Colorado Motorcycle Trip

Top of Independence Pass

A Colorado motorcycle trip has been on the bucket list forever, but it was way down in the deepest part of that pail.  Almost so deep, I wasn’t sure we ever reach that one.  Riding a motorcycle in Colorado has always been a high priority, but getting there from Oregon, that’s a Bridge (Road) Too Far….almost.

As we have checked off so many of the other western United States, “must see” spots, it just kept calling to us.  Glacier was magnificent, Yellowstone the trip of a lifetime, Zion & southern Utah, breathtaking.

 

But Colorado, the entire state is a motorcycle riders paradise.  The majestic Rocky Mountains, the unbelievable views and not a straight section of road anywhere to be found outside of the Interstates….we needed to go, we had to go. But damn, it’s 2200 miles roundtrip to Denver, and I wanted to ride 2000 miles around the state, minimum.  I have a job, they expect me to show up, this is a problem.

Trips with Karla

Trips without Karla

We explored shipping the bike ahead and flying to Denver.  I would need to rent a storage space, have the bike delivered, someone meet it, store it and on and on. I gave up.  I would wait until retirement before I could pluck that shiny diamond from the bucket list.

My boss Scott, he rides a Ducati.  He rides long and fast, he rides alone.  I could do this trip alone, I can ride 600 miles a day.  If I could get to Denver in two days, it might work.  But if I go alone, I leave 60% of the fun behind.

I’ve done trips without Karla and it’s like seeing the NBC peacock before color TV.  Yes, I’ll ride; anytime, anywhere. But without her, it’s as if the color is gone from my world.

 One day I was in Scott’s office, talking motorcycles, lamenting my fate; no Colorado for me.  He says, “Why doesn’t Karla fly to Denver and you ride it in two days?  What?  That’s brilliant, why didn’t I think of that?  Having a boss that rides long motorcycle trips…..Winning!  

The flight to Denver is two hours, I suppose it was an air-conditioned airplane, one of those fancy ones. But the seats are small and those snacks, ugh.   About 10 hours into my first day, I was crossing eastern Idaho in 109 degrees. 

Karla sent me a photo; laying by some swimming pool, yeah that looked really uncomfortable.  I replied with a photo of a thermometer.   At least I wasn’t in some TSA line.

Planning a Colorado Motorcycle Trip

There is one website that has already done the work.  Ken Bingenheimer is the owner.  Ken is a long time Colorado motorcyclist and he knows Colorado Motorcycle roads.

This site was our starting place with a listing of all the great routes.  There are about 50 roads listed and we tried to include 20 of them in our trip.  

Everyone knows the, “Million Dollar Highway.”  Some people will go to Colorado just to ride it.  Many people will only ride that, “Top Ten in America” road…and miss so many others.  

The Million Dollar Highway is a great road for sure, you should ride it.  However, after riding all over the state, I would say, in Colorado, it’s only in the top 5.  In my opinion, it’s the most famous, but it’s not the best. 

2Vegans2Wheels has an entire section on, “How to Plan a Motorcycle Trip.”

School bus 85 mph

I read about riders covering; 600, 700 miles a day, that’s possible if you’re riding freeways.

 Personally, I hate riding the slab.  However, when you’re just trying to get as far, as fast as you can, it’s the only way to go.  I spent hours with the speedometer north of 90 mph.  I don’t find it fun or relaxing.  More like tense and grueling.

When I saw a school bus approaching in my mirror and I was doing 85, I was shocked.  From my school bus riding days, I thought they topped out at 45.  Even the kids want out of here!

I logged 550 miles on the first day and parked in Ogden, UT.  I was beat.

The ride out of Ogden crossing the Wasatch Range is beautiful.  You may be familiar with the wind that blows constantly across Wyoming?  These canyons are where they swirl their way through the monutains.

It’s a headwind, it’s a tailwind, it’s coming from one side and then the other, changing every 10 seconds.  I was happy to hit the great plains on the other side.

At least it was early morning and I was blinded from the sunrise.

Canyon east of Ogden I-80

There is nothing but trucks and a whole lot of nothing on I-80

I-80
I-80

Second day was 600 miles across Wyoming, I won’t bore you.

All 3 photos are in Wyoming, enough said

I-80
I 25 Denver

Denver on the left (top on a phone), Los Angeles on the right (Bottom).  The only difference is; Lane Splitting is legal in California. 

I saved about an hour every 20 miles in LA. 

Colorado Motorcycle Trip was not a city trip

Colorado Motorcycle Trip
Colorado Motorcycle Trip

If you’re doing a Colorado Motorcycle Trip you really need to include a ride up Pikes Peak.  I remember learning about this place from Bugs Bunny cartoons, so how could I pass it up?

