I had always been drawn to the idea of riding in Colorado. So when the Backcountry Discovery Routes team put together a trail to cross the State, it was a no-brainer that Alberto, my partner, and I were going to do it.
We eagerly bought the Butler map of the trail, downloaded the tracks onto my GPS and pointed the bikes towards Colorado. Coming from Canada, we rode the route from North to South instead of the designed direction of South to North. We were riding Yamaha WR250R bikes and trucked them down to Craig, CO, where a generous ADVer let us park our truck on his property, and started the ride from there.
Oh to be free on the open road. After being cooped up in our truck for two days it was glorious to finally be on two wheels hitting the empty roads of northern Colorado. We went North only briefly from Craig to join the start of the official COBDR (Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route).
At the start of the dirt tracks we met two other dual sport enthusiasts who had just finished their journey following the COBDR south to north. We had ridden this section a few years earlier on our BMW F800GS bikes, en route to Argentina, when we were loosely following the CDT tracks (Continental Divide Trail). What immediately struck us what the size of the ranches in Colorado. These people don’t mess around with their luxury properties. Wow!
Nice flowing dirt roads led us all the way into the charming town of Steamboat Springs. We had to stock up on a few essentials, like snacks and camping supplies. I love the charm of Steamboat Springs, the place has a nice vibe to it. The culture appears to have a healthy emphasis on outdoor activities, and I love the old architecture. It was getting late in the day though so we didn’t stick around too long.
The road south was wide open, and we were moving along at a pretty good clip. We eventually found refuge in the Routt National Forest at the Lynx Pass Campground. It was great! The campground host was exceptionally friendly and we had a premium spot for the night. We asked him if we had to worry about bears in the area, but he told us that we should be more worried about squirrels because the last time he saw a bear was many years ago. Another sign that us Canadians are further south and don’t need to be as bear aware.
The next day started with riding that was similar to the day before, well maintained forest roads. When the road approached the Colorado river things started to get more interesting. We had more curves to carve and the scenery along the river was beautiful. It was fun following the railroad for sections of the ride, and I even had a little ‘oopsie’ trying to get myself out of a tricky spot under the railroad tracks. Of course Alberto is always ready to capture a mishap with his camera. We stopped for a mid-day snack at a popular recreation site. We watched rafts full of people floating by on the river in the hot afternoon sun. As the temperature was quite warm we too decided to refresh ourselves in the river before continuing.
The terrain really dried out near the town of Gypsum, it was a stark contrast to the lush forests we had been riding so far. Once again we were wowed by the luxurious ranch houses we saw as we continued south from Gypsum. Some very impressive properties indeed. Before we even realised it, we were tackling our first pass of the trip: Hagerman Pass. It came up on us very suddenly and boy did that smack us back into the present. It was pretty rocky by my standards and required full attention for picking lines and managing the steep grade. Alberto was not giving his full attention though as he was following me too closely and almost ran me down when I stopped suddenly at the top of a steep section before a small water crossing. I would not have been impressed if he had crashed me into the water. By the time we reached the top we had shed several degrees of temperature and small patches of snow lined the road.
Even though the weather was a bit dreary the views of the mountain tops across the valley were punctuated by sunlight offering impressive 360 degree views. The sharp drop-off on either side of the road was vertigo inducing, we had our first taste of Colorado mountain passes. We had a ton of fun with the rocky riding conditions on our descent. As we approached the town of Leadville we tried to find some camping but everything was completely full. We just stayed on the path and figured things would work themselves out. As we continued through the San Isabel National Forest the roads were tight but fast and there was a fresh looking river at the side of the road. It didn’t take us long to find a perfect bush camping spot, right near the river so we had plenty of water to make dinner and breakfast. We were settled for the night.
As with most things we do we had no idea what we were really getting ourselves into. The road seemed normal enough at first, but gradually things got rougher as we climbed Weston Pass. It seemed we were in prime quad country. It was still muddy with lots of forest, but things were challenging.
No more cruising on wide open roads for us, we were into river crossings and tight forest trails with large rocks and roots. It was great fun! I had a small off when I misjudged a tricky rocky section. I have the permanent dent in my skid plate to remember that rock. What was surprising to us was that once you gain elevation on this route even when you descends into the valleys, you are still riding along between 7,000 to 8,000 feet. As we rode along through one of the flat, more open areas Alberto took advantage of the humps in the road to show off his airborne skills.
