Northwestern Colorado Bike Tour, Part 1

After the challenging bikepacking trip in Idaho last month, I was ready for something a bit more laid back. My son Lars had not been riding too much (at least long rides), and this was his friend Adam’s first ever bike trip. In fact, his longest ride before this trip was only 22 miles. So I mapped a route that seemed reasonable for all of us. I packed a hammock, a couple Tenkara fishing rods, and a book on this trip, anticipating a bit more down time and less riding. Last year we did a loop out of Steamboat Springs in Northwest Colorado (here), and I immediately saw the potential for more nice riding in this part of the state. On that trip Lars and I were really impressed with Colorado’s dirt County Roads.

We drove the five and a half hours on a Sunday afternoon and arrived in the early evening. We snuck our bikes and all our gear up some back stairs into our room then headed out for dinner. The only thing open was an Irish bar, but the food was pretty decent. That night we mostly packed up our bikes. The next morning we drove downtown to get fishing licenses. We parked the car at a grocery store parking lot and headed out around 10 am.

We had bike path for a short distance, then Highway 40 for a mile or two then turned south on a smaller country road. The traffic was light and the riding nice. We wound around through the countryside, then up and over to Stagecoach Reservoir. From there we rode the highway down to the small, quaint town of Yampa. We headed to the old historic general store, bought some cold drinks, and took a break. We were about 27 miles into our day.

Montgomery’s has been around since the late 1800’s and has everything from a meat counter to hardware, groceries and Henry rifles. They even have an old vintage cash register. Definitely worth a visit. Several of the roads through town are dirt, including the main street into town. It’s pretty charming. We rode out of town and soon were on the Flat Tops Trail, which is a Colorado Scenic Byway. About 5 or 6 miles out of town it turned to dirt and would stay dirt for the next 60+ miles.

Colorado’s dirt roads, many of them County Roads, are really well maintained and usually quite smooth. After leaving Yampa the road climbed steadily for the rest of the day. I strained my back a couple weeks earlier and it was not feeling good. Late in the afternoon, we turned off the main road and rode three very steep miles to Chapman Reservoir where we camped for the night. After setting up camp, we walked over to the reservoir, which was not that nice. The water was kind of murky. The boys went to filter water and I went for a quick dip.

We had a nice evening lounging around. The mosquitos weren’t too bad and we even had a freeze-dried dessert, chocolate cheesecake, which was just so-so. We did some reading and went to bed. We were all pretty tired from a solid ride that day.

Day 1 totals: 42.7 miles, 3966′ gain.

The next day we continued on the Flat Tops Trail knowing we had two passes to climb that day. After a few miles we crossed a nice looking creek so we stopped to filter water and fish. Lars was the first to catch one. I caught a smallish brook trout as well. Adam caught three. We had a really nice time fishing, even though the water was feet-numbing cold. We all had compact Tenkara style fly rods, which is all I fish with the past few years.

We fished this nice creek in the background.

The climb up to Dunkley Pass was pretty steady but never too steep. We topped out then enjoyed a two thousand foot descent before climbing another two thousand up to the next pass.

The view from Dunkley Pass, 9763′, looking out into the Flat Tops Wilderness Area

As we began descending the other pass, which was higher than Dunkley at over 10,000′ but was unnamed, it started sprinkling, then raining, then pouring. We put on our rain gear somewhere along the way. At one point it was raining so hard it was difficult to see and the road was getting really muddy. I came to a hunting lodge and found the boys taking shelter under a large horse trailer. We walked over to the lodge and found a guy cooking at a BBQ grill and asked if they rented cabins. He said yes, but they were all booked. Our original plan was to take a 10 mile detour out to Trappers Lake, which I had read about. But since it was raining, and those 10 miles were all uphill, we weren’t too interested. We knew there was another campground further down the road. We stayed under the horse trailer until the rain lightened, then continued on.

Bombing down the dirt road in the rain with poor visibility, Lars hit a big pothole and got a pinch flat. It continued raining but at least it was lighter than before. After about 8 more miles we arrived at North Fork Campground (we were following the North Fork of the White River).

We quickly set up camp in a light rain, cooked dinner, then dived into our tents to read and relax. That night was the most spectacular lightning storm I’ve ever seen. The lightning started off in the distance with near constant very bright flashes and moved closer and closer to us, until finally the storm arrived and it poured hard with constant lightning flashes for about 30 minutes, then it moved on up the valley. It was pretty impressive. The strange thing about this storm is that there was hardly any thunder. After that the skies cleared and the stars came out. We stayed nice and dry in our tents.

Gourmet hot chocolate

We had a leisurely morning eating and drying out our gear.

Day 2 totals: 39.5 miles, 3869′ gain, 5 fish

We left camp around 10:30 and continued down the Flat Tops Trail (the nicely graded dirt road). It was all downhill to the town of Meeker. We stopped along the way and fished the White River. Unfortunately Lars and Adam didn’t have any luck but I caught six rainbow trout in the 7-9″ range. Lars and I also took a nice chilly dip in the river to cool off. The lower we got the hotter it got.

The road eventually turned to pavement and we continued toward Meeker where we planned to camp for the night. We were kind of treating this day as a rest day. My back was not happy and I really needed to take it easier than the last couple days. Even though we had not ridden big miles, we had climbed nearly 4000′ each of the past two days. Meeker had an area of their city park along the river for camping, but it was pretty open (in the sun), so I decided to get a motel room. It was also in the high 90’s.

After getting cleaned up we walked over to a Mexican Restaurant and had enormous plates of pretty delicious Tex-Mex food. There were only three restaurants in town, the Mexican place, an Italian place, and a diner. We then walked across town to the grocery store to replenish our food supplies. We also bought some cold juice to drink, as well as some cold drinks to take with us the next day. We had a nice evening reading and chatting in the comfortable motel room.

Day 3 totals: 34.8 miles, 611′ gain, 2259′ loss, 6 fish

To be continued.

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