing tourist up to this cool spot. Stay on the area designated for cyclists. Climb to the top while viewing fossils from the late Jurassic Era. It’s not a long climb–but it’s a good one. Once you’ve reached the top, continue on down the other side. To go on to Red Rocks, just cross the road (Morrison) and begin your climb into the amphitheater. It starts out fairly easy and manageable–but it begins to steepen up right before the rock tunnel. You can rest and then enjoy the fast descent. The elevation gain for this short ride is about 500ft.

Deer Creek Canyon

Start early to ride Deer Creek Canyon -- it can get hot and crowded.

Start early to ride Deer Creek Canyon — it can get hot and crowded.

This ride is close to Chatfield Reservoir (Wadsworth & Deer Creek Rd.). There is parking all along Deer Creek Rd. I like to park at South Valley hiking parking lot off of Martin Marietta Rd. It starts out very gentle. There is a pretty good shoulder for the beginning of this ride–but it does disappear and you have no shoulder at all. It starts to get steeper. There is an option to take a left if you want a loop when you get to a fork in the road. I like to continue on up to the top. It’s about 7.5 miles from where I park. It’s grueling and keeps climbing the whole way. Once you’ve made it to the top, it’s a screamer on the way down. If you want to do the high grade road loop, turn left at the fork and continue 13 more miles. This is a great ride. There are lots of riders on the road. I recommend an early start as it gets pretty hot once the climbing begins.

Squaw Pass
If you head west out of Denver on I-70 and drive about a half hour, you’ll find this scenic ride. Take the Mt. Evans exit, and in Idaho Springs or somewhere along the road. It starts out gradual and you don’t even think you are climbing–but like all of the other rides, it begins to steepen up, and it doesn’t stop. At about 14 miles of switch backs you see Echo Lake on your right. It is a welcome relief to stop climbing and enjoy the lake. There isn’t really a shoulder on this ride. I would be cautious on a busy day when Mt. Evans is open as there is lots of traffic, especially the large motor homes. You can turn back or if you’re feeling like a climbing machine, go on up a mile or more further and enter Mt. Evans Wilderness Area (they do charge cyclists to ride on the road). It’s another 14 miles to the top. This is a tough stretch, and usually very windy. On this ride you need to be prepared for any kind of weather. I can change quickly–wind, rain, or even hail.

There are lots of great climbs in the area, these are just a few of my favorites. Enjoy the climb!!