Category Archives: Canadian Rockies Cycling

Colorado’s Ride the Rockies Gives Cyclists a Rocky Mountain High

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Cyclists from Canada and all over the world looking to ride the most challenging of bike tours amidst the Rocky Mountains, should consider heading south to Colorado for Ride The Rockies. While Albertan and British Columbian cyclists gush over the majestic beauty of the Canadian Rockies, our side of the Rockies definitely lacks bike friendly roads and highways that is so prevalent in the state of Colorado.

Rocky Mountain High - Colorado's splendor is always on hand

Rocky Mountain High – Colorado’s splendor is always on hand (Courtesy Ride The Rockies)

Cycling Paradise: Colorado’s Rocky Mountains Offers Challenging, Thrilling, Safe Riding

Colorado offers thousands of miles of challenging, thrilling and safe riding. And there is no better way to enjoy Colorado than a week long bike tour with Ride The Rockies. RTR is the oldest and best run cycling tour in all of Colorado – and quite possibly in the USA. With over 2500 participants, RTR generally offers a six day 450 mile plus tour, operating on a 2000 slot lottery format. Cylists can choose valet camping service or one can bring their own setup and camp outside or in high school gymasiums. Many who do not want to brave Colorado’s unpredictable elements purchase a hotel package or book their own accommodations.

Camping in Colorado is not for the feint of heart. Besides the obvious that one has to be in great shape, the weather can change rapidly and it is not uncommon to experience all four seasons in a single day. Every year on these types of tours, unprepared cyclists experience frostbite, hyperthermia and other maladies from the cold. On our first day, we embarked on an 8,000 foot, 80 plus mile ride where we experienced thunderstorms, rain, hail, and a major lightning storm, capping it all off with a snowstorm at Berthoud Pass, 11,306 feet.

Safe roads are plentiful and the scenery is jaw dropping

Safe roads are plentiful and the scenery is jaw dropping (Courtesy Ride The Rockies)

Hundreds of cyclists braved the wind chill that was as low as 13 degrees, experiencing adverse side affects. Some had to leave the tour early due to injuries and frostbite.  For us campers, we then had to endure sleeping at night with temperatures dropping to 20 degrees. Preparing for my 95 mile ride to Steamboat Springs the next day, my bike was iced over and in no condition for my great journey.  Some of us actually used de-icer spray on our bikes! BRRRR.

Being a hearty and brave cyclist I chose to retreat to a Winter Park coffee shop and wait for the temperature to improve.

Colorado Biking: A Lot of Attitude and Altitude

And just like the Colorado I know and love, the weather improved and was near perfect for the rest of the tour. We were able to experience five more days of cycling in near perfect conditions.  Using the valet camping service, I came back to my campsite with a tent ready to go, shower towel and a fold up seat waiting for me.  Having prepared for this tour to the tune of 150 miles a week of road and mountain biking  at altitudes of 3,000 to 5,000 feet, I was more than ready to tackle and conquer 11,000 foot passes. Sleeping at this altitude was a different story, however.  I hardly slept a wink all week.

Ride the Rockies – Day 1 – Rain, Hail, & Show

Next time: I am going to cheat and hotel it. Valet tent service is pricey at $450. If you bring your own tent and want to camp outside or in a crowded gymnsasium with other snoring cyclists, you can do so for free. RTR offers an accommodations service that will tote your bag to your hotel.  I love camping, but sleeping in a nice room with a comfy bed can put some mojo in your legs when you are gearing up for a 100 mile ride.

Colorado Roads and Highways: Spacious Shoulders and Bike Lanes

Cyclists who bike on the western side of the USA are often spoiled with bike friendly, spacious roads and highways. Colorado may be the most bike friendly of any state in the USA in that most of the mountain passes have roads that are in good shape with sufficient room for cyclists. Small Colorado towns like Steamboat Springs, Durango, Frisco, and Leadville are very bike friendly.  Colorado has a plethora of quaint towns that are fun to bike. Many are indeed a little too touristy, riddled with the typical run of the mill trinket shops that will remind your of Banff, Alberta. However, Colorado seems to take road maintenance very seriously. Cyclists and mountain bikers are everywhere.

Full Service Aid Stations, SAG Support and More

RTR is a Denver Post non-profit backed tour. Profits go to Denver Post designated charities. The tour is run at a high level from top to bottom. There are aid stations offering water and Gatorade and some minimally salty foods about every 20 miles or so. A cyclist never has to carry more than two large bottles.  RTR provides medical support, consistent SAG support as well as emergency transportation should weather conditions become too dangerous to traverse. I have been on Colorado bike tours who have failed to offer propper support, including failing to offer aid stations as promised. This Denver Post backed tour  has deep pockets and does most things right. At most aid stations, there will be two or three food vendors, offering reasonably priced hot meals and drinks.

Ride the Rockies – Day 6: Bike path through woods after Loveland Pass

Colorado Cycling Nirvana: Living a Rocky Mountain High

Biking from town to town, over steep passes , clear rivers, windy creeks, and scenic country roads that cut through lush farm fields, you will breath the cleanest air and feel like you are one with nature. You will get done with an exhausting, exhilerating 80 mile ride, surrounded by like minded cylists ready for a big dinner and a great sleep, wanting and demanding more Colorado.

And on a sun drenched Colorado day, looking ahead at Estes Park or one of Colorado’s many splendid mountains that seem to touch the sky, you won’t be the only one to start singing John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”.


Ride The Rockies Facts “at a glance”

  • RTR generally offers a 6 day bike tour to 2,000 cylists on a lottery format. Entry is $450.
  • Applying as a Canadian or from a non USA address is believed to enhance your chances of being successful.
  • Typical tour covers  450 plus miles and some days can offer over 8,000 feet of climbing. Routes can change based on incliment weather or acts of God such as fires.
  •  SAG support is offered.
  • Next years tour is offered June 13 – 20.

** Colorado weather is HIGHLY unpredicatable. Cylists can expect to experience all four seasons in a single day! Unprepared cyclists are often victimized by hypothermia and frost bite. Come prepared!

*Colorado is the most bike friendly of any state in the United States. RTR is very good about choosing tours and rides that are safe. That being said, cycling at this altitude, along with the  distance with sharp decents offers plenty of danger. Fatalities and serious injuries are common on these types of tours because cyclists fail to understand the elements and are careless. Use caution! Cycling the Rocky Mountains is a high risk endeavor. Take proper precautions and have fun.

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Canadian Rockies Cycling: Highwood Pass

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Road Cycling Highwood Pass, Canadian Rockies

by Kathy & Craig Copeland
from Done in a Day Calgary cycling guide

Location: Kananaskis Country

Get more cycling vacation ideas from Done in a Day Calgary Road Rides.

Round trip: 34 km (21 mi) to Highwood Pass, 108 km (67 mi) to Highwood Junction

Cycling time: two to five hours

Elevation gain: 536 m (1760 ft) to 1267 m (4157 ft)

Difficulty: moderate to challenging

Racers wearing peacockish, logo-crazy cycling jerseys were there, checking their heart-rate monitors while hammering sculpted, carbon-fibre road machines.

Parents towing tots on trailer cycles were there, climbing the hills like yaks, straining under the burden yet smiling beatifically.

A 70-year-old couple was there, pedaling warhorse touring bikes, training for their ride across Croatia later this summer.

Kids on squeaking, screw-loose, derelict mountain bikes were there, unzipped hoodies ballooning in the breeze, helmets bouncing on their heads like dashboard doggies.

It was a typical spring weekend on Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country.

The pavement was free of snow. The winter gates were closed, keeping a 54-km (33.6-mi) section free of motorists. And dozens of Calgarians were enjoying what has become an annual street fair for cyclists—unofficial but wildly popular.

Any road closure granting dominion to cyclists is cause for celebration, but this one is special.

It’s long: 54 km (33.6-mi) form the north gate at King Creek to the south gate at Highwood Junction.

It’s lofty: Topping out nearly in the alpine zone at 2206-m (7238-ft) Highwood Pass, this is the highest public road in Canada.

It’s spectacular, traversing a mountain vastness enshrined within provincial parklands.

The price of admission, however, is steep. The gentle ascent from King Creek slowly builds to a granny-gear chore.

If this were the Tour de France route, the length and grade of the final skyward climb to the pass would earn it a Category 1 rating. The scale ranges from 4 (least challenging) to 1 (most challenging). Only a few pivotal, excruciating climbs earn a rating of “beyond category.”

Moderately strong riders will crest the pass within 1.25 hours. If you’re slower, you’ll simply get to enjoy the scenery longer—a good thing, because on the way back you’ll coast far enough and fast enough to make your eyes water.

