Outdoors: Cycle the Lariat Loop

September 2012

Why we love it: When it comes to scenic mountain climbs, Front Range vistas, and a swift downhill cruise past elk meadows and Red Rocks, this is some of the best cycling near Denver.

When to go: May through October, if you’d like to stay warm. Cold weather gear can extend the season at least another month into the fall.

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If you’ve driven on I-70 near the Evergreen exit during weekends, chances are that you have questioned the wisdom of cyclists who are pedaling along the shoulder as 18-wheelers whiz by just feet away. Unwise as they may seem, they are navigating a small section of what is one of Denver’s best cycling rides—the 40-mile Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway.

One of the first byways in the country, the Lariat Loop draws its name from the historic Lariat Trail, a five-mile road from Golden to Buffalo Bill’s Museum and Grave atop Lookout Mountain. The full loop is a combination of two historic drives created by the city and county of Denver as early as 1912 to bring residents and tourists to the new Denver Mountain Parks system. Today, visitors can enjoy three dozen historic sites and buildings between Golden, Evergreen, and Morrison that celebrate the eras of mining, ranching, and homesteads.

To explore it by bike, head north on U.S. 40, veer left onto Heritage Road, and enter the bike trail alongside U.S. 6 toward Golden. At 19th Street, turn left and begin a switchbacking ascent up Lookout Mountain. The climb offers panoramic views of Golden, North and South Table Mountains, and the skyline of Denver. On a sunny weekend day, it is common to spot a half-dozen paragliders circling above.

At the top, sits Buffalo Bill’s Museum and Grave along with Lookout Mountain Park. Another 2.5 undulating miles up the road, reconnect with U.S. 40 by taking a right at the junction and heading toward the two-mile section of I-70. The first truck that rumbles past you at 65 m.p.h. is unnerving, but there is plenty of room on the shoulder. Focus instead on the picturesque rolling hills of Golden Gate Canyon State Park in front of you.

Exit onto Evergreen Parkway and follow it all the way to downtown Evergreen where it intersects with Bear Creek Road. A quick, curvy descent past several of Jefferson County’s open space parks drops you into Morrison, where you can weave through Red Rocks Park or take the easier County Road 93 back to the starting point.

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Getting there: There are several potential starting points for this ride, but we prefer the Wooly Mammoth parking lot off I-70. Take the Morrison Exit (Number 259) and turn right onto County Road 93. At the first light, take a left onto U.S. 40. The parking lot is a few hundred feet up the road on the left.

Hint: A common shortcut among cyclists is to exit Evergreen Parkway after two miles and descend on Kerr Gulch Road. The route passes several meadows where elk frequently graze. Kerr Gulch meets up with Bear Creek Road near Kittredge, thus reducing the total distance by four miles.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock