Touring Colorado: Riding the Rockies means endless views
Riding the Rockies means endless views. Photo: Courtesy of Vreeke & Associates

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Touring Colorado : Breathtaking Scenery and Incredible Roads Await

Dare to dream big. When it’s time to plan that long-awaited riding vacation, you might as well shoot for the sky—literally—by targeting the mile-high elevations and sky-scraping peaks of Colorado. After all, what’s not to like about winding mountain roads, majestic views and wide-open spaces largely free of traffic? Can’t make that Alpine adventure in the European Alps this year? Don’t sweat it: Colorado has some of the finest motorcycle riding in the world.
Touring Colorado
Even in the summer months, you may encounter a bit of snow while traveling along the Continental Divide. Photo: Courtesy of Vreeke & Associates

The western half of Colorado holds the Rocky Mountains, the best portion of the state for riding. For reference, these exquisite roads rest about 900 miles from the West Coast, putting the Rockies within manageable reach of a huge riding population. You could spend weeks roaming Colorado’s highlands, but here are a couple of favorite areas you should program into your GPS.

The first can be found in the southwestern corner of the state: the San Juan Skyway, which winds through 233 miles of prime mountain real estate. This choice loop uses Highways 550, 160, 145 and 62 to connect Ridgway in the north to Durango in the south.

Think of this route as your VIP pass that opens free access to the five million acres of the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests—gorgeous, pristine country littered with sheer cliffs and towering peaks that will bring you to a halt time and again for photo ops. Depending on the time of year, you’ll be treated to snow-melt waterfalls, rolling fields of wildflowers, or armies of aspen trees turning color in various shades of green, bronze and gold.

As you make your way to various stops along the way in the towns of Durango, Silverton and Telluride, you’ll be treated to a distinctive atmosphere of historic treats that whisks you back in time to the era of gold mines, vintage steam locomotives and Wild West saloons.

A brightly colored train rounds a corner along the San Juan Skyway. Photo:
A brightly colored train rounds a corner along the San Juan Skyway. Photo: Public domain, by Sally Pearce

There’s definitely an old-time buzz about these spots but with the modern twist of special events—such as bluegrass, jazz, folk and film festivals—that happen during various times of the year. So scout out your possibilities beforehand to make the most of your timing. Also, the southern end of this run puts you on the doorstep of Mesa Verde National Park, where you can visit the cliff dwellings that served as home for the Ancestral Pueblo people for more than 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300—amazing stuff!

Whether your tastes run toward browsing through quaint shops, soaking in hot springs that eased the miners’ aches and pains long ago, lodging in Victorian-era digs, sleeping under the stars in a forest campground, or prowling about historic sites, the San Juan Skyway offers spectacular riding along with plenty more opportunities that can make for a truly memorable trip.

If you have the time and yearning for more miles, make your way north about 350 miles (don’t miss the Black Canyon of the Gunnison!) and choose any of several ways to Rocky Mountain National Park. Within the park boundaries you’ll find the combined 53 miles of Trail Ridge Road and Beaver Meadow Road, America’s highest continuously paved road—literally a mountaintop experience! This route stretches from Grand Lake on the western end to Estes Park on the east, including the short loop that takes in the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, a National Historic Landmark.

This interpretive sign along Trail Ridge Road, explains the Continental Divide
This interpretive sign along Trail Ridge Road, explains the Continental Divide. Photo: Public domain, by Sally Pearce

Trail Ridge Road is by far the most popular road in the Rocky Mountain National Park region. Numerous overlooks populate the road, revealing peaks stretching from 12,000 to more than 14,000 feet up into the thin air. For 11 miles, the route winds above the tree line in genuine alpine tundra that contains forms of life and climatic conditions like those found at the Arctic Circle.

Plenty of trailheads also dot the route if you’re inclined to park your bike and do some hiking. Because this is such a protected area, you have a splendid chance of spotting rarely seen wildlife, including mountain sheep, moose, beaver and ptarmigan, as well as marmots, pikas, eagles, peregrine falcons, elk, deer and coyote. Also, be sure to make a photo stop at the 10,758-foot-high Milner Pass, where the road crosses the Continental Divide.

We’ve barely scratched the surface here, so suffice it to say it’s hard to pick a boring pass in the Rockies. With truly spectacular scenery and a wealth of fun-time roads, Colorado is like an Italian Alps adventure right here in our own backyard.

Places to Visit

Anasazi Heritage Center

Through a break in the trees along Trail Ridge Road, Longs Peak stands majestic under its snow cover.
Through a break in the trees along Trail Ridge Road, Longs Peak stands majestic under its snow cover. Photo: Public domain, by Sally Pearce

The Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores interprets the history and culture of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, the Trail of the Ancients, and the Four Corners region. This facility features ancient pottery, interactive displays, 12th-century archaeological sites, changing exhibits and special events. Outside the museum are the Escalante Pueblo and Dominguez Pueblo archaeological sites. Artifacts, rock art, cliff dwellings, and prehistoric trash and charcoal tell the story of this ancient people.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Continuing the century-old tradition of railroading in the Rockies, coal-fired, steam-powered antique locomotives continue to run to Silverton and back from the very center of Durango. Today, instead of hauling supplies and precious ore for the mining industry, the locomotives carry curious passengers back to the frontier days, through a wilderness canyon brimming with history and natural wonder.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde is the only national park dedicated solely to the works of man. The park’s cliff dwellings were mysteriously abandoned by the Anasazi Indians 200 years before Columbus discovered America. The entrance to Mesa Verde National Park nearest to the byway is located approximately halfway between Cortez and Mancos just off U.S. 160.

Telluride

The historic mining town of Telluride was originally established in the 1870s as a gold and silver mining camp. In 1964, the town was designated as a national historic district. Much of Telluride’s early Victorian architecture still remains today. The heritage of the town includes the first bank robbery by the infamous Butch Cassidy. Today the historic downtown lends the perfect setting for year-round shopping and lodging. Festivals feature bluegrass and country music, jazz, international films, wine and balloons, and hang gliding competitions.

Tour Colorado – Motorcycle Adventure Photo Gallery

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