Take a Rocky Mountain Tour on a Stunning, High-Altitude Ride

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Cover Courtesy Whitehorse Press
Considering taking an unforgetable cross-country journey or vacation ride? This new "big idea" guidebook provides the head start everyone needs to plan fun-filled motorcycle tours through the continental United States and Canada. It focuses on describing the very best roads and expert advice on when to go, what routes to select, must-see attractions and plenty of first-hand lessons learned.

Motorcycle Journeys Through North America (Whitehorse Press, 2012) by Dale Coyner details everything you need to know about a wide range of rides throughout the U.S. and Canada. Coyner writes with detail, setting the scene for the tour of a lifetime. This excerpt is a guide to Colorado and its Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved road in the U.S.

You can purchase this book in the Motorcycle Classics store: Motorcycle Journeys Through North America.

Rocky Mountain Way

This tour around the Rocky Mountains is like a highlight reel of the western U.S. It has everything. Cow towns and cattle drives. Fly fishing in snow-fed waters against the backdrop of monolithic mountains. Ghost towns. High desert and lush mountain forest. Plateaus and canyons. And the region’s best roads that lead you through it all.

Colorado might think about changing its nickname to “The Outdoor State,” because that’s where you’ll find most of its residents. More than in many other states, folks in Colorado engage in many outside activities — hiking, bicycling, mountain climbing, and rafting — the list goes on and on. Spend enough time here and you’ll find yourself drawn into the outdoor lifestyle, too.

This loop focuses on the western two-thirds of the state and features some rides in very remote places. Some include unpaved sections with hard-packed gravel surfaces; however, they aren’t quite like that steep, rutted gravel road leading into the campground where you dropped your bike that cold, rainy night. The few dirt sections included in this route are generally flat and dry and can be ridden comfortably at near-touring speeds.

One big loop encircles the western portion of the state, and six sub-loops cover areas both inside and outside the main loop. Each sub-loop returns to one of the stopover points on the main loop. This gives you a plan for experiencing a variety of landscapes and lifestyles while reducing the lodging arrangements you need to make.

Many of the passes here exceed 10,000-feet altitude. Sustained riding at higher elevations demands a few extra considerations. For starters, plan your ride here for June through August. Many roads at higher elevations are open seasonally and some aren’t fully cleared of snow until the end of May.

Rental bikes are easy to find in the Denver-Boulder area. If you’re going to fly and ride, consider the dual-sport option. There are thousands of miles of dirt trails through the canyons and passes that are best suited to bikes with knobby tires and higher ground clearance.

Colorado’s robust tourist economy means travel services are abundant in towns throughout the state … when you can find a town. The western portion of the state has remote areas where you might find nothing for seventy or eighty miles at a stretch. I’d recommend that any time your gas falls below half a tank, top it off at the next station.

Your fuel-injected bike should have no problem adapting its air-fuel mixture to adjust for the lower oxygen at higher elevations, but your body may not comply as quickly. Sunscreen is essential to counteract the higher UV exposure you’ll experience. Also, altitude sickness can affect some folks, especially above 8,000 feet. Staying hydrated will help, as will avoiding alcohol. Prescription remedies are available to alleviate the flu-like symptoms of altitude sickness, so you might take preemptive action and talk with your doctor before your trip. Dress in layers. It’ll be chilly at the top.

Fort Collins Loop

When you get to a place like Colorado, you want to jump right into the good stuff, especially if you’ve ridden overland to get here. So, let’s start big. This tour begins with a loop out of Fort Collins, encompassing classic Rocky Mountain roads, passes, and canyons that will give you chills — and not just from the high elevations.

Start your run on US 34 out of Loveland, headed for Estes Park. Route 34 is also known as the Trail Ridge Road, portions of which top 12,000 feet, making it the highest continuously paved road in the states. A popular option with riders is to dip off of 34 at Drake and follow Route 43 to Estes Park. If you do this, beware of a couple of technical switchbacks with a 10 percent grade that require some skill to ascend safely. However, this is a spectacular and lightly traveled alternative for the first portion of this ride.

Estes Park is the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National. Continue from here west on US 34 to reach the first park visitor center at Fall River. Route 34 scales the mountains as you continue on. It’s tempting to try to enjoy the views and ride at the same time, but that’s hard to do on this road; there’s just too much to see. Use the overlooks for gawking and stay focused on the road when you’re moving! US 34 tops out at 12,183 feet before beginning a slow descent toward Granby.

Laramie Loop

In Granby, you have a couple of options. The Laramie Loop describes a ride originating out of Steamboat Springs. Riding west on US 40, you could make the loop through Steamboat Springs, then return to Fort Collins on the second half of this loop.

To complete this segment, head west on US 40 for a short distance, then turn north on Route 125. This lightly-traveled two-lane road transports you to a landscape of high plains that looks utterly different from the rugged mountain terrain of the Trail Ridge Road. By the time you reach Walden, the mountains have all but disappeared. That speck approaching you on the horizon could be the High Plains Drifter, the outlaw Josey Wales, the Preacher, or any of a half dozen other Clint Eastwood characters. Or, it could just be another rider.

Heading east from Wanden, Route 14 gains elevation through the area known as North Park. As you approach from the west, the Rockies gradually reappear on the eastern horizon where you’ll cross Cameron Pass at 10,400 feet. As you descend, you’ll run through Poudre Canyon on the way back to Fort Collins. It may start out straight and flat but the last two-thirds of this loop will give you all you want for excitement. A good start to your journey through the Rockies.

Route Details

• US 34 west out of Loveland, Colorado, to Granby (92 mi.)
• US 40 west to Route 125 (2 mi.)
• North on Route 125 to Walden (52 mi.)
• East on Route 14 to Fort Collins (90 mi.)
• 236 miles in total

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Motorcycle Journeys Through North America, published by Whitehorse Press, 2012. Buy this book from our store: Motorcycle Journeys Through North America.

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