May 6, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Cormac McCrimmon | Photo by Syndey Morris

The following is a review and personal account of a local bike adventure. If you’re hoping to get out and explore more on two wheels, read on!

Basics

Mileage: ~150 miles

Elevation gain: 10,500 ft

Start/Finish: North Cheyenne Cañon, Colorado Springs, Colo. 

Difficulty: Moderate

Season: Late Spring – Early Fall

Overview

This Colorado canyon adventure is a tremendous first bike-packing route or early-season ride. The ride starts and ends at North Cheyenne Cañon, near downtown Colorado Springs. Ample opportunities for water and resupply leave more time to enjoy the trip. Bikers will travel along historic dirt roads between Colorado Springs and mining towns. While there is some riding along paved county roads, there are few cars throughout.

Trip highlights:

  • Massive granite rock formations
  • Sparsely visited canyon-country
  • Historic mining towns
  • Screaming 20 plus mile descents
Resupply LocationsBike StoresOutdoor Gear
King Soopers 750 W Uintah St, Colorado Springs, COBicycle Experience 1601 S Tejon St, Colorado Springs, COMountain Chalet 15 N Nevada Ave, Colorado Springs, CO  
Family Dollar 347 W Carr St, Cripple Creek, CORed Canyon Cycles 410 Main St, Cañon City, COREI 1376 E Woodmen Rd, Colorado Springs, CO
Walmart 3105 US-50, Cañon City, CO Big 5 Sporting Goods 3215 US-50 Canon City, CO  
The Claim Jumper General Store 102 3rd St, Victor, CO  

Day 1

After stopping to buy dinner and snacks for the following day, my brother and I reached the trailhead at 5:00 p.m. The road up North Cheyenne Cañon was closed, adding a steep three miles to the trip. Although starting further from the trailhead was a bit of a surprise, riding through North Cheyenne Cañon is beautiful in its own right. There is no overnight parking allowed in the park. We decided to park in the neighborhood below the south entrance. (It’s possible to park at the top of North Cheyenne Canon if you prefer to skip the first climb).

The first 20 miles of the trip are nearly all uphill. Make sure that you are ready to climb as soon as you leave your house or car. After riding up North Cheyenne Cañon, we joined Gold Camp Road. Gold Camp Road once served as a railroad between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek. Thanks to its past use, the road offers a relatively consistent grade that snakes up and around the peaks above Colorado Springs. The ride’s proximity to town, yet feeling of remoteness, reminded me of what makes Colorado Springs special.

The former railroad closed after one of its tunnels collapsed. Within several miles, you will come across the collapsed tunnel. Hike your bike over the trail to the left to get around the closure. Several miles later, you’ll come across the second of six tunnels. You may want to keep your headlight handy for the tunnels, some say they’re haunted.

As the sun went down, my brother and I found a place to camp on the side of the road. Besides bikers, hikers and the occasional dirtbiker, Lower Gold Camp road doesn’t see too much traffic. Due to lack of compaction, the road can get sandy at parts. Although tires less than 2 inches wide would work fine for most of the route, a mountain bike provides welcome traction and flotation on Lower Gold Camp road.

There are several places to camp along the road within National Forest boundaries, but many seemingly suitable spots are subject to rockfall. Choose carefully.

Day 2

After a windy night in the tent, my brother and I were back in the saddle by 8:00 a.m. The novelty of the first day had worn off. The second half of our climb provided a grueling start to the morning.

Lower Gold Camp soon joins Upper Gold Camp road, which is open to vehicles. While riding on a weekday, we saw very little traffic, but it’s worth keeping an eye or ear out for cars which sometimes take the blind curves daringly fast. Continuing up Gold Camp Road, you pass several large granite domes. Along with the scenic beauty, riders witness the ugly side of public lands. Several spots along the road are littered with shotgun shells and trash.

