Outdoors: Bike Left Hand Canyon

September 2012

Why we love it: The Boulder blacktop is hot, hot, hot in September, even into the evening hours. The ride from the Greenbrier Inn up Left Hand Canyon Drive to Jamestown is shady, cool, and the perfect distance—18 miles roundtrip—for an after-work spin.

When to go: This time of year. You’ll beat the rush of bikers and commuters heading up the canyon during rush hour if you can sneak out of work a little early. A 4:30 or 5 p.m. departure from the Greenbrier will get you to Jamestown in time for a happy hour drink on the patio of The Merc. Start your descent before the sun dips below the mountains or you’ll freeze your fingers on the way down.

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I don’t know about you, but lunch breaks are harder and harder to take. I can’t seem to break away from the computer in the middle of the day to squeeze in a workout. Even if I could, it’s too bloody hot for me to exercise outside between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Neither can I put off my workouts until I get from my Boulder office to my home in Denver every evening; by then Mother Nature has dimmed the lights. No worries: My version of happy hour involves sidling (or saddling) up to the handlebars, and throwing back a few shots of Gatorade, and hammering out a few dozen miles on the old two-wheeler.

The ride up Left Hand Canyon Road from U.S. 36 to Jamestown is roughly nine miles long and includes 1,600 vertical feet of consistent climbing, which makes it a nice training route or just a good leg-stretcher after a long day in the cubicle. Gentle and straight for the first half-mile or so, the road begins to wind and climb quickly and keeps a steady pace to the top. Along the way, Left Hand Creek gurgles an accompaniment so pleasant that wearing an iPod seems blasphemous. Keep an eye out for Jeeps and ATV-loaded trailers; they’re headed for the off-road trails that, like Left Hand Road, cut through the rocky, pine-covered mountainsides of Roosevelt National Forest.

Two or three miles from the top, charming cottages and hand-hewn timber homes begin to speckle the banks of the creek and let you know you’re nearing your destination. You’ll know you’ve reached the top when you see The Merc—which has operated continuously since it opened in 1903—on the right side of the road. A group of locals or Boulder hippies will likely be gathered, string instruments in hand, on the patio. Grab a quick drink and snack before layering up (the temp is noticeably colder in Jamestown than it is in Boulder and it drops quickly as the sun sets) and heading back down the canyon.

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Getting there: From Boulder, take 28th Street/U.S. 36 north about 9 miles. Turn left on Left Hand Canyon Road. The Greenbrier will be on your left. Park your car on the right shoulder and get moving.

—Image by Deborah Williams