Detailed Guide to Riding in ColoradoPosted On: Oct 22, 2019
Colorado literally translates to “colorful” in Spanish. The name refers to the vibrant palette of Colorado’s mountain vistas
Colorado literally translates to “colorful” in Spanish. The name refers to the vibrant palette of Colorado’s mountain vistas.
Colorado is one of the most scenic states in the US and exploring it on two wheels is the best way to truly experience what this colorful state has to offer.
A stunning array of yellows and reds of turning aspen and oak leaves in the fall and the natural hues of the snow-capped mountain peaks, lakes, and wildflowers abound across this beautiful corner of the Earth.
Colorado is a fantastic getaway for just a weekend ride or an even longer road trip.
Riding in Colorado you will experience the best of the Rocky Mountains, enjoy hearty highland food, explore rich local history, and see some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the American West.
In this comprehensive guide of riding motorcycles in colorful Colorado, we hope to provide you with some useful tips and local knowledge of the best routes and places to see.
Whether you’re riding your own bike or renting one of ours, don’t forget to drop by and tell us all about your trip.
Million Dollar Highway, Ouray - Silverton
The Million Dollar Highway is a 23-mile stretch of Route 550 from Silverton to Ouray in Colorado.
Built in 1883 by legendary engineer Otto Mears as a toll road between Ouray and Ironton in the San Juan Mountains, the Million Dollar Highway remains one of the most scenic routes in the entire United States.
There are a few conflicting legends surrounding the catchy name of the road. According to one, the name came from the fact that it allegedly cost a million dollars a mile to build this road carved into the living rock of the mountain.
A more recent story hints that it came from local people saying “you’ll have to pay me a million dollars to drive this road in the snow”.
We like to think it’s because of the million dollar views this spectacular highway offers.
Whichever version you believe, the sheer drops, breathtaking vistas from the cliff edges, dizzying hairpins, and swooping curves will have you riding the Million Dollar Highway slowly and stopping frequently to take photos.
The road will take you across three jaw-dropping mountain passes: Red Mountain, Molas, and Coal Bank Pass.
Along the way, you’ll see remnants of abandoned gold mines, the majestic Engineer Mountain, and the Animas River which runs parallel to the road.
You’re likely to spot elk, deer, or black bears in spring or fall, and enjoy the beautiful wildflowers covering the gorges and valleys during the summertime.
From mid-September through the beginning of October, the leaves begin to turn, and the Million Dollar Highway feels like a fantastical autumn wonderland of bright reds and yellows.
The Million Dollar Highway is best enjoyed on a motorcycle from late spring to early fall because the weather can be severe from mid-October through to mid-March.
Always check the weather forecast before riding this stretch of the state, as heavy rainfall can cause waterfalls and landslides making the road a very dangerous ride.
If you want to enjoy the thrill of riding near the cliff’s edge with no guardrails, ride the Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to Silverton. If you prefer to hug the mountain side, ride North on the Million Dollar Highway instead.
Silverton is a small Colorado town nestled in the heart of the beautiful San Juan Mountains. From the moment you spot it to when you stop for a bite to eat and a wander, Silverton feels like it’s been frozen in time.
The spirit of the Old West is still alive and well here. Every street and every building in Silverton reminds travelers of what the Rockies looked like in the times of pioneers, fur trappers, traders, and gold prospectors.
Built in late nineteenth century during the Colorado Gold Rush as a gold mining and prospecting camp, Silverton soon became a hub of the San Juan gold mining operations and transportation.
In 1882 the Denver & Rio Grande Railway reached the town, and from then on Silverton prospered. Until the 1910s, Silverton was a booming town that boasted a population of nearly three thousand people, a church, its very own newspaper, and a number of saloons.
One of those hotels and saloons, the Grand Imperial, is still operational today. If you want to see an authentic Old West saloon complete with a sleeve garter-wearing piano player and have a delicious, hearty meal, the Grand Imperial is worth a visit.
The area surrounding Silverton is so beautiful that the town has made an easy transition from mining hub to a destination for tourism.
For outdoor lovers, Silverton offers numerous hiking, skiing, cycling, and kayaking opportunities. For two-wheeled adventurers, there is plenty of great motorcycle riding in the area. Much like the Million Dollar Highway, which passes by the town, Silverton is best enjoyed from mid-spring to mid-fall when the weather is warm and sunny.
Ouray & Telluride
Silverton may be the iconic Old West mining settlement, but the neighboring towns of Ouray and Telluride are just as worthy of a visit.
Both were founded as gold and silver mining towns, both are located in the stunning San Juan Mountains, and both have a rich history starting with the first explorers settling in the area.
Ouray, built in 1876, once had a bigger population of mules and donkeys than people.
During its heyday, Ouray had over thirty active mines operating in the area.