$15 per person, because it’s a private road but worth the $$.  It’s paved all the way to the top, but the parking lot in 2018 was gravel.  The gravel is thin and packed, it’s not a problem.

Pikes Peak Car Parking

Who am I to question a man’s dream?  What has become a pretty famous, “Roadside Attraction” started in the mind of a 15 year old Coloradan.

Jim Bishop bought this piece of land in 1969 for $450. One thing led to another.  Part plan, part passion and a dose of, “You can’t tell me what to do with MY property” became the castle.

We seek out known Roadside Attractions on any trip.  From smaller ones such as the, “World’s Largest Frying Pan” to Bishop Castle they’re all interesting.

Bishop Castle

It rises as a surprise, just when you think you’re lost

Bishop Castle

Built by hand and inventions, it’s 45 years in the making

Bishop Castle

It was rest time when we found Mr. Bishop

There are, Motorcycle Roads” and there are, “MOTORCYCLE ROADS”

Skyline Road - Canon Colorado

Made famous to me by, Dom Chang of “A Redlegs Rides blog” fame, there is a road.  Further encouraged by, Gary France of, “France In America.”  I needed to find this road.  

Canon City, CO. is north of Bishop Castle and Southwest of Pikes Peak.  There is a lot of space and roads in Colorado, getting lost is not too difficult. 

Skyline Drive is a ridge line road that you don’t need to drive, but you must drive.  It doesn’t take you anywhere, it’s just the way you need to go. 

For a road to be a, “Motorcycle Road,” they usually have lots of curves.  Skyline Drive is fairly straight, which is probably a good thing.  Should you tell your passenger every little detail about every road…beforehand?  Sometimes I do and some things are better left unsaid.  I think she appreciated experiencing this one as it happened.

Stan, Kyle, Eric & Kenny

South Park Sign

One of us is a South Park fan…..Karla doesn’t want me to say which one.

The somewhat fictional city of South Park, CO. may have been based on the very real, Fairplay, CO.

This is a crappy photo taken off of GoPro, in an afternoon (every) rainstorm typical of Colorado.  There were many references to the show around town, but it was raining too much to get off and appreciate all of them.  Sorry Karla.

We’ll spend the night in Frisco and then it’s onto Estes Park.  Frisco/Breckenridge better known by the second, is a ski town.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn (Not Holiday Inn Express) and it was dated.  

I guess they get some slack, since this was the, “off” season.  Somehow, I still expected some level of service, anything better than what we experienced.  I would not stay there again, and I certainly can’t recommend it to someone. 

For more details (complaining) see our 2vegans2wheels reviews on TripAdvisor. 

This IS your father’s Holiday Inn.

Holiday Inn Frisco Colorado

I do have to admit, it’s very nice area.  Truly, “nestled” in the mountains, Frisco should not bear the burden of the shitty Holiday Inn. 

We only spent one night and would come through again in a couple of days.  Karla wanted to get a better look at Breckenridge, a couple of miles south. 

Estes Park

Estes Park Downtown Colorado

Downtown Estes Park

Himalayan Curry & Kebob Estes Park Colorado

Himalayan Curry & Kebob

Estes Park Riverwalk

Beautiful Riverwalk thru town

Estes Park Public Square

Vibrant downtown community events

Stanley Hotel

Stanley Hotel – The Shining – Estes Park CO

You know the place from, “The Shining.”  The Stanley Hotel; the haunted one, the place to stay in Estes Park!   We considered it, but since this trip was so over-booked leaving us short on time, we stayed at Best Western.  

I just didn’t have time to be fighting ghosts and arguing with the dead.  

However, the Silver Saddle Inn was a great place for one night.  It was clean, nothing creaked and the staff was so nice,

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t haunted. 

Colorado Motorcycle Trip 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is the gateway to RMNP.  Just a short drive from town and you’re on the, “Trail Ridge Road.”  Consider another bucket list ride for motorcyclists, it is the highest continuous road in America. 

Just a small part of RMNP, on the road you’ll spend a significant portion above 11,000′.  It looks a bit like tundra with wide open spaces and views.  We did not take advantage of all the outdoor opportunities it has to offer.  With our breakneck pace, we simply rode through to say we had. 

If you’ve read any of our previous Trip Reports to National Parks, you know we go early and avoid the crowds.  On this day we were into the park at 0630, alone. 

Only the animals and a few park employees shared the park with us. 

 

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk out for a morning walk.  We pulled over for more photos.  Turned out to be about 50 in the herd. 

The summer of 2018 was a bad year for forest fires.  The smoke is sometimes more visible than others in our photos, but it was bad.  We took way fewer photos than usual on this kind of trip, just because the views were obscured. 

