The Detour

Feb 14, 2013 View Comments by

The Detour

As I sit here in my hotel room in Estes Park, CO outside the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park I have to ask myself, “why did I drive up here instead of ride?” The weather is a pleasant upper 40s compared to the single digits we have been experiencing; but it’s my wife’s birthday weekend, so riding in the car was probably the right call this time.

I love Estes in the winter, there’s far less traffic than in the warm months. But the riding is limited as the pass over to Grand Lake is closed from the first big snow until late May. Being here today reminds me of a ride I took part in this past summer. I accepted an invitation to join a group of riders that I had not met before. The plan was to ride the loop from Denver to Estes Park over Trail Ridge Road and then return via Grand Lake on the other side of the park. There were riders of all skill levels on all kinds of motorcycles including fully loaded cruisers, two-up riders, and, our speed trap reconnaissance, sport bike riders. I was the sole dual sport rider.

Constructed in 1931, Trail Ridge Road is the highest contiguous paved road in the United States and travels 48 miles from Estes over into Grand Lake, CO. It is a great road for riders of all levels of experience and riding preference. The hardest part is keeping your eyes on the road as they are filled with views of wildlife and natural splendors. For those seeking a little more of a thrill and a chance to avoid the camper littered paved option, there is the lesser-known detour of Old Fall River Road; a one-way dirt route that joins Trail Ridge Road at the 12,183-foot summit.

Even though the group was comprised of mostly locals, none of the 20 riders were aware of this detour. A few even suspected I might be imagining it. I finished lunch with the group, wished everyone well, and told them to watch for me once they reached the top. What is great about this detour is that if you are riding with a mix of street and dual-sport riders you can split up for about an hour and meet at the top. It is not an overly technical ride, but it is considered a high clearance road and being comfortable riding in sand is a plus.

Along the way, as long as cars are willing to use the numerous pullouts, you can actually get to the top faster than the paved option, but this route is not about speed. After you pass an area that was once a labor camp that housed the convicts who built the road, you cross over a small bridge. Look to your right and you will see the alluvial fan that was carved out in July of 1982 when 29 million gallons of water carried car-sized boulders four miles down to the valley below before flooding the town of Estes under six feet of water. If you have the time it is worth hiking up a bit to snap some photos or just to enjoy the view.

The pavement ends just past the bridge and the trail begins to ascend 16% grades with turn radiuses so tight that longer vehicles have to make several smaller turns just to get through. Deep sand and the lack of guardrails add to the adventure. As I ride through Willow Park, right before the summit, I wipe the sweat from my eyes and take in the sight of elk grazing in the fields. I ride past several small lakes before looking up to wave to the riders who chose the paved option. It is not better than Trail Ridge Road simply different. Several riders are fascinated by this “new to them option” of Old Fall River Road and vow to return on alternate bikes in the future. I am glad to rejoin the group to finish off our 332-mile day loop.

I am snapped from my summer daydream as the January winds blow harder and begin to carry in new snow. Perhaps it was a good weekend to leave the bike at home. I look over the maps I have brought along and jot down a few ideas for spring riding. But now I really should get back to my family. It is my wife’s birthday after all. Spring will be here soon enough.

Do you know of any good rides that offer alternatives to accommodate different riding styles? Share them below.

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About the author

I am an introvert posing as an extrovert. I love travel in all forms, but prefer 2-wheels. I created AdventureHermit as a way to share my adventures and inspire others to find joy through discovery; writing for RoadRUNNER is a dream come true!