The gold and silver ore was largely transported from the mountains to town using four-legged transport. Because of its jaw-dropping location, Ouray is often called the “Switzerland of America”.
Easily one of the most beautiful towns in the area, Ouray is the perfect base camp for riding around the area.
From Ouray, you can ride the Million Dollar Highway, and if you don’t shy away from gravel roads, you can attempt the notorious Engineer Pass.
Riding North along Route 550, you will pass the stunning Ridgway State Park.
Places to stay are abundant in Ouray, including its well-maintained campsite, but be sure to book in advance because the town gets crowded during the summer months.
Ouray is famous for its crafted spirits and beer, organic coffee, and delicious food. Try some craft whiskey at the K J Wood Distillers, and grab a bite to eat at the famous Outlaw Restaurant or join the locals at their favorite eatery, the Brickhouse 737.
To unwind and relax, try one of Ouray’s five hot springs located in and around town.
Ouray Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center, a historic complex situated right on the Main Street, offers three hot spring pools with different temperatures at affordable prices.
Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings, located just off 123rd Street, is a little more expensive and offers indoor and outdoor hot springs pools along with luxurious spa treatments.
Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs, another centrally situated complex, offers outdoor and indoor hot springs pools and hot tubs as well as outdoor jacuzzi tubs.
The most popular Ouray site for accommodation and relaxation, the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs located in downtown Ouray, has thermal water hot tubs terraced on a mountain side offering not just a relaxing soak but stunning views into the San Juans.
For an out of town experience, head for Ridgway just ten miles north and enjoy Orvis Hot Springs which offers ten outdoor hot springs pools where clothing is optional and the views are spectacular.
Telluride, a town just fifty miles West of Ouray, is hidden away in a canyon near the San Miguel River.
Originally a silver mining camp built in 1875, Telluride is famous for its magnificent surroundings and for its curious history including being Butch Cassidy’s first target for bank robbery.
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Butch Cassidy, one of the most famous American criminals of all time, robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride in 1889 stealing $24,000 (currently, this would be equal to over half a million dollars).
Nowadays, however, Telluride is perfectly safe for residents and travelers alike. While in Telluride, be sure to enjoy the local cuisine and the many outdoor activities around the area.
All year round, Telluride is the adventure hub for the San Juans.
During the winter months, visitors flock to Telluride for great skiing and snowboarding.
In summer, Telluride becomes a paradise for hiking, cycling, 4x4ng, ATV and dirt bike expeditions, fly fishing, river sports, and horseback riding.
For those who simply want to enjoy the scenery while playing sports, Telluride has some great golf courses.
If you’re into something a little more extreme, there are plenty of rock climbing and paragliding opportunities.
And for those who just want to soak up the sun and the nature, there are numerous camping and picnic areas as well as plenty of easy hiking trails for easy walks.
While Ouray has a friendlier, more down-to-earth, rugged vibe, Telluride is a town that prides in its vibrant cultural scene.
Summertime is the high season for concerts and festivals in Telluride. From March to October, there is something happening every week from chamber music concerts, jazz, blues and American music festivals, film festivals, a Sunset Concert Series, outdoor theatre plays, art exhibits, and so much more. To pick your event and get tickets, visit the Telluride Events page.
West Elk Loop Scenic Byway, Carbondale – Crested Butte
Colorado is home to twenty-six scenic and historic byways, and the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway might be the most spectacular of them all. The 204-mile ride along Routes 133, 92, 50 and 135 from Carbondale to Crested Butte is a meandering two-lane road taking you across the wild country of the Grand Mesa and Gunnison National Forests.
Stunning mountain vistas, the breathtaking Black Canyon, and beautiful woodlands are some of the best views of the Rocky Mountains.
The West Elk Loop Scenic Byway was constructed using ancient pathways of the Native American tribes which once dwelled here, as well as old, forgotten railway grades plus wagon tracks from the days of the first pioneers and settlers.
This is a very special route taking you right into the heart of Western Colorado and revealing the majestic beauty of the region.
Along the way, you’ll find many campsites around Carbondale, Gunnison, and Crested Butte where you can stay and enjoy the pure nature, spot wildlife, and visit authentic mining towns still resembling the 1880s.
Riding south from Carbondale to Crested Butte, make sure to stop in Redstone or Marble for an early lunch.
Marble was once a famous marble mining town – so famous that the Lincoln Memorial in Washington was made from the marble that was mined here.
In Gunnison, stop to see the town’s Pioneer Museum featuring a reconstructed railway depot, a log cabin chapel, and an antique car museum.
In Crested Butte, dubbed the Wildflower Capital of Colorado, explore the town’s many boutique shops, local eateries, and the colorful 1880’s architecture.
