There is a wonderful range of riding possibilities in Colorado. The state boasts so many beautiful landscapes, dramatic mountains ranges, and winding roads, it would probably take years to experience them all.
That’s why you should hop on your bike now and get to exploring the Centennial State. Here are five excellently twisty and uniquely gratifying paved roads in Colorado.
The legendary Pikes Peak is an interesting and unique ride, immortalized in the annual international hill climb event. Starting at Cascade, CO, at an elevation of 7,400 feet, the road ascends to the peak at 14,115 feet.
It’s a 19-mile paved juggernaut of turns and hairpins (many without guardrails) that rewards you with lakes, wildlife, and stunning views. Estimates for ride time are 2-3 hours, not counting stops or taking a break at the summit.
Fuel up, because there is no gas on the mountain. Also, layer up—the weather is unpredictable, with the possibility of experiencing a bit of everything en route.
Traversing the road, you will cover the race course of the annual hillclimb, which should inspire newfound respect for the racers that compete for the title of the King of the Mountain.
Due to the weather conditions, the road is subject to closures—especially in winter—so check road conditions ahead of your trip.
To make your Pikes Peak ride especially memorable, consider an overnight stay at the historical Cliff House. A Victorian-style hotel dating back 150 years, it is the crown jewel of quirky Manitou Springs, a quaint village that will entertain you on its own merits. As proof of the hotel’s quality, the AAA has given the Cliff House a Four Diamond-rating.
Million Dollar Highway
With a start point in Ouray, CO, the ice-climbing capital of the world, the famous Million Dollar Highway meanders along the dramatic San Juan mountains to the small town of Silverton in the south. It’s just 24 miles, but the route delivers a sensory overload of visuals, from dense forests to snow-capped mountain peaks and all kinds of active wildlife.
The road’s name is rumored to stem from the cost of repaving it—an estimated $1 million per mile (in 1930 money). However, the views are probably the real root of the name.
Along the route there are several tiny enclaves where you can hydrate and snack, but few have gas. There are also abandoned mining towns.
With multiple summits hitting 10,000 feet and more, check the weather regularly as things can turn on a dime out here. Spring, fall, and summer are going to serve you best with stunning vistas and colors.
The mountains are populated with black bears, deer, elk, and mountain goats. The road surface is in good condition, with plenty of opportunities to stop.
Ouray makes for a perfect base. This quaint little town is wedged into steep cliffs, and the Million Dollar Highway begins at the southern edge of town where the road ascends in tight switchbacks.
When I rode this famous highway, I stayed at the Ouray Inn, a vintage hotel that has been in operation since 1893. The creak of the floorboards is simply an added quirk, evidence of the building’s history. Walk down Main St for a choice of eateries and bars (and ice cream).
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is a unique riding experience that sweeps over the Rockies in all directions. Constructed in 1931, it’s become a scenic wonder for motorists.
Beginning in the east at Estes Park, the 48-mile road ascends above the treeline, where the evergreen forests open up to plateaus and vistas, peaking at 12,183 feet. Officially named US 34, Trail Ridge Road offers alpine wildflowers in spring, wildlife sightings, and spectacular views.
Forests of aspen and ponderosa pine abound, as well as fir and spruce. Above the treeline, the landscape transitions to alpine tundra.
The road is often 20-30 degrees colder than Estes Park, so don’t be fooled when you disembark. The elevation and mountain location subjects it to harsh winds and cold, so track the weather. Also, the altitude means thin air, which increases ultraviolet intensity, so wear sunscreen.
En route, you will experience vistas that provide views across the Front Range and Great Plains, as well as the Rockies. You should allow for at least a half day to really enjoy the ride and the views. After all, the Trail Ridge Road was named one of the 10 America’s Byways in Colorado, with a national designation of All-American Road.
To make your Trail Ridge Road riding experience really special, plan a stay at the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Rumored to be the model for the hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining, the hotel enjoys a famous history.
Another Colorado treasure, Cottonwood Pass is located between Chaffee and Gunnison counties, running from Buena Vista to Taylor Park Reservoir. One of the highest roads in the state, it peaks at 12,126 feet in elevation.
Although listed on several “dangerous roads” sites, the route—albeit challenging—offers exquisite panoramic views. The route was fully paved in 2019, providing smooth, wide riding. Included in the final paving were additional guardrails and falling rock protection.
Just 31.7 miles in length, Cottonwood Pass is an adventurous alternative to Monarch Pass. Born as a timber road, it is now primarily a scenic drive.
Nearing the summit, there are switchbacks that necessitate a 15-mph speed limit. In parts, the road has 10% gradients, which can be a challenge to some, especially if you’re riding a large, fully loaded bagger.
Being somewhat remote, the route has relatively sparse traffic. As the third highest paved road in Colorado, Cottonwood Pass is closed seasonally, with heavy snowfall arriving in October and remaining until May.
Here’s an interesting fact—the pass is one of just a few routes through the Sawatch Range that is accessible in a standard two-wheel drive car. Thunderstorms are frequent, so keep an eye on the sky. Be diligent and prep accordingly, as you’re going to be pretty much on your own.
To create a truly memorable outing, indulge the tasteful, European-inspired elegance of the Surf Hotel & Chateau in Buena Vista, CO. This boutique hotel offers charm and luxury in the adventure location of the Colorado mountains. The Wesley & Rose is the hotel’s in-house restaurant, serving dinner nightly and brunch on Sundays.
Wolf Creek Pass
Named for the creek that flows down the western side of the San Juan Mountains, Wolf Creek Pass is another riding adventure of high peaks. Starting in Pagosa Springs in Archuleta County and ending in South Fork in Rio Grande County, this around 42-mile route traverses the Continental Divide.
The road has a dramatic 6.8% maximum grade, which makes it extremely dangerous in winter. Originally just a two-lane road, it has been expanded to a multi-lane highway.
The route includes a 900-foot tunnel on the eastern portion. Lobo Overlook takes full advantage of its 11,760-foott elevation, offering commanding views of the Continental Divide. West of the pass is Treasure Falls, a mountain waterfall.
Just like all other Colorado mountain roads, the pass is subject to harsh weather, high winds, and heavy rain. Although open in winter, the snowfall and cold make motorcycle riding largely impossible.
Just west of South Fork is one of the largest RV parks in America. Yet, unlike the early settlers that labored over these mountain ranges, adventurers today can treat themselves to more comfortable accommodations within the beauty of nature.
One establishment for a cozy stay is Club Wyndham Pagosa, which is situated on 18,000 acres and includes the famed mineral hot springs. The historical railroad town of Durango is a one-hour drive away, where you can ride the narrow gauge railroad.