Back in June, we shared a collection of the ten best Colorado hikes, culled from our Best of Denver archive. Now, for those of you who prefer two wheels to two feet (at least some of the time), here's a batch of best bike rides selected by our writers over the years, featuring links and the original text from the awards. Check out our top ten below — and then start pedaling.
10: Washington Park
The Washington Park neighborhood offers one of the best assets to urban cyclists looking for a good workout: a 2.27-mile perimeter around its lush, lake-filled recreation area. The two-lane track, bordered by the picturesque 'hood, works for all skill levels of cyclists, from the extreme amateur looking for an afternoon jaunt on a cruiser to the seasoned veteran looking to increase stamina and endurance. For safety's sake, speed is limited to fifteen miles per hour (although it's often ignored), as the park also packs in walking families, runners and rentable pedal-powered cars. And for those biking in, Wash Park is easily accessible from the Platte River path coming from the south or the Cherry Creek path that runs along Speer Boulevard.
Best Park for Cycling — 2012 9: High Grade Road, Littleton to Conifer
Serious road bikers ride a fine line between simple masochism and insanity. Colorado hosts several full-day rides for the certifiable (the Triple Bypass, or Denver to Aspen), but if you are simply looking for a three-hour (or so) ride that will cause you acute pain, this one can't be beat. Begin at Chatfield State Park on South Wadsworth Boulevard. Head west into the foothills on Deer Creek Canyon Road. Turn left at Phillipsburg (which consists of an abandoned gas station). The road starts out easy enough, but soon turns into a series of killer switchbacks, climbing up what will seem to you like a sheer cliff. When you reach the top of this, you're not even close to done. Stay straight as the road turns into Pleasant Park Road. This climbs steadily (and, apparently, forever) into Conifer. From there it's finally all downhill: Barrel down Route 73, fly down North Turkey Creek Road to South Turkey Creek Road, and complete the vicious circle with a left turn back onto Deer Creek Canyon Road.
8: Dakota Ridge, Jefferson County
Some "rides" on the Front Range are so grueling that they are little more than paths for you to walk your bike on. We're talking rides that, with enough skill, sweat and stupidity, are still possible to navigate. Dakota Ridge begins on the east side of Route 26 outside of Morrison, and traces the hogback separating Rt. 470 from Red Rocks. Climb the path on the north side of the ridge, a challenging but technically simple ride. About halfway along the ridge, though, you'll hit plenty of rocks and enough technical terrain to threaten your equilibrium and dome. Wear a helmet and prepare to rip your shoes out of their clips.
Best mountain-bike ride on which to break your neck — 2000 7: Confluence Park
Heading northwest on the Cherry Creek Bike Path out of the Denver Country Club area, you'll dodge bums, baby strollers and bicyclists, then tackle the impressive rise leading to Confluence Park. Take a moment to catch your breath and enjoy the view — which often includes several neophyte kayakers rolling over onto their heads in the South Platte, as well as all the mind-blowing construction in the Platte Valley. Now head across the bridge and over to the Starbucks at REI: You've earned your latte grande.
Continue to see more of our ten Best of Denver bike rides.
6: Hall Ranch
The 3,206 acres of backcountry purchased by Boulder County Parks and Open Space in 1993 are required to balance wildlife and recreation. That means there's plenty to see along Hall Ranch's dozen miles of multi-use trails, about half of which are open to bikers, hikers and horseback riders. But you'll need to study the open-space rules at www.co.boulder.co.us/openspace before you learn the secret code word to download a map.
Best Mountain-Bike Ride for a Secret Squirrel — 2002 5: Bear Creek Trail
Constructed and opened last year, this little-known gem runs from Pence Park, between Indian Hills and Evergreen, to Lair o' the Bear Park, outside of Idledale. Along the way, it cuts through two other Denver mountain parks, Corwina and O'Fallon. Unlike many of the trails along the Denver-area Front Range, Bear Creek is not just a jumble of rocks. It more resembles the Buffalo Creek Trail that runs along the Colorado Trail to the city's southwest: a smooth, wide, hard-packed-dirt single track, with lots of roller-coastery dips and climbs. If you want to get the hard part out of the way first, take C-470 to Morrison and climb up the canyon to Lair o' the Bear. Start grinding at the west end of the parking lot.
4: Left Hand Canyon
Forget dodging in-line skaters on the bike paths and riding in endless circles around Cherry Creek Reservoir. You live in the Rockies, so you might as well ride in them. Head to Boulder for a scenic, challenging and expeditious — give it an hour and a half — ride up and back down the canyon. Not heavily trafficked and with a gentle climb (until the end, where the incline grows dramatically steeper), Left Hand Canyon is long enough for a solid sweat, but short enough to keep you interested. Additional bonuses: the stream running alongside the road that keeps you cool on the way up, the general store in Jamestown that stocks cold drinks, leaning into the gentle curves on the way down.
Best Bike Ride, Road — 2001 3: Mountain Lion Trail
The biggest problem for Denver's mountain bikers is that there are so many good trails to choose from, starting with the serpentine paths along Cherry Creek and extending to the numerous routes crisscrossing the hogbacks and foothills just west of town. For variety and a tough nearby challenge, though, you can't get much better than Mountain Lion Trail, a seven-mile tangle of roots, rocks, stream crossings and steep climbs only a half hour west of Denver, in Golden Gate State Park outside of Golden. The rangers list the trail as moderate, but beware: That's only for hikers. Two-wheel travelers will find it considerably more rigorous. Follow the signs off of Route 93, west of Golden.
2: Heron Pond
Tucked behind an old water-treatment plant (now Northside Park) and a recycling plant, quiet Heron Pond is the perfect place for solitude and stellar bird watching. Located on the South Platte River Greenway going north from downtown, the park is home to a huge variety of birds, including herons, avocets, kingfishers and red-tail hawks, as well as numerous kinds of water fowl. And because it's so quiet here, they aren't likely to be scared away by a dog let loose by an inconsiderate condo-dweller. There may be more scenic rides around town, but when it comes to Sunday solitude, Heron Pond soars above the rest.
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Best Sunday Afternoon Bike Ride Destination — 2008 1: Monarch Crest
There are plenty of quality miles to pedal on the Front Range, but you didn't buy that trick, free-riding dual suspension just to ride the foothills. The Monarch Crest trail is one of the finest rides on the planet; starting at over 11,000 feet in elevation and running along some jaw-dropping sections of the Continental Divide, it's not your average Sunday ride, so true that wheel, fill up your hydration pack, and make sure you've been doing your cardio for the past two months. You'll experience above-treeline grandeur, killer switchbacks that laser through dense alpine forests, and a descent that offers nearly 7,000 feet of now-would-be-an-excellent-time-to-adjust-my-brakes singletrack. There are even a number of shuttle-for-hire options outside of Poncha Springs that will do the driving for you, so you can spend more of your day feeling like a god with a handlebar, not some lost, citified touron in a Subaru. Just make sure you pack oxygen if you haven't been hitting the StairMaster, because this is a mile high times two.