If you’re feeling adventurous, Crested Butte is a great spot for outdoor activities and sports. In summer months, Crested Butte has something for every taste from ziplining, rafting and archery, to mountain biking, camping, fly fishing, and golf. To check out all the options and book your Crested Butte adventure, visit their activities page.
If traveling here in the shoulder season note that a section of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway is closed to winter travel from November to April, so be sure to plan this ride for late Spring to early Fall.
San Juan Skyway, Ouray - Telluride
Another glorious gem of Colorado, the San Juan Skyway, is a 230-mile loop connecting Ouray, Silverton, Durango, Cortez, and Telluride.
The short Ouray-Silverton section is known as the Million Dollar Highway, but the entire loop is definitely worth exploring if you’re on two wheels.
The San Juan Skyway is an iconic Colorado Route offering incredible views of the San Juan Mountains, the most rugged, steep, and enchanting range in the Rockies. The Skyway itself is a twisty road that will satisfy your quest for adventure and simultaneously leave you longing for more.
Starting in Ridgway or Ouray, follow Route 550 south passing Silverton and head towards Durango.
Here, stop to check out the Durango Locomotive Museum displaying restored train cars from the gold mining days.
If you feel like staying in Durango, see if you can get a room at the historic Strater Hotel built in 1887 and beautifully restored to its original glory.
Leaving Durango, carry on following Route 160 to Cortez, then take Route 145 back north towards Telluride enjoying the twisty road and the incredible mountain panorama around you.
Steamboat Springs is easily the adventure capital of Colorado.
A sunny, cheerful mountain town, Steamboat Springs is always bustling with outdoorsy visitors and motorcyclists.
The area is especially popular for bicycle, hiking, or river rafting expeditions, as well as rock climbing. The town offers beautiful rides around the area, several motorcycle dealerships and services, and plenty of places to stay and things to do.
One of the most relaxing experiences in Steamboat Springs is visiting the local thermal baths.
There’s nothing better than soaking in the natural hot springs after a long day’s ride, so be sure to visit the natural hot pools of Strawberry Park located just seven miles outside of Steamboat Springs.
If you don’t feel like leaving the downtown, another great option is the Old Town Hot Springs, a large complex containing eight hot natural mineral water pools, waterslides, and a fitness center. Old Town Hot Springs is located right in the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs.
After some rest and relaxation, head towards to Denver on one of our self-drive tours, or explore the area on your own.
Glenwood Springs makes for a great destination if you want a short, 114-mile ride along narrow mountains valleys and rivers. Heading Northeast towards Hot Sulphur Springs, Granby, and Boulder, on the other hand, will take you across the scenic Rocky Mountain National Park, a true must-see for any motorcycle traveler.
Mount Evans Road, Idaho Springs
Mount Evans Road, which is the combination of Routes 103 and 5 from Idaho Springs and Lake Echo Park, is the highest paved road in the United States.
Built in the 1920s as a way for holidaying Denverites to explore the beautiful wilderness surrounding Mount Evans, this road remains not only the highest, but easily one of the most scenic highways in America.
Twenty-eight dizzying miles of swooping hairpin turns and switchbacks make it perfect for motorcycling. Note that on some paper maps it is alternately called the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
Mount Evans rises over 14,200 feet above the sea level and is a handsome part of the Denver skyline.
The peak can be seen from over a hundred miles away, and the Mount Evans Road meanders right across the rugged natural landscape surrounding this majestic mountain.
This narrow, twisty road takes you higher and higher, revealing the breathtaking vistas of the rocky summits and views of the blue mountain ridges in the far-off horizon.
Mount Evans Road ends in a dead end, so be sure you have plenty of daylight to turn around and come back down the mountain.
The best time to ride this scenic route is summer, as the road is closed from early October to about mid-May due to severe weather conditions.
The road reaches 14,000 feet above the sea level at its pinnacle. Make sure to take it easy and stop frequently on the way up the mountain if you suffer from altitude sickness, and don’t forget to bring your jacket because the air gets colder as you ascend.
Colorado Hot Spring Trail
There are 31 hot springs in Colorado, so if kicking back and relaxing in mineral waters sounds like a perfect way to finish a ride, you can design your very own Colorado Hot Spring Trail.
You can include as many or as few hot springs as you like depending on how much time you have and what else you’d like to see best. Below are some of the best Colorado hot springs suggestions.
Pagosa Springs is located in the scenic San Juan Mountains, so you’re in for a beautiful ride and a luxurious evening. The town boasts a large spa complex and resort which offers twenty natural hot spring pools.
Other hot spring options include Healing Waters Resort with natural pools and Overlook Hot Springs Spa featuring rooftop hot tubs.
Durango has super soothing geothermal waters and a hot spring pools resort aimed at travelers. The Trimble Hot Spring Spa also offers a sauna and massage treatments.
