You’ve come to Colorado for some of the country’s best riding and you’re staying in Aspen, one of the favorite resorts in the state. Now where do you go? The answer: right down that road.
Aspen is on CO 82 and the absolutely best route from here is one that takes you out of town in one direction and loops around to bring you back into town from the other direction. Along the way you’ll ride one of Colorado’s best, most spectacular passes as well as one of its best, most spectacular canyons. We’re talking good stuff.
Taking a save-the-best-for-last approach, let’s head out of town going northwest on CO 82. The highway winds down alongside the Roaring Fork River past Snowmass, Woody Creek (home to the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson) and Basalt to Carbondale, where it meets CO 133 coming down from McClure Pass. That road over McClure is a ride you’ll want to plan on for another day.
Continuing on CO 82 you cruise 10 more miles and reach Glenwood Springs. As the name implies, this very comfortable, attractive little town is blessed with hot springs. In fact, it is home to the world's largest mineral hot springs pool. At the end of another day’s ride—or if you decide to do this loop in the other direction—Glenwood is a good stop to soak away the stiffness from a day on the bike before cruising the last few miles back to Aspen.
From Glenwood you’ll head east on the only road available: Interstate 70. Interstate highways seldom merit recommendations as good motorcycle roads but this one is a major exception. As soon as you pull out of town you plunge deeply into Glenwood Canyon, a 12-mile stretch that curves along the Colorado River below sheer cliffs that rise as much as 1,300 feet above you. If you’re interested in pictures this is a good place to have a GoPro or other video camera on your helmet or bike because there is so much to see and there are so few places to stop. Take your time; there’s no reason to rush through all this natural beauty.
Emerging from the canyon you now have about 35 more miles to cover on the interstate. At about the 20-mile point in that stretch you may want to pull off at Wolcott and stop for an early lunch or for a snack at the Yacht Club Grill. This favorite of motorcyclists offers a shady outdoor patio for relaxation and refreshment.
You leave the interstate at Minturn, just a few miles west of Vail, where US 24 heads southeast over Tennessee Pass. Approaching Red Cliff you have the option of staying on 24 over a high trestle or taking a sharp left to wind down into the old mining town. That route then takes you back the way you came, now at the bottom of the canyon, under the trestle and then south a short distance to rejoin the highway.
Continuing south, the next point of interest is Camp Hale. This high, broad valley is where the 10th Mountain Division of skiing soldiers trained for deployment to the mountains of Italy in the Second World War. Remnants of the camp remain and you have considerable freedom to explore the site at will.
From Camp Hale it’s only a short distance over the hump of Tennessee Pass and then you come to Leadville, another old mining town. Downtown Leadville retains many of the grand old buildings of its heyday and if you haven’t already had lunch, this is the place you’ll want to stop. Leadville also happens to be the highest incorporated city in North America (10,430 feet) so of course you’ve brought warm clothing on this day’s ride. If not, you may wish to buy something warm while you’re here.
Assuming you’re in no hurry—and why would you be?—a point of interest worth your time in Leadville is the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. Here you can get at least a feel for the kind of toil and struggle the old-time miners spent their lives engaged in.
Heading south out of Leadville it is 15 miles to where you meet up again with CO 82. You turn west, through Twin Lakes, and then begin the climb up Independence Pass. Get ready to be impressed; this is one of Colorado’s best.
For about 20 miles the road climbs steadily through a valley alongside the North Fork of Lake Creek. Then the switchbacks begin. And now you really climb. First to your left, then to your right, and then to your left again the mountains and valleys are laid out below you as you go up and up. This is the kind of riding you came to Colorado for.
Up at the top, at 10,800 feet, stopping is a must-do. Pose for pictures by the Independence Pass sign. Walk the short trail out to the overlook. Revel in the scenery. And then get ready for even more as you start your way down.
From the top of Independence Pass it is about 20 miles back to Aspen. Along the way you’ll have the opportunity to stop at Independence Ghost Town, you’ll cruise through mountain valleys, and you’ll encounter some stretches of road so narrow, so tightly squeezed onto the side of the mountain, that they only have room for traffic going one way. Take it easy, take it slow, and take advantage of the many turnouts to fully appreciate the scenery. And then roll back into Aspen congratulating yourself on having made such a good choice for your vacation.
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Story by Ken Bingenheimer