Near mile 20, we reached our first downhill of the trip. The change in grade provided a short but sweet morale boost. After one final climb, the route merges with Highway 67. Riders can choose to go north and circle back towards Cripple Creek or south, past the Newmont Mine to Cripple Creek. We chose to go south since it looked slightly more direct, but going north may offer more scenic views of Pikes Peak.

Riding on asphalt was a welcome change from the rough dirt. Drivers were generally friendly as they passed us. The road doesn’t see much traffic but riding when fewer people are out might make for a more peaceful experience.

Before reaching town, consider stopping at the Cripple Creek Heritage Center. It has free bathrooms, water, and picnic tables.

Cripple Creek and Victor are both former mining towns that now host a myriad of gambling establishments. Hotels and casinos line Main Street. With little interest in town, my brother and I biked to the Dollar General on the outside of town to reload on caffeine and candy.

The ride from Cripple Creek to Cañon City is one of the highlights of the trip. It’s 30 miles of downhill dirt roads. Shelf Road is a rough dirt road at times. Because of the steep downhill grade, it’s best to ride the route counter-clockwise. Shelf Road passes small ranches tucked into the valley bottom, large rock spires and steep canyon walls. The final five miles of Shelf Road are especially impressive. Four Mile Creek flows in the valley bottom and limestone cliffs wrap around the mesas above the road. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the snowy Sangre de Cristos rising from the desert.

At the end of Shelf Road, the route joins Red Rock Canyon Road/County Road nine to town. The Bank and Sand Creek Campgrounds offer paid camping near the Shelf Road climbing area. 

After fueling up on Oreos and packing footlong Subway sandwiches into our panniers, my brother and I set off back towards home. Riding out of Cañon City involves a short stretch of asphalt along Highway 50. Once you locate the frontage road, the road is generally quiet.

Near Florence, the route turns north up Phantom Canyon. Following several weeks of May rain, the fields and steep slopes of the canyon were unusually lush. As the road turns to dirt, and it reenters Bureau of Land Management land, you may see other campers by the river. Despite the canyon’s immense beauty and spectacular camp spots, the area was very quiet. There are some pockets of private property to watch for.

Day 3

After riding almost twice our planned mileage the day before, our egos were full and our legs full of lactic acid. The pains of day one and two slowly re-emerged as the joy of downhill riding wore off.

Morning light coated the canyon walls. Phantom Canyon reminds you of the many gems that lie undiscovered in Southern Colorado. Unlike Lower Gold Camp Road, cars can use the route, but the hairpin turns kept the few that we saw from speeding. Phantom Canyon follows another historic railbed. The gentle grade makes for slow, podcast pace riding.

As you exit at the mouth of the canyon, the road eventually turns back to asphalt. The route passes a number of ranches, reaching a point marked Alta Vista. True to the name, Alta Vista offers views of the not-so-distant Sangre de Cristos.

After cresting over the top of the climb, cruise down several miles of hard packed dirt to reach Victor, Colo. Like its sister, Cripple Creek, Victor is a popular town for gamblers. Live out your Wild West fantasy by checking out the town saloon.

My brother and I stuck to the general store. We were happy that it offered more than hard-tack and biscuits. The store is a full-fledged mini-grocery store. We picked up drinks and chips, but it would be possible to do a full resupply here if you don’t need anything special.

Check out the free public restroom located across from the general store.

The climb out of town up Victor Pass is steep. The route offers a glimpse at the creek where people first struck gold, as well as many of the weather-worn cabins and outbuildings. The mountain north of town is bald of trees and tattooed with striped layers of removed earth.

Enjoy the view of Pikes Peak at the top of Victor Pass. Rejoin your original route at the bottom of the pass, making sure not to miss the turn back onto Gold Camp Road.

Once on Gold Camp Road, there are several more miles of up and down before the real fun begins. With roughly twenty miles to go, the roads offer an unrelenting descent back to town. The loose gravel turns provided a final test for my early 90s bike. Follow the road back to the parking lot at the top of North Cheyenne Cañon. Depending on where you parked, you may get to ride several more miles of downhill through the canyon.

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