Ouray, mentioned before and located right at the start of the Million Dollar Highway, has several hot springs options ranging from rustic mountain lodges to European-style luxury resorts.
Hot Sulphur Springs is a great way to enjoy the thermal waters after exploring the Rocky Mountain National Park.
The town boasts a number of natural pools with varying temperatures, many of which have been used by the ancient Ute tribes. If you are sensitive to the smell of sulphur, however, you might want to choose another location for obvious reasons.
For the brave hearted, Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway offer a special treat: the Lobster Pot pool which heats up to 114 degrees.
More hot springs are available in Gunnison, Telluride, Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Alamosa, and Buena Vista.
Located west of the Rocky Mountains, Grand Junction combines the best of two worlds. On the one hand, it’s a high-powered hub of business, art and culture with all the amenities that a modern city can offer.
On the other hand, Grand Junction is still a wild place. Surrounded by amazing scenery of canyons, mesas, and mountains, Grand Junction offers some of the best outdoor activities and riding around the area.
Settled in the 1880s, Grand Junction was once a Wild West town of gunfighters, miners, fur trappers, and soldiers of fortune.
The city’s name originates from the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, and to this day, Grand Junction is home to some of the most spectacular natural monuments in Colorado.
Grand Mesa, an iconic Grand Junction landmark, is the world’s largest flat-top mountain (“mesa” translates to “table” in Spanish).
Book Cliffs, a strange sandstone formation of buttes and rocks, is another must-see near the city.
Colorado National Monument, just outside of Grand Junction, is an iconic red rock canyon that is so typical to the American West. Grand Junction is situated 4,500 feet above sea level, which means that the weather in winter tends to get cold and snowfall is expected.
For the best riding around Grand Junction plan your visit from May through to August for two wheels, but the area offers year-round outdoor activities as well.
Wine Country, Palisade
Colorado National Monument Park is a stunning natural haven of beautiful rock formations and picturesque canyons, but if you dig deeper, you’ll discover it’s also home to some of Colorado’s best vineyards.
The area around Palisade and Grand Junction in Colorado is poised to become the next Napa Valley of the wine world.
Home to over eighty wineries, this fertile, high-altitude valley offers unique wines and is changing Colorado’s tourism scene.
Primarily known for outdoor adventures and luxurious ski resorts, Colorado is now making a new name for itself in this little paradise on earth.
In 1889, the governor of Grand Junction discovered that the conditions of Grand Valley were perfect for growing grapes and began making wine.
By early twentieth century, winemaking in Colorado was booming, but the Prohibition Era swiftly ended the Wine Country’s traditions. Grape vines around Palisade were destroyed by the authorities, and it took the region decades to recover.
Nowadays, Colorado’s Wine Country is flourishing. From small, craft wines with inventive names like Prairie Dog Blush to sophisticated wineries like Two Rivers Winery or Grande River Vineyards, local winemakers have something to offer everyone and every taste.
The best time to visit Wine Country is in the spring when the local wineries are offering barrel tastings. During the high season from May to August, most locals will also offer farm-fresh fruit and food tastings paired, of course, with local wine.
Pikes Peak Highway, Colorado Springs
Pikes Peak Highway is a scenic thirty-mile ride West of Colorado Springs leading to the summit of Pikes Peak, which rises to over 14,000 feet above the sea level.
Pikes Peak can be seen from various scenic viewpoints along the road and is one of the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains. Pikes Peak Highway, built in 1925, is a toll road starting at Cascade.
Famous for its vertigo-inducing W-shaped switchbacks and cliff edge views, the road is similar to riding in the Dolomites.
Once a year Pikes Peak Highway is open to those who live for speed and adrenaline. Every year around the end of June the entire mountain is closed off to host the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Cars and motorcycles race along the 156 turns of the Pikes Peak Highway to earn the King of the Mountain title.
Also known as the Race to the Clouds, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has been taking place on this stunning road since it opened 1916. To check for event times, see the official race webpage.
As you ascend Pikes Peak, take your time and stop at the many visitor centers dotted along the road for viewpoints and photo opportunities.
Some of the visitor centers on the mountain have restaurants, but save room for the world famous doughnuts at the Summit House situated at the top of the mountain.
These doughnuts are special high-altitude delicacies which collapse if you bring them down to sea level, so make sure you enjoy them right away.
To best enjoy the stunning views of Pikes Peak Highway, aim to ride it during the summer months. Even then it’s always a good idea to check ahead of time to see if the road is open.
Due to severe weather, the road is sometimes closed even during the high season in July and August.
Note: after a series of unfortunate events, Pike Peak will be closed for motorcyclists in 2020 due to multiple fatalities in 2019 season.
Take precautions if you are sensitive to high altitude. If you don’t feel like riding this road but would love to see the views from the top, there’s an option to ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. It is currently closed due to renovation, but the re-opening is planned for 2021.
