Peak to Peak Hwy runs from Estes Park all the way to Central City. It’s Colorado’s oldest scenic byway, offering views of the Indian Peaks as it traverses the ridgeline at around 9,000’. It creates the backbone of an amazing metric century with almost exactly one mile of total elevation gain, all on bike-friendly paved roads. Because of the elevation, its best in the summer or early fall.
Start your ride with an espresso at bike-friendly coffee stops Spruce Confections or Amante Coffee. Then head north on Broadway and follow Hwy 36 out of town. Though popular with cyclists, Hwy 36 is heavily trafficked, so this route takes a turn at Neva Road for a quieter route through fields and ranches. You’ll work your way Northeast and pass through the small town of Hygiene, home of the Mountain Fountain, which offers bike parking, a repair station, coffee, and wonderful things to eat.
Once you’re fueled up head North out of town until you reach Ute Hwy 66, where you’ll turn left towards the town of Lyons. Stay on Ute Hwy into town until you start a gradual climb onto Main st, at which point you’ll take a left onto a side street towards Sandstone Park. Stop here to top off water bottles and hit the restroom before the big climb begins. Then continue west to 5th avenue where you’ll make a left onto what becomes Hwy 7.
The Mountain Fountain in Hygiene has a repair stand and air in case you need a quick tune-up.
The climb up South St. Vrain canyon begins gradually, following the creek through the valley, and then starts in earnest around mile 25. You’ll be climbing steadily for the next 15 miles, so settle into a comfortable gear and enjoy the 6-8% grade. The road follows the creek between red canyon walls, offering plenty to look at as you wind your way up the smooth pavement. Around mile 32 look for a small road off to the left of the Hwy called Riverside Dr. This peaceful, shady, two-lane road will take you directly to Peak to Peak Hwy and right by the Raymond Store, which is the only place to refuel before you get to the town of Ward at mile 44.
Bring cash and be aware the hours are limited!
Head left on Peak-to-Peak Hwy 72 and prepare for some high elevation climbing. This part of the ride can be pretty exposed, so plan accordingly to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and high winds. You’ll pass mountain meadows, aspen stands, and views of the Indian Peaks. Just before the turnoff to Ward, you’ll see a sign for Brainard Lake, which is a nice detour if you want to tack on another ten miles or so. Once you see the Brainard Lake sign look to your left for the turn to the mountain town of Ward. Here you’ll have yet another good option for a mid-ride snacking at the small store. Fresh baked cookies FTW.
What goes up must come down, and you’re about to be going down for 11 miles straight. Don’t leave town too fast though, because there is a natural spring just outside of Ward on the left-hand side of the road where you can top your bottles off with cold water. Then the descent starts off steep, but after about half a mile it mellows out and you can let go of the brakes for most of the rest.
But you’re not quite done climbing yet. Keep an eye out for the sign for Lee Hill Dr. and try to carry a little speed into the tight right-hand turn. It starts out really steep, but then mellows out to just step, so don’t kill yourself on the lower slopes. Once you reach the top you’ll be at about 7,000’ and from there it’s a ripping two-part descent back into North Boulder. Assuming you didn’t eat too much during the ride, you can’t beat Proto’s Pizzeria Napoletana for a post-ride lunch.
Lefthand Canyon with the Indian Peaks in the distance.