Feeling sapped, eager to claim their downhill reward, most people turn around at the pass. Lay off the brakes and you’ll arrive at King Creek in about 45 minutes.

But if you have more time and can endure another ascent similar to the one you just completed, pedal through the pass and swoop into the Highwood River Valley.

Here’s where the atmosphere changes from street fair to backcountry adventure, because you’ll see few other cyclists. It’s like trail riding, only speedier, smoother, easier.

The gate near Highwood Junction is about an hour beyond the pass for moderately strong riders. But near where the highway levels and your coasting velocity slows, several picnic areas will tempt you to abort the journey and rest before climbing back to the pass.

The scenery remains engaging the entire way, and of course your sense of accomplishment increases the farther you go. But the best reason to tag the south gate is simply to take full advantage of the highway closure.

The gates reopen and vehicle traffic resumes Friday, June 16. Before they close again, December 1, you’ll need snowshoes to reach the pass. So don’t merely plan to bicycle Highway 40. Do it now.

What to bring

Wear a helmet, sunglasses, short-sleeve jersey, and cycling-specific shorts, shoes and gloves. That plus a little sunscreen might be all you need to wear on a fine spring day. But if it gets breezy or cloudy, you’ll want extra layers: tights, warm gloves, an insulating long-sleeve jersey, and a wind shell. Always carry a small repair kit, so you can make adjustments and fix a flat. Your gear, plus lunch and some high-energy snacks, should fit in your seat wedge, daypack, or rack trunk. Be sure to fill your water bottles or hydration pack.

Getting there

From Calgary, drive Highway 1 west. Take the Highway 40 exit and continue south 50 km (31 mi) into Kananaskis Country. Slow down at King Creek Day Use Area (left). Shortly beyond, Kananaskis Lakes Trail (right) departs Highway 40. Just past that intersection is the winter gate halting motorists December 1 through June 15. The elevation here is 1670 m (5480 ft). Park at King Creek, or beside the highway if the gate is closed.

The ride

From the winter gate near King Creek, begin a gentle ascent south on Highway 40 beneath Mt. Wintour (left).

After a short descent, a moderate climb leads to where Valley View Trail (a dirt road) forks left. Proceed south on the highway.

Over your right shoulder (northwest) the Spray Mountains and Kananaskis Range are impressive. Right (west) are the enormous peaks ringing Upper Kananaskis Lake.

Within 45 minutes, you’ll be next to Pocaterra Creek. Pass a gated dirt road forking right. Attention mountain bikers: it leads to Elk Lakes Provincial Park. The highway curves left (east) here.

Ignore Little Highwood Pass Day Use Area. It’s just a tiny parking lot without picnic tables. The ascent soon begins in earnest. You have five relentlessly uphill kilometers to go.

Though Elpoca Mountain (left / north) is an extraordinary sight, it’s difficult to appreciate while attempting to defy gravity. Should you need a rest, Elbow Pass Day Use Area is just ahead and does have a couple tables.

Heading southwest now, the highway climbs between Mt. Rae (left) and Pocaterra Ridge (right). The ridgecrest trail is a rewarding hike in summer.

Reach 2206-m (7238-ft) Highwood Pass at 17 km (10.6 mi). Before turning around, pedal far enough to see the highway plunge into the forest beyond.

Keen cyclists will take that plunge, rocketing southeast into the Highwood River Valley, cruising past Mt. Lipsett Recreation Area at 23.2 km (14.4 mi), and curving east beneath Mist Mountain (left).

The downhill thrill is over near Mist Creek Recreation Area at 34.5 km (21.4 mi). You’re not aiming for Highwood Junction? Relax here beside the Highwood River.

Resuming southeast, Picklejar, Trout Ponds, Lantern Creek, and Lineham Creek recreation areas are at 35, 35.7, 37.6, and 43 kilometers (21.7, 22.2, 23.4, 26.7 miles). The others, at Cat and Fitzsimmons creeks, are close enough to Highwood Junction that you might as well fluff your pride by finishing the task.

Reach the south gate at 54 km (33.6 mi), 1475 m (4840 ft). Immediately beyond is Highwood Junction, where Highway 541 proceeds east, and Highway 940 turns south.

The junction’s sole enterprise is the Highwood House store, which opens each year on May 1. So before starting the two-hour ride back to the pass, you can do more than refill water bottles. You can indulge your Homer Simpson-size craving for snacks.