It’s one of the risks we take in planning & making reservations months in advance.  It was still worth the trip, it’s just sad that we’re having so many fires out west these recent years. 

There were times when we knew the scenery must be spectacular, but we were surrounded by haze. 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Visitor Centers were not open yet

Rocky Mountain National Park

Riding above treeline 

Trail Ridge Road Map
Rocky Mountain National Park

Nice curves on the west side going down

Buena Vista Colorado

Next we head south to Granby, catch Hwy 40 and onto Winter Park.  Then I made one of my many mistakes.  While riding back west on I70, I planned on taking Loveland Pass instead of the Eisenhower Tunnel, but I missed the exit.  That’s a big regret.  

The tunnel is interesting, but we’ve already been through, and Loveland Pass is just an excellent motorcycle trip road in Colorado. 

It happens.  Sometimes on a trip like this, you don’t get to do all that you planned.  Oh well. 

At Frisco you get off the freeway and head south on Hwy 9.  Now this is another mistake.  Taking 9 is not a mistake, but we were doing some big loops, and I just made this one backwards.  We still rode the roads we wanted too, but I hate planning & map errors.

Maybe good food will help!

Rock House Kitchen - Buena Vista Colorado

House Rock Kitchen – Don’t miss this one

Rock House Outdoor Seating Area

One of the best outdoor patios ever

2 Vegans marks the territory

Have sticker – Will stick

Giant Guacamole & Pico – A meal in itself

Stay at the Best Western Vista Inn

This must have been the friendliest hotel we have found.  These folks made you feel like you were family and were staying at their house! 

Next up – Independence Pass

12,000′

If I haven’t said it already, A Colorado Motorcycle Trip is about riding great motorcycle roads.  There is an endless supply and you want to ride them all….but you can’t.

So you do have to set priorities.  One of them is Independence Pass.  It’s famous, it’s steep, it’s sometimes one lane with no guardrails and it’s closed in the winter.

Average snowfall is over 200″

Top of Independence Pass
2 Vegans sticker on Independence Pass
Photo of Independence Pass Road

Weather & Colorado Motorcycle Trip

I am laughed at as one of the most over-prepared motorcycle travellers.  OK, it’s just Karla laughing at me, but still. 

I never travel without rain gear and in Colorado you would be a fool to go without rain gear.  We used it often, as in almost daily.  Mountain weather, also known as, “Colorado Weather.”  

You’ll be as low as 6000′ in elevation and as high as 14,000′, yes all of Colorado is mountain weather.  Typical of these elevations, there  are afternoon showers.  It may only rain for 5 minutes, or 5 miles or it may rain for an hour. 

The rain was never a problem, but it rained and we expected it.  It was sunny and hot and then it was not.  I did not pack heated gear, it was August.  I may have been tricked.

On the early (0600) ride over Independence Pass, I was freezing.  I almost gave up.  I had to stop and warm my hands on the engine, gloves were not enough.  Later that day it was hot, and I mean hot. 

Maroon Bells by Jeremy Swanson

Maroon Bells photo by Jeremy Swanson

I wish I took that picture of Maroon Bells, I wish I had ever seen Maroon Bells.  There is a story here.  A story of one more of, “Don’s Mistakes,” on the “Colorado Motorcycle Trip.” 

Maroon Bells is said to be the most photographed spot in Colorado, you can see why.  Maroon Bells was our goal that morning of crossing Independence Pass.  It has limited entry and only if you arrive before 8AM can you use the road.  Any later and you must ride a shuttle bus. 

We planned, erroneously to leave Buena Vista with plenty of time.  

For me, this was just another incredibly beautiful scene in a beautiful state, on a beautiful trip.  But this place holds special meaning to Karla.  A place of almost lifelong family excursions with her dad.

I failed to take that into consideration and when we didn’t make it on time, I blew it off.  We rode past.

This is part of the story of Aspen Colorado and Karla’s life.  I promise to bear my soul in the 2nd part of our Colorado Motorcycle Trip.  I made more mistakes, but hey, I’m used to that!  It was an unforgettable ride and we must go back for more. 

What to expect in part 2 of the Colorado Motorcycle Trip

We have a lot more to cover:

  • Southwest Colorado
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • San Juan Mountains
  • Duragon-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
  • Million Dollar Highway
  • North to, “Hanging Lake”
  • And so much more

Thank you for sticking it out and reading this far.  I hope the story inspires you to go to Colorado, or get on your motorcycle and go anywhere. 

Life is best lived through experiences and emotions.

Motorcycles offer both

“Life is Short, Start Living Now”

Random dog photo

Dog Photo

2 Comments

  1. Connie Schwedes says:

    Thanks for sharing your trip. We are heading on a cross country trip this summer. You’ve given us some great info on Colorado.

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