Garden of the Gods
Before you head off to the dizzying heights of Pikes Peak, take a couple hours to explore the Garden of the Gods.
Located in northwestern Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods is a free public park you can ride through. Several visitor centers provide parking and park information if you want to leave your bike and hike some of the trails.
If you’re looking for a money shot of you and your bike in a spectacular location, plan on being here at the beginning or the end of the day to get your postcard-worthy photograph.
Despite its magical-sounding name, Garden of the Gods was not christened such by a lyrical poet enraptured by the location’s inspiring beauty.
Conversely, it was two city surveyors who, upon chancing upon the area, decided it would make the perfect natural beer garden. “Beer garden! Truly, this is a place for gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods”, one of these fine gentlemen allegedly exclaimed.
When you ride through the Garden of the Gods, you can’t help but agree. Dotted with awe-inspiring red rock spires, cliffs and balancing boulders, Garden of the Gods does resemble an earthly paradise.
The old inhabitants of the area, the Ute people, felt that the red rock spires had a spiritual draw to them, and many of the original Ute petroglyphs can still be found in the Garden of the Gods.
Spanning an area of 1,300 acres, Garden of the Gods is a perfect day’s adventure both on two wheels and on foot.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder
Situated just north of Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park spans an area of over 400 square miles of wilderness.
The great Continental Divide runs straight across the heart of the park, and the northwestern section of the area gives birth to the headwaters of the majestic Colorado River.
Stunning mountain views, wild forests, and beautiful blue alpine lakes make the Rocky Mountain National Park a perfect destination for travelers and adventure seekers.
The park is easily accessed via Route 34 from Loveland to Granby, but as always with these high altitude roads, double-check for weather-related road closures before you go.
This scenic 107-mile ride known as the Trail Ridge Road takes you right across the park allowing for the best views and offering a thrilling journey along its sharp twists and hairpin turns.
As you ride, be sure to pull over at the many stops and viewpoints to admire the scenery. The road reaches an altitude of over 11,000 feet at a few points, allowing for amazing vistas throughout the park.
If you have the time to explore, enter the park early in the day and hike the trails ranging from easy footpaths to challenging tracks meant for well-prepared hikers.
Be cautious and sensitive about the wildlife, as the Rocky Mountain National Park is home to elk, coyotes, black bears, and cougars. A special treat in the summertime are the big horn sheep which cross the road near the Estes Park entrance heading for the salt licks and water.
On two wheels the Rocky Mountain National Park is best enjoyed during the summer months as the weather can be severe from mid-October to mid-April.
Colorado is a state where many roads and points of interested are situated at high altitude. If you are sensitive to elevation changes, make sure you are prepared before you go.
Altitude sickness is caused by the lower amount of oxygen at high altitude, especially when the exposure is rapid.
To make sure you aren’t exposed to high altitude suddenly, always be mindful of the elevation and try to ascend slowly – 1,000 feet per day is the recommended norm to prevent altitude sickness.
While altitude sickness typically occurs above 8,000 feet, it can happen at lower elevation if you are especially sensitive or dehydrated.
Always check with your doctor for the best course of action to prevent altitude sickness if it’s a known issue for you. Various herbal remedies, meds, and small portable oxygen tanks can help alleviate the symptoms but the only cure is retreating to lower elevation.
Denver to Rapid City
Denver, the capital city of Colorado, is referred to as the Mile High City because it sits at exactly a mile high in elevation (5,280 feet) above the sea level.
Nestled between the dramatic backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the West and the edge of the High Plains in the East, Denver is the gateway into the American West.
Denver was established as a frontier town in 1858, serving as a trading post for miners, land speculators, and newcomers following the gold rush.
Today, Denver is a busy city with over 700,000 inhabitants. Despite the ever-expanding sprawl of the city, the stunning wild nature surrounding Denver still promises adventure and spectacular riding in the area.
Every year, thousands of EagleRider customers fly into Denver to begin their adventure North to South Dakota to explore the Black Hills and enjoy quality time during Sturgis, the largest motorcycle rally in the world.
Rapid City in South Dakota is most attractive to motorcyclists because of the nearby Badlands National Park. The Badlands are a breathtaking natural haven of vast open grasslands, towering rock spires, and layered rock formations.
The Badlands are also one of the few areas in the US where bison, also called buffalo, still roam free.
Black Hills National Forest, situated east of Rapid City and straddling the Wyoming border, is another must-see location in easily accessible from Rapid City. Ponderosa pine, beautiful mountain vistas, and wildlife abound. Plus, you can also see the famous Mount Rushmore here. Rapid City a great base to explore this entire area.
Take a look at our guide for best riding around Sturgis.
Colorado is home to a number of different Native peoples.
