Colorado’s Best Seasonal Roads for Motorcyclists
The Rocky Mountains are a motorcyclist’s playground. With epic views of the Continental Divide as it zig zags its way across the state, and the never ending twisty roads that accompany it, it’s a no brainer why so many two-wheeled enthusiasts love it here.
Some of the best roads Colorado has to offer to motorcyclists are only rideable 6 months out of the year due to the heavy snowfall the state sees in the cooler months. After all, it can snow at high elevation twelve months out of the year!
This summer I made it a point to ride nearly every seasonally closed road the Centennial State has to offer. Here are six of Colorado’s best seasonal roads for motorcyclists, ranked.
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6. Cottonwood Pass
Connecting Buena Vista to Almont, Cottonwood Pass offers scenic views of the Continental Divide and cresting at 12,126 feet. 2019 was the first year that Cottonwood Pass was drivable as a fully paved road. In previous years, the western slope of the pass was gravel as it descended towards the Taylor Park Reservoir. The western slope is used as an open range for cattle, so be cautious as you wind your way through the scenic drive. You may just end up in a herd of cows! Cottonwood Pass is typically open May – October.
While this road may come in last place on this list, it is definitely not a bad road. It’s just up against some very beautiful competition.
5. Guanella Pass
Guanella Pass is a summer time go-to ride for most motorcyclists looking for a day ride near the front range. Georgetown, the historic mining town that starts the Northern end of the 22-mile pass, is roughly an hour from Denver, making it an easy ride for those who don’t have days to spare on a sight seeing adventure.
The ride takes about an hour from start to finish. While there’s no shortage of landscape changes and switchbacks, you’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. From moose, bighorn sheep, and the ever adorable yellow bellied marmot, there’s plenty to see besides the surrounding landscape.
Best time to take an adventure over Guanella? Definitely during the peak of the fall foliage, and on a weekday when traffic is significantly lower.
4. Independence Pass
Coming in fourth is Independence Pass. This ride is for the history buffs. Now a part of the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, Independence Pass was once a historic stagecoach toll-road in mining country, connecting the then-boomtowns of Leadville and Aspen. The Ghost Town of Independence sits just off the western slope of the pass and offers a glimpse into the state’s mining history.
The road crests at 12,095 Feet Above Sea Level along the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Mountain Range. Vehicles over 35 feet in length are not allowed to cross the pass due to tight, winding road. At times the road becomes narrow and single lane, and at others there are sheer drop-offs with no guardrails. The road typically opens around Memorial Day Weekend every year and closes the first week of November.
3. Kebler Pass
Kebler Pass is home to the world’s largest Aspen Grove, making it one of Colorado’s premiere leaf peeping destinations in the Fall. Thousands of aspens create a vibrant, yellow-hued forest that line the roadway as it twists through the groves.
From October to May, the road closes to automobiles due to an average of 350 inches of snowfall every winter. In the summers, this well-maintained, 33-mile dirt road twists and turns through thousands of Aspens from McClure Pass to Crested Butte.
2. Trail Ridge Road
The highest continuous paved road in North America takes the second place on my best seasonal roads list. The road connects the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand Lake to Eastern edge near Estes Park. The 48 mile road will take you from alpine valleys to barren tundra with wildlife sightings throughout. With 11 miles of roadway above 11,500 feet, and a summit 12,183 feet above sea level, the Trail Ridge Road will offer significantly different temperatures and scenery as you ascend and descend through the park.
Trail Ridge is a sight to see as soon as the road opens in May, when the roads are freshly lined with 10 foot snowbanks. In the late summers when the snow has melted, a barren tundra occupied by Elk, Coyotes, and other wildlife are sure to be a sight. Not to mention the views.
At times, there are no guardrails along Trail Ridge Road. Intermediate riding skills, at minimum, are suggested for this ride.
1. Mount Evans
Coming in at number one, is the highest paved road in the North America: Mount Evans Road. Unlike Trail Ridge Road, Mount Evans is one way up, and one way down. In the summers, the summit will often see high temperatures in the 30s and 40s due to an elevation of 14,265 feet.
Mount Evans Road is definitely not meant for entry level riders, as there is no room for error once you make it above treeline and into the tundra section of the road. In fact, this may be the hardest, yet shortest ride on the list, at 15 miles in from the Echo Lake entrance to the summit.
The thrill factor as you make your way around multiple hairpin turns on extremely narrow, poorly maintained roads will also keep you on edge. You’ll be happy you’re on a motorcycle, and not a car or large truck, as you pass other vehicles along the steep cliff faces that offer no guard rail protection. The views from the top of the summit are worth braving the road’s dangers to see at least once.
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