Peak to Peak Scenic Byway: Fifty-five miles of Colorado Bliss.
The Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains was definitely created for the benefit of motorcyclists, although it’s been more than 40 million years since tectonic forces elevated these massive peaks. Like the siren’s song to a sailor at sea, I’m motivated to explore this sublime elevated landscape close to my home along the urban corridor that includes Denver and Boulder, Colorado. An hour from my driveway is the 55-mile Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, established by the state of Colorado in 1918. A mecca for motorcyclists, the Byway is just two lanes and it follows the trails originally forged by Native Americans, fur traders and later miners in search of gold and other precious metals.
My Peak to Peak day ride begins where U.S. Highway 6 meets Colorado Highway 119 near the former mining settlement of Black Hawk, Colorado. Hungry riders will find designated motorcycle parking at The Last Shot. Nearby is the gold rush town of Central City, where the downtown storefronts have been restored to emulate their 19th-century origins. Most silver and gold prospecting in Central City and Black Hawk is now done in a bevy of legal gambling casinos. I only want to twist the throttle of my 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer and head north. Leaving civilization behind, the elevation climbs and the views get better around every bend in the road. There are a few hairpins, but this section of the Byway features straight sections linked by spacious turns with just the right amount of camber.
My plan is to stay on the pavement, but I ride past several dirt roads intersecting the byway that lead to trailheads and campgrounds in the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests. I’ve only traveled 19 miles from Black Hawk, but my priorities include stopping for a freshly baked croissant at the New Moon Bakery & Cafe in the funky village of Nederland. There is plenty of parking on this day, but in March the streets are jammed during the popular “Frozen Dead Guy Days” festival. Look it up. Nearby are the Eldora Mountain Resort and the Caribou Ranch where Elton John, Joe Walsh and a long list of other artists cut tracks in the recording studio there. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the recording studio in 1985.
From Nederland, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway continues onto Colorado Highway 72, rising to 9,450 feet above sea level. Even though the tarmac up here must endure the ice and snow of winter, there are no frost heaves or bumps to upset my Tiger’s suspension through a series of perfect radius turns that ramble past the former gold mining settlement of Ward. Nearby is the entrance road to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, which has views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, access to several campgrounds and is a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking and fishing.
As a general rule, the air temperatures are lower at higher altitudes, so when it’s a hot summer day in the cities of Colorado’s Front Range, riders head to the mountains where there might be near perfect riding weather. Of course, mountain riding in high elevations means rapidly changing weather conditions are always possible. When I’m not watching the road ahead, I notice massive dark clouds replacing my perfect blue skies. Afternoon rainstorms in Colorado are common during the summer months. Stopping to don my rain gear, I meet Mark aboard his Honda Gold Wing F6B towing a trailer and his wife Kim riding her CanAm Spyder. Beginning in their home state of West Virginia, they were halfway through a 6,000-mile journey to all of the lower 48 states. Soon after we part ways, it starts to pour down rain. My ride through the cloudburst lasts only 15 minutes, and happily I stay dry yet all the dead bugs have been washed from my windscreen! Looking back, the intensity of riding through a sudden storm made me feel more connected to my machine and the road beneath its wheels.
I follow the byway onto the freshly paved asphalt of Colorado Highway 7 that rolls past the small resort town of Allenspark. The town was once the site of international ski jumping competitions and is near the Wild Basin entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a good place to stop and take in the scenery, but on my ride the afternoon clouds obscure the summits of 13,911-foot Mount Meeker and 14,259-foot Longs Peak.
Fortunately for me, the tarmac has dried out and there’s very little rain-induced gravel or traffic to impede my Triumph’s progress through a series of lovely S turns down into Estes Park at the northern end of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. There may be more famous roads, but this one has all the attributes riders crave, including fantastic vistas connected by ribbons of smooth pavement that are ideal for leaning through an endless supply of corners. There’s very little cross traffic, no traffic lights and I only remember two stop signs! Although the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is only 55 miles long, plan to spend most of your day exploring its charms. During my mid-week ride, I estimate that there was one motorcycle to every three or four cars I saw on the road! From Estes Park, Peak to Peak day riders can easily return to metropolitan Denver, Boulder or Ft. Collins. Estes Park is also a popular gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and has abundant diversions for motorcyclists looking for good grub, camping and hotels. The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park was opened in 1909 by the steam car pioneer, Freelan Oscar Stanley. The hotel is rumored to be haunted and was the inspiration for author Stephen King’s “The Shining.” Even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I decide to head for home….