Day 1/One- and Two-Day Ride
Sunday, June 13
74 Miles/3,634’ Approximate Elevation Gain
Highlights: Animas River, Southern Ute Reservation, La Plata Mountains
Route opens: 7:00am – 9:00am
Route closes: 4:00pm
The 2021 Ride the Rockies kicks off with a classic Durango-area excursion. Known locally as the Ignacio-Bayfield Loop, this 73-mile jaunt features mellow country road spinning, a handful of short, but tough climbs, and miles of superb scenery. After rolling south out of Durango, the route traces the shores of the Animas River before turning east for the first real test of the day. After crossing US550, you’ll gain a rapid 500 feet as you climb onto the plateau that’s home to the Southern Ute Reservation.
Following a half dozen miles on the flats, the route drops into the town of Ignacio where you can top off bottles and grab a snack. Then begins the long gradual climb to the route’s high point near Lemon Reservoir. The toughest section comes just after turning onto County Road 240 (around mile 55). There you’ll face a 2.5-mile grind that averages 5 percent and gains 570 feet. Once over the top, the road trends downhill for the next 8.5 miles, though there are a few short stingers to keep you honest. The last of those pops brings you up to the Edgemont Ranch area around mile 67. From there it’s a straight, fast downhill back into Durango.
Day 2/Two-Day Ride
Monday, June 14
Durango to Cortez
69 Miles/3,610’ Approximate Elevation Gain
Highlights: Lake Nighthorse, Cheery Creek Loop, Mesa Verde
Route opens: 6:00am – 9:00am
Route closes: 4:00pm
After a great opening day in and around Durango, it’s time to head west to Cortez. But instead of the traditional straight shot on US160, this year’s Ride the Rockies route heads out on roads less traveled. The ride’s first 44 miles trace what Durango locals call the Cheery Creek Loop that kicks off with the testing climb to the shores of Lake Nighthorse, which gains about 760 feet in 3 miles. The ensuing 20 miles are gradually rolling or downhill. Then the route makes a sharp turn to the north for the first packed dirt road section of this year’s Ride the Rockies route.
Fear not, though. This well-maintained 17-mile stretch of country road is frequented by cyclists and trends gradually uphill the whole time, lessening the impact of the non-paved surface. You’ll also be far away from traffic, able to more thoroughly enjoy your time on the bike. (Note: There will be a shorter paved option in case of bad weather.) At mile 44 the route turns west on US160, climbing to the day’s highpoint atop Mancos Hill, then trends downhill for most of the remaining miles, as you spin past the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park and on into the finish line in Cortez.
Tuesday, June 15
Cortez to Norwood
100 Miles/6,468’ Approximate Elevation Gain
Highlights: Lizard Head Pass, San Miguel River, Norwood Hill
Route opens: 5:00am – 8:00am
Route closes: 6:30pm
Arguably the toughest stage of the 2021 Ride the Rockies, and easily the longest, Day 3 takes riders on a northerly trek into the stunning San Juan Mountains. That, of course, means lots of climbing, as there’s 4,000 feet of elevation difference between the start in Cortez and the route’s high point atop Lizard Head Pass, elevation 10,222. The good news is that heart of the climb is never overly steep, typically hovering in the 3-4 percent range as you roll through the small towns of Delores and Rico on your way into the alpine.
From the Lizard Head summit it’s nearly all downhill to the finish, save for the final 2-mile grind up punchy Norwood Hill. In between, the route includes an 8-mile packed dirt road section that gets riders away from the traffic around Telluride, and avails a bevy of breathtaking views along the banks of the San Miguel River. And just as with Day 2, there is a paved option should weather not cooperate. Bottom line, plan to pace yourself and stay on top of your fueling and hydration, as this is a big day on the bike.
