We based out of Denver. We spent the first afternoon in the city.
After almost 1000 miles in central California and nearly 850 miles in the beautiful mountains of Colorado I still say with confidence “There are more great motorcycle rides in the Blue Ridge & Smoky Mountains then anywhere else”.
I’ve been riding some fantastic scenic and challenging roads. I’ve loved every minute of it. I’d do it all over again (and probably will). There are some awesome motorcycle rides out there.
Still, when you compare them region by region based on quality, quantity, and concentration, I’ve yet to find anywhere that comes close to the great motorcycle rides in the mountains of the southeast.
Independence Pass - the best portion of the 150+ miles between Leadville and Aspen
Fond memories of this Colorado trip are many. Were I to pick the most outstanding of them I’ve experienced I’d have to steer you first to Independence Pass which runs between Leadville and Aspen. It was so good I talked my partners into riding it twice.
Independence Pass is a good long motorcycle ride, 30 – 35 miles. The climb from one side of the divide to the other reaches over 12000 feet in elevation, twice the height you’ll find in the Smokies. Heck, in most cases you’re already higher than the Smoky Mountains from wherever you start a Colorado mountain motorcycle ride.
However, those extreme altitudes come with blessings and costs.
One of the most dramatic landscapes and toughest rides - Independence Pass
The blessings are many. One of the first things I noted was how clear the Rocky Mountain air is. Accustomed to the blue hazy skies that give the Smoky Mountains their name, the crisp Colorado air is like getting a new pair of glasses – you’re suddenly amazed at how much sharper and vibrant the world appears.
When you’re atop such lofty heights, that clear dry air and deep blue Colorado skies brings a sharp contrast and definition to every vista. I kept thinking it’s impossible to take a bad picture in the mountains of Colorado, it’s so dramatic!
A break on one of the highest paved roads in the nation - Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountains National Park
Those high elevations also provide such commanding views, I’m sure you can see more than 100 miles from some points.
The landscape is dramatic. Imposing at times, stark at others, it’s a land of harsh extremes of searing heat and brutal winters, desolate isolation and hardscrabble existence.
Riding a motorcycle through such a rugged landscape at those elevations though, comes with a price.
The higher you go, the worse the road conditions get. Patches of snow in August hint at how harsh the conditions are. These roads are isolated and remote, and the season for repairs is short. You’re in for some rugged riding and a challenge to tackle at speed on a motorcycle.
Leadville, CO - elevation 10,200 ft. It might have been the capitol of Colorado had the silver lasted.
The massive scale of the great mountains add to the challenge. Riding a narrow twisty bumpy dirty road with no guardrail and a sheer drop off the edge can be intimidating. Jackie spent the harrowing parts riding in the wrong lane if it hugged the cliff face.
All of the high roads are gated. They are closed to traffic most of the year as they are impassable. The season to enjoy them is short, and you won’t be the only one taking advantage of the narrow window of opportunity. Plan on running into local and tourist traffic, especially on weekends.
Trail Ridge Road view nearly 12,000 ft. up.
Like in California, these mountain passes stand in isolation. It’s a vast landscape and the distance between roads is just as vast. You’ll spend as much time or more on long straight flat runs across the open prairie getting to the next great motorcycle ride.
I can appreciate the beauty of the high desert, the loneliness of the historic small towns, the weathered remnants of a cowboy / miner history that dot the landscape even as you scream along with an open throttle to cover the distance, but any fool can twist a wrist into the triple digits in a straight line.
Near Eleven Mile - one long, rough, straight road across the prairie
Too soon, those rides between the rides become commutes for me, and I long to use anything but the center stripe of my tire rubber. I’m happiest the closer I get to the edge of my tires.
When it comes to non-stop curvy and scenic roads, you just can’t beat the motorcycle rides in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.
Historic Lodo in Denver - roof top water tank
We flew into Denver Tuesday and spent the afternoon in the historic Lodo section.
Rich in Victorian architecture, it’s the happening place within the great city.
Old meets new in the city
First stop was a brewery, and once our tanks were full, we spent the evening walking around and taking in the sights.
We spent the morning doing some hiking near Evergreen.
View atop 3 Sisters
I had fun scrambling to the top of one of the 3 Sisters rock formations.
Early in the hike, we rounded a bend to find a huge heard of elk bedded down along the trail.
We picked up the bikes late in the afternoon, and made loose plans for the next few days of riding.
We decided to make it a day ride.
Sleet and a few flakes up high
The first of the twisty roads was Bear Creek Canyon. Nice, but traffic tempered true enjoyment.
We then followed Clear Creek Canyon Rd and the Peak to Peak Highway to Estes Park.
Break just past the middle of nowhere
Entering Rocky Mountains National Park, we cruised Trail Ridge Road.
Turning south, we followed 40 to Winter Park and took our lunch break.
We returned via Berthoud Pass to the Interstate and made one more pass through Bear Creek Canyon on our way in.
We loaded up the bikes for an overnight trip to Aspen and got an early start.
Rampart Range Rd - finally, a place to exercise a sport bike!
We started with a very nice run through Deer Creek Canyon and I got the first chance to see just what my BMW rental motorcycle capable of.
It led to Pleasant Park Rd, then onto 285 to reach Pine Valley Rd / Deckers Rd.
Fatty's Pizza in Brekenridge
We passed the Rampart range and Pikes Peak with a loop south on 67 / Teller County Rd.
24 led us north again till we detoured out to Eleven Mile on SR 90.
Back on 24, we next veered north on 9 into Brekenridge for lunch.
Stormy skies over Leadville
Next stop was Leadville. Coming into town we hit festival detours so we stopped to see what was going on.
We continued on 24 to Twin Lakes to pick up SR 82 – Independence Pass.
We arrived in Aspen at dinner time and found an affordable room in Snowmass to pass the night.
Paused in Independence Pass
By 07:30 we were on our way hoping to get to Independence Pass before the traffic to enjoy a “spirited” run on the wild road. We were not disappointed.
Riding a road like this at speed takes every skill you’ve got! It’s terribly rough and broken, gravel and rocks in the turns, bumps, patches, and potholes will have your full attention and you’d better be able to change your line quickly even when your knee nears the pavement.
My wife jackie - outstanding talented rider
We retraced our tracks to Leadville for a good breakfast, passed through Frisco, and got on the Interstate back towards Denver, then left it again at Idaho Springs for a run over Mt. Evans.
Saturday afternoon is not the time for a ride over Mt. Evans. It’s another rough and challenging high mountain road, tight and curvy, and choked with traffic. Bummer.
Put that damn camera away and let's get going!
With a final pass through Bear Creek Canyon we returned to Denver.
I was sad to part with my rental bike, a BMW F800 S. I’m really starting to enjoy sport bikes and the beemer was not only quick, but comfortable for all day riding.
We flew home.
We’d hit some of the classic rides. I will go back again. I’m sure there are plenty more roads waiting.
Wayne (author) and Jackie with our color coordinated rental rides. She really liked the BMW 650 GS riding it as if she'd had one for years. It felt like a chopper with ape hanger bars after riding the sporty F800 S, and I knew I'd made the right choice for me.
– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com
- Wayne Busch – Cartographer