Arapaho, Comanche, Apache, Shoshone, and Ute tribes once called Colorado home. Currently, there are two federally recognized Native tribes in Colorado, the Southern Ute and the Mountain Ute.
Ute people are the oldest inhabitants of Colorado, with a complicated history filled with rich culture and traditions.
Today, the Southern Ute reside in a reservation at the foot of the Southern San Juan Mountains. The Mountain Ute occupy the territory southwest of the San Juan Mountains between Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
This is also known as the Four Corners area because it is where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico all come together.
During the 17th-18th centuries, Southern Colorado marked the northernmost edge of the Spanish colonies.
Spanish colonists and missionaries traded horses for skins and game with the Ute people who dwelled in the San Juan mountains and what is now known as Mesa Verde.
After the Mexican-American War, New Mexico and Southern Colorado became a part of the United States, and the Utes now had to trade and negotiate with American pioneers and settlers traveling West.
Facing oppression and relocated from reservation to reservation, the Ute people, although in greatly reduced numbers, finally settled in southern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and the borders of Utah.
The best way to learn more about the Native heritage in Colorado is to visit the Ute Mountain Tribal Park located along the Mancos River just south of the Mesa Verde National Park and Towaoc.
Here, you can explore ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs guided by a Native Ute park ranger. Another great place to visit to learn more about Native heritage is the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores.
The Anasazi Heritage Center offers outdoor expeditions with native Ute guides as well as interactive tours of the ancient pueblos and archeological sites of the area.
Finally, be sure to explore the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park, the two historical and cultural heritage centers and ancestral lands of the Ute people. Please see our other, more comprehensive, guide to Indian Country if Native American culture is of great interest to you.
Top O’ the Rockies Rally -- Paonia, CO
If you’re looking to rub elbows with American motorcyclists and come together for some great group rides, live music, camping, and motorcycle travel talks, the Top O’ the Rockies Rally is the place to go.
This four-day event is organized every July by a local BMW club, but the event is welcoming to all riders on all styles of motorcycles regardless of the make and model. What's unique about this gathering is that the rally is that it has a symbiotic relationship with Paonia and its people.
Embraced by the entire town, you'll find it's the Boy Scouts club selling you bottles of water, the local pet rescue organization serving you breakfast, and the volunteer firemen offering to wash your motorcycle for a donation.
During the four days of the rally, you will camp out along other riders from all over the US and Canada. If camping isn’t your thing, there are several motels and B&B’s in town.
Hot showers and bathrooms will be available on site, as well as a breakfast place and a beer garden. During the day, rally participants are invited to join organized rides and explore the area together.
The riding around Paonia is especially scenic and wonderful.
The Top O’ the Rockies Rally has been going strong for over two decades now, attracting around 600 riders annually.
While the riding is the main attraction, rally organizers also promise door prizes and vendors. For those who love to just hang out, there are field games and events right in the town square.
Live music bands are the main entertainment in the afternoons and evenings. The entire event has a "community" feel, and each year the rally donates a substantial portion of its proceeds to the town (hence the symbiotic relationship). Most often the donations go to a structural improvement in the town, such as building the grandstand on the town green several years ago.
The rally takes place in Paonia's City Park, right in the heart of the city, so rally organizers ask that you are quiet (no loud pipes) and respect the local residents.
Colorado is rich not just in natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, but also in its hidden treasures underneath.
Gold and silver, uranium, iron, marble, gemstones, and even diamonds, are still being uncovered in Colorado to this day. Colorado’s mining history is both colorful and extensive, and some of the historical sites such as the mining ghost towns can be visited by motorcycle.
Many are easily accessible right off the main roads, while some require riding dirt trails plus hiking or horseback riding.
Gold was first discovered in Colorado in 1858. Gold prospectors en route to California found large deposits of gold in the South Platte River near Cherry Creek, Denver.
As the news spread, more than a hundred thousand gold seekers flocked to Colorado in search of fortune and prosperity during the ensuing three years.
This was later referred to as the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush and resulted in many new settlements and mining towns cropping up all over the Rocky Mountains.
During the nineteenth century gold prospectors discovered that Colorado also had silver, gemstones, and iron ore.
Soon, many towns like Silverton, Telluride, Gunnison, Leadville, and Boulder became booming mining hubs connected by the railway and created great prosperity in the region.
While some towns prospered, others were soon abandoned as the prospectors and miners chased success from one new discovery to another. Mines and entire towns were quickly abandoned if the gold and silver veins dried up, and new settlements were built almost overnight when a rich new lode was discovered.
If you love history and scenic rides, visiting Colorado’s mining ghost towns can be a great way to combine both.
Some of the best preserved and easily accessible ghost towns include Independence off of Highway 82, Goldfield off of Highway 81 and Pitkin off of Highway 76.