Once we were through the forest it was a different world. We had reached the high desert of the Buena Vista region. We didn’t know this existed but we thought it was the best thing ever. The roads were nice and flowing, with sand and camber, up and down, up and down. The roads just snaked through dry land and with randomly placed large smooth boulder rock formations along the slopes. We both vowed to come back as we had just scratched the surface of the riding that could be done in this area, plus we haven’t seen anything like it up in Canada.
We had planned to have some lunch in Buena Vista but upon arrival discovered that a parade was happening and the place was crazy busy. After spending the last few days in the empty forests it was quite the culture shock for us. We quickly gassed up the bikes and continued on our way. Next up on the route was a paved section of road leading to Cottonwood Pass. Once at the top the road turns to dirt and the traffic mostly disappears.
We took a moment to enjoy the view. The view was vast, where you could see the different weather patterns moving through the mountain range, to one side a few peaks were being showered with rain while to our right the mountain slopes were drenched in sunshine. At our feet was freshly fallen hail the size of peas. We saw a few bikes on our way down the other side. Bikes and Jeeps were the vehicles of choice around here. We ducked off the main road in search of somewhere to camp. The road started out dusty, but quickly deteriorated into mud and there was barely any traffic. There was more free ranging cows than traffic. After a few small water crossings we found a nice size stream so we set up camp.
The next morning started off with our road consumed by a river for a few hundred feet then quickly changed to wide open gravel roads. We were en route to two historic towns: Tincup and Pitkin. Living in BC we are no stranger to historic Mining or Forestry towns, so it was fun to pass through both of these places. The route was mostly ranch land but did include a few interesting detours through the rutted grassy terrain. We decided to treat ourselves to a bit of civilization for the evening so we camped at an RV park in Lake City. We were the youngest ones there by about 40 years, but everyone was so friendly and nice. Our campsite neighbours offered us a queen size inflatable mattress when they realized we were sleeping in a tent. We were able to walk to a local restaurant, Poker Alice, for some pizza and a history lesson of the character that is Poker Alice. The food was great and it is always surprising to us how cheap it is in the US.
We knew this would be the day of high passes, and we had more or less been gearing up for this day the entire trip.
When I thought of Colorado this is what I had in mind. Cinnamon Pass, California Pass, Hurricane Pass, Corkscrew Pass, Red Mountain Pass and Ophir Pass – we had our hands full.
The passes ranged from casual switchbacks to challenging rocky sections with lots of steepness thrown in! It was challenging but lots of fun. The scenery was spectacular, whether we were looking at the red mountain peaks or the steep rocky slopes. It was hard to take in all the scenery and still stay focused on the technical riding. The roads were filled with side by sides, we were all competing for the same amazing roads.
By the time we reached Ophir Pass the weather was starting to turn. We pulled on our rain suits and made a break for it hoping that we could eventually outrun the rain and find somewhere dry to sleep for the night. While Alberto was stopped at the top of Ophir pass taking photos he met two riders, from a group of four riders on middleweight adventure bikes, passing the opposite direction. The third member of the group was struggling with the steep rocky terrain on his F800GS, and to make matters worse he was holding up a line of jeeps. As we made our way further down the pass we met the fourth member of the group who had taken a spill and broken the handlebar on his KLR. He was a character, not that worried about his bike and starting to wonder why his friends hadn’t come looking for him yet. The KLR was beyond help so Alberto offered to let his friend know of his situation as he fishtailed his way back up the pass. We were able to flag down a passing Jeep to give him a ride back to Ouray where him and his riding friends were staying.
After we crossed the highway we were back down at lower elevations, and the fresh rain added mud to the equation. We hadn’t planned to ride for this long but we kept hoping we would outrun the rain, so we suffered through the long muddy section of road, slipping and sliding all over the place as we climbed Groundhog Mountain. Good thing we were on our trusty WR250Rs. Finally after riding through some hard showers we reached a break in the clouds and sunshine poured over us. We started our search for a place to camp and eventually stumbled upon the shores of Groundhog Reservoir.
The rain was off and on throughout the night, but in between the showers we had a rainbow to punctuate our last night of the trip. The next day we re-entered the civilized world at Dolores, where we gassed up and increased the air pressure in our tires for the 400 miles of blacktop back to our truck. To keep things bearable we asked our Garmin to take us back to our truck by avoiding major highways.
We really enjoyed our ride in Colorado. The mountain passes delivered in difficulty and scenery and we savoured surprises like the flowing desert riding near Buena Vista. Our Yamaha WR250Rs are great bikes and they handled everything we threw at them during this trip, including an all pavement crossing of the State, South to North, to return to our truck.