Wednesday, June 16
Norwood to Ridgway
40 miles/3003’ Approximate Elevation Gain
Highlights: San Miguel River, Dallas Divide, San Juan Mountains
Route opens: 7:00am – 11:00am
Route closes: 2:00pm
Unlike the Tour de France, there are no rest days at Ride the Rockies. But with just 40 miles to cover and less than 3,000 feet of climbing, Day 4 will be the closest thing to a recovery ride on this year’s tour. The route starts with a rapid descent back down Norwood Hill, then traces the banks of the San Miguel River for a dozen miles.
Next the route turns northeast on CO62 for the gradual 13-mile grind to the summit of Dallas Divide, the day’s high point at 8,983 feet. Up top enjoy stunning views of the San Juans, and then take off for the speedy descent all the way to the finish in Ridgway. Now it’s time to crack an Eddyline beer, put your legs up, and enjoy a little recuperation before the final two days on the bike.
Thursday, June 17
64 Miles/5,150’ Approximate Elevation Gain
Highlights: Ridgway State Park, Uncompahgre Plateau, San Juan Mountains
Route opens: 7:00am – 11:00am
Route closes: 3:00pm
You’ll get to enjoy a little extra sleep on the morning of Day 5, as we’ll be spending two nights in Ridgway, meaning you don’t have to pack your bags just yet. Instead, get ready for an adventurous 50-mile loop that starts with a leisurely bike path spin northward into Ridgway State Park. The route then merges onto US550 northbound before turning southwest at the tiny town of Colona.
Now the real work begins, as riders will face a gradual 10-mile climb on County Road 1, which includes 6.5 miles of packed dirt road. But the pain of climbing will be offset by the ever-improving views, first of the sprawling Uncompahgre Plateau, and then the looming wall of the distant San Juan Mountains.
Just after returning to pavement, buckle up for a rollicking twisty descent, and then an easy roll across the valley to CO62. From there it’s back up to the summit of Dallas Divide (you can now brag that you’ve climbed both sides), and finally an easy descent back to Ridgway and the finish.
Friday, June 18
Ridgway to Durango
85 Miles/7,633’ Approximate Elevation Gain
Highlights: Ouray, Red Mountain Pass, Molas Pass, Coal Bank Pass
Route opens: 5:00am – 7:300am
Route closes: 3:30pm
Thanks to its approximately 7,606 feet of climbing, the final day of the 2021 Ride the Rockies is arguably the hardest — and perhaps the best. After a brief jaunt on flat packed dirt roads to avoid the traffic and narrow shoulder of US550 between Ridgway and Ouray, the route turns upwards for the first of three stunning climbs on the aptly named Million Dollar Highway.
First up is the trek up and over Red Mountain Pass, which is both brutal and breathtaking. It’s truly Sound-of-Music scenic here in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. Jagged peaks thrust high into the sky, waterfalls plunge down sheer rock faces, and the gaping Uncompahgre Gorge disappears into the shadows. There’s also a little less oxygen, with the Red Mountain summit marking the high point of this year’s tour at 11,017 feet.
A rapid descent to Silverton follows, before the road turns upwards again, this time for the back-to-back grinds over Molas (10,910 feet) and then Coal Bank (10,640) passes. Here again the scenery is sublime. No wonder some call this corner of Colorado Little Switzerland. From the top of Coal Bank it’s a mostly downhill spin back to Durango and the final finish line, where your finisher’s medal and a well-earned beer awaits.
Daily Route Schedule
Please note the opening and closing schedule of each day’s route. Ride the Rockies will provide complete route support only during the posted schedule. If you choose to leave before the route opens, please understand that we cannot guarantee there will be support for you on the route. That means no bike techs, SAG’s, medical support or aid stations. Route support is only provided during the posted schedule. Also note that daily route closings are based on a cyclist leaving at the latest scheduled route opening time and traveling an average of 10mph. Thus it is very important that you track your progress during the day. Do not spend too much time at aid stations or viewing areas if you feel you might not make it.
Special thanks to Jason Sumner for writing the route descriptions.
Jason will be participating in the 35th Annual Ride The Rockies. An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book “75 Classic Rides: Colorado.” When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.