If you don’t mind a little dirt riding and hiking, Animas Forks ghost town near Ouray is especially impressive as it is situated between the San Juan mountain passes.
St. Elmo and Tin Cup are the best preserved mining ghost towns located near Buena Vista and accessible via local dirt and gravel roads.
Antonito & Cano's Castle, Conejos County, CO
The small town of Antonito, located right at the New Mexico border in the southeastern tip of Colorado, is the state’s best-kept secret.
Stunning scenery, great riding, and plenty of outdoor activities in and around Antonito make it a prime destination for motorcyclists.
The best ride into Antonito is Route 17 from Chama. This short, fifty-mile stretch takes you across the breathtaking Cumbres Pass right on the Continental Divide.
Cumbres Pass is situated at 10,022 feet above sea level, so if you are sensitive to altitude prepare accordingly. Route 17 is a twisty, winding mountain road offering spectacular views of the San Juan mountains.
This route runs parallel to the historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.
During the Colorado gold rush era, this line served as part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad connecting Colorado’s mining towns.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is in operation to this day and offers scenic train rides down this historic railway line. If you don’t want to ride in the high altitude on your motorcycle, this is an excellent alternative to exploring this area in a unique way.
Antonito is a small town that hides a big surprise. Besides being a popular hunting, hiking, and fishing destination for lovers of the outdoors, Antonito is also known for its artsy inhabitants.
In the Northern part of town, you can visit Cano’s Castle, a large mansion built and decorated entirely with cans and scrap aluminum.
Constructed by local Vietnam War veteran Donald Cano Espinoza, Cano’s Castle is his personal thanks to God for surviving the war and returning home.
Espinoza has been working on the Castle for over thirty years now, and each year the shiny tin palace grows. It’s a sight to behold, so make sure you stop at Cano’s Castle when you arrive in Antonito.
Riding Around Aspen
Aspen is most famous for its high-end ski resorts, but when the snow melts, Aspen becomes an alluring destination for two-wheeled travelers.
Located in the heart of the Elk Mountains, Aspen offers awe-inspiring views of the mountains and wonderfully scenic roads, with plenty of outdoor activities in the area.
Established in 1880 as a silver mining camp, like many other Colorado towns Aspen has now become a popular tourist destination.
Ski and snowboard resorts are the main attraction during the winter, and during the summer months visitors flock to Aspen for hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and other outdoor fun. High-end shopping and restaurants as well as a vibrant theater, film, and music scene make Aspen an attractive playground for everyone.
Aspen has a high number of scenic mountain passes nearby, all accessible via paved roads.
One of the most spectacular passes near Aspen is Independence Pass, the highest paved mountain pass in North America.
To ride across Independence Pass, follow Route 82 from Aspen, but make sure you plan your trip for the summer. Independence Pass is closed from October to May due to severe weather. McClure Pass on Route 133 offers a great view of Aspen’s famed Maroon Bells, the two prominent peaks in the Elk Mountains.
Hoosier Pass between Breckenridge and Alma on Route 9 sits right atop the Continental Divide revealing tremendous views of the Rockies.
The best time to ride the mountain passes near Aspen is mid-May through to mid-September, as it gets cold and heavy snowfall is expected in fall, winter and early spring.
Situated right at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is a year-round adventure sports and outdoors destination. Rock climbing is especially popular here, as the area provides numerous climbing opportunities in the nearby Flatirons hills.
Boulder is home to mountain biking trails and North America’s largest road race, Bolder Boulder, involving over 50,000 walkers, joggers, runners, and wheelchair racers. At the same time, Boulder likes to keep things entertaining.
Since 1983, people have been coming to Boulder to participate in the annual Polar Bear Plunge and jump into the freezing Boulder Reservoir every New Year’s eve.
If you are visiting Boulder during the summer months, which you should on a motorcycle, you’re in for a treat. Boulder is surrounded by thousands of acres of recreational open space, most of which is available for public use.
To the South, ride the scenic Route 119 towards Golden Gate Canyon State Park and enjoy the twisty road. Just a little over forty miles north lies the Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most impressive and most visited National Parks in the US.
Riding west towards Granby through Idaho Springs and Berthoud Falls, you’ll experience some of the best riding in the Rockies among fabulously dramatic mountain scenery. Riding east, you will slowly descend into the Great Plains admiring the vast open spaces suddenly opening up before your eyes.
Much like Aspen, Boulder is best visited during the summer months as the temperatures and snow can get severe during the winter.
According to locals, June and August are the best months to be riding in the Boulder area and visiting the nearby National Parks and Wilderness Reserves. Unless, of course, you’re determined to try out the Polar Bear Plunge for yourself.
Mesa Verde National Park
Situated in the Four Corners, Mesa Verde National Park is a wonderful destination to experience pristine wild nature and explore the area’s rich historical and cultural heritage.
Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, protecting some of the best-preserved Pueblo Indian archeological sites and large cliff dwellings.
Most of these sites are easily accessible on foot using the Park’s many designated hiking trails. Park rangers also offer guided walking tours of the cliff dwellings and ancient Pueblos.
You can ride straight across Mesa Verde using a twisty, ever-climbing road which offers great views and access to the trails and archeological sites.
The scenic 20-mile park loop reveals the Montezuma Valley and the characteristic “tabletop” mountain panorama as you travel across the Park. Be sure to utilize the provided pullouts to take your photos and videos, as the viewpoints in Mesa Verde are truly spectacular.
As you ride the loop, be sure to stop and explore the ancient cliff dwellings known as Pueblos.
The Pueblo people settled here as early as 1190 AD, and the remnants of their culture can still be observed in Mesa Verde.
One of the most impressive Pueblos is Spruce Tree House, a large dwelling built beneath a sheer canyon wall.
Cliff Palace is another impressive structure of over 150 rooms hiding in a rocky alcove under a rim of a canyon.
Balcony House is a large Pueblo built high on a precipice and only accessible by climbing a ladder, but the views are more than worth it.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in south-central Colorado is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America.
An otherworldly landscape of golden sand dunes, creeks, lakes, snow-capped mountains, and tundra make the Great Sand Dunes National Park a must-see destination when traveling Colorado.
Although you cannot ride through the Park, The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers some astonishing views, including the panorama from the tallest (750 foot) dune.
It also offers the best view of the Milky Way during the night. During the day, sand boarding on the dunes is the favorite activity in the Park.
Rent a board or sled at Oasis Store and join in the fun. If you don’t love hiking but would still like to explore the Park, rent a 4x4 in Alamosa and enjoy a drive through the Park’s rugged gravel roads.
Camping is permitted within the Park, so you can stay on site for a few days if you'd like. For the best evening views, join a guided sunset hike with a park ranger to see some of the best views of the dunes.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Situated in Western Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park surrounds the deep, sheer-walled Gunnison River Gorge, which is a spectacular natural chasm.
The Black Canyon only receives 33 minutes of sunlight a day in its deepest and narrowest sections, remaining dark for the entire rest of the day.
Thus, the gorge has earned its name, the “Black Canyon”. The area’s oldest inhabitants, the Ute people, avoided settling near the canyon precisely because of its darkness.
The Black Canyon can be viewed both from its southern and northern rims. On the northern rim, you can descend all the way down the canyon on a well maintained, paved road.
This is an adrenaline-inducing ride as your brakes will suffer even as the views ignite your imagination. Riding back up the canyon road is a little easier, but the vistas will still leave you breathless.
The southern rim of the Black Canyon is a little less impressive, but it is worth the visit for its visitor center providing information and historical facts about the area.
The southern rim road has a number of pullouts and overlooks only a few short steps to the views. These are all worth stopping at and exploring, as each offers a different viewpoint peering into the foreboding Black Canyon.
Colorado’s wild Western spirit still lives in the Rocky Mountains, and it is best experienced at a rodeo.
An all-American celebration of daring, adrenaline, and adventure, a rodeo is a sight to behold and Colorado is one of the best places to see it.
Most often rodeos often include bucking horse riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, and country music. Rodeos are a celebration of the ranching lifestyle, a national pastime and tradition of the American West.
The largest rodeo in Colorado is the National Western Stock Show in Denver.
There are, however, plenty of smaller, local rodeo shows to attend should you want a sample of the culture and the fun.
Gunnison boasts a series of rodeos titled Cattlemen’s Days to celebrate the spring calving season featuring different rodeos, livestock exhibitions, parades, and carnivals.
Steamboat Springs' Cowboys’ Roundup Days is a fun event of bull and bronco riding, roping, and steer wrestling.
The Greeley Stampede is another great festival where you can see professional rodeo riders and join in the fun of the parade and carnival.
Most Colorado rodeos take place during spring, summer, and fall, especially around the Fourth of July to commemorate Independence Day.
Seeing a rodeo is a great way to envision what life was like in the Old West, enjoy country music, and have fun in the parades and carnivals. And if you’re left hankering for more after a rodeo, Colorado has plenty of cattle ranches open to visitors which offer horseback riding, even live cattle drive rides. Go West and go wild.
Amazing! You’re still with us reading these final thoughts on the best of Colorado riding, history, and natural beauty. There is no doubt too much to explore on any single trip, so contact our tours team to make you a custom route paired with bike rental, hotels, and anything else you’d like to add to your next Colorado trip.
Out team will get back to you with daily itinerary and some cost estimates to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. There is also a variety of self-guided routes around Colorado that can easily be customized to your wishes.
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