Ride Marshal Jon Kirchhofer has come up with an amazing array of dips and climbs, turns and views that are sure to be as breathtaking as they are memorable.
The Altimeter Tour – Day 0 – 7/6/2019
We gather at the La Quinta Inn Lakewood for the annual meet and greet with a side of ride information. At a mere 5,518′ above sea level, it’s all uphill from here. Things to expect along the route include, but are not limited to; thin air, wide temperature swings (45°-90° is very likely, and could be from 35°-110°), short afternoon rainshowers, scenery in vast abundance, curves and switchbacks through the passes, and long straight roads through the valleys.
What follows is a brief overview of the route, with some vague attempts at rating three critical parametrs for each day. Scenery should be pretty obvious, with 1 being a shopping mall parking lot and 5 being the top of a mountain, looking across the 20 highest neighboring peaks. For twisties, the straight roads through the valleys would be the 1 and the hairpin switchbacks rate the 5. For crowds the rage is from you might see someone else along this 50 mile stretch as 1 to you might be able to speed up for 50 feet if you pass the car in front at the 5 end of the scale. Most days see a variety of terrain, so the conditions change as rapidly as the weather. The multiple listings for any particular category are not meant to be comprehensive, but more of a general impression i had at the end of the day during the pre-ride. I will be more than happy to discuss how wrong my ratings were after we’ve opened the other cooler at the end of the day.
The Altimeter Tour – Day 1 – 7/7/2019
La Quinta Inn Lakewood (Southwest Denver) to Winter Park.
Scenery – 4 Twisties – 3/4/5 Crowds – 5/3
The day begins with a very short jaunt to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, where we kick off this tour in style. No, we actually won’t be performing, unless you count dodging joggers and steppers to try and get a photo op a performance.
Then we talk this tour to the roads, heading up to Echo Lake Lodge, at 10,600’. The more adventurous riders have the option to get a fourteener on the first day. 17 miles of tricky switchbacks on pavement that makes those New England roads look smooth as glass, lead to the summit of Mount Evans at a lofty 14,130’. A little gumption will take you from that parking lot up a twisty footpath to a highest point of 14,258’. All, of course, assuming the weather allows. I have been to the top of the road twice, and both times ended soaked to the bone. But the second trip, the rain at least held off until I was on the way down. Here there be rainclouds.
Coming down the mountain, we pass through Idaho Springs at a mere 7,526’, one short stretch on I70 brings us to US 40 which climbs Berthoud Pass, topping out at 11,307’. We will then finish off the day coasting down into Winter Park to come to rest at 9,052’ for the night.
A short 125 mile day to get started as we get used to the thin air.
The Altimeter Tour – Day 2 – 7/8/2019
Winter Park Loop Route
Scenery – 3/5 Twisties – 1/2/3 Crowds – 1/4/2
Up and at em! Today we start early, kickstands up at 8am. Who booked this tour anyway? The first stretch of the day is a valley run north to get to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park before the roads get too clogged with cagers.
Just before the park entrance, we will stop to fill and empty tanks as needed. To make the most of one of the more scenic parks out there, we will break apart into free travel mode. There are plenty of different stops to take short hikes, or take in breathtaking views, or simply sit and watch the world pass by for a while. The only ‘organized stop in the park will be at the Alpine Visitor Center for a photo op. The 8am start is to make sure we can be in this spot before the lot is full. We can take 3 1/2 hours to traverse the 45 miles of park roads, and not even scratch the surface of what the park has to offer. But you can always come back and stay longer.
On the east edge of the park is Estes Park, home to a certain hotel that you are likely familiar with. The bar serves redrum, and the hedge maze out front has a killer reputation. As we’re riding the drink is sadly unavailable, but take your chances with the hedge, if you feel up to it.
After lunch, we travel down the Peak to Peak Byway. Mostly moderate sweepers, but the occasional hairpin switchback to keep you on your toes. Once again a quick jump on the I-70 and our second trip over Berthoud Pass will bring us back to Winter Park again.
197 miles on the day.
The Altimeter Tour – Day 3 – 7/9/2019
Winter Park to Montrose
Scenery – 4/2 Twisties – 1/2/3 Crowds – 3/4/2
There’s always that one day where you have to go a little further. This is that day. It’s got some good stuff, but in the end, there is always the transit day.
It starts well, heading back over Berthoud Pass, but the other way this time. I won’t lie, I like this little mountain, and will miss it after we make this final run. But there are so many more roads to explore.
Next, we get down to the business of heading west. 36 more miles of I70 west get us to Copper Mountain and our first stop for the day. It’s significantly unusual that a simple gas stop is as breathtaking as this. From here we head south on CO 91 where the scenery starts to change. There’s more mining and industrial activity as we progress through. Mostly gentle sweepers through alternating natural splendor and impressive human industrial effort.
Another valley run along US 24 brings us to CO 82. There are literally signs posted along this road prohibiting any vehicle over 35’ long from going any further. Climbing this road brings us to our high point for the day, Independence Pass at 12,095’. There is a photo op here, as this is also the Continental Divide, so West coast riders over here, everyone else…
On into Aspen for lunch, and a little bit of wondering at the cost of living. Best not think about it too much, but fun to observe.
Coming out of Aspen, after another 30 miles of four lane divided highway we turn left at Carbondale and the scenery really starts to shift. Up to this point there has been a lot of green. Now we slowly transition to the more muted pastels of the high desert. We finish off the day on some more four lane divided into Montrose.
291 miles on the day. The longest day of the ride.
The Altimeter Tour – Day 4 – 7/10/2019
*Optional* – San Juan Skyway Loop
Scenery – 4/5 Twisties – 1/4/3 Crowds – 3/2
If you are the sort of person who reads lists of the great motorcycle roads that you must ride before you die, you have probably heard of the San Juan Skyway. Most of those lists give bad advice about the ride, though. This is the way to do it.
We start from Montrose. This is the one point where I will entertain that there may be a better option. For me, starting 27 miles off the actual road is a fair trade for a better and less expensive base of operations. Those 27 miles also make a nice lead in to the route. 550 south out of Montrose starts off as a straight valley road with the ranges we will traverse on the horizon. Those miles gradually start to wind into the foothills, and begin to really sweep as we pull into Ouray.
From Ouray to Silverton is the section known as the Million Dollar Highway. There are several competing legends as to what that name references. It does take us to 11,018’ on Red Mountain Pass for our highest point for the day.
At the bottom of the pass is the historic mining town of Silverton. We will take the opportunity to stop and rest (and purchase souvenirs) before continuing on to Durango. There are two more passes on the way, Molass Pass at 10,910’ and Coal Bank Pass at 10,640’. 550 roughly parallel the Durango and Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad for this section.
After taking a leisurely lunch stop in Durango, we head out to the west leg of the Skyway. At first it is a four lane divided climbing through the high mesas of southwest Colorado. At Mancos we turn back onto two lane roads, but stick with the mesas for a stretch.
When we turn into Dolores CO, the terrain shifts, and we spend the rest of the afternoon on one of the prettiest sweeping two lane asphalt ribbons that I have seen. The gentle sweep back and forth amongst the jaw dropping scenery seems like it might go on forever. Where 550 was exciting and technical, an engineering marvel clinging to the side of high mountains, CO 145 is nestled in the bed of the valley, sweeping along with the terrain, revealing new wonders around every corner.
This would be a wonderful place to stop, but there are those 27 miles back into Montrose to cover. No route is ever perfect, but for as good as this one is, for my part, I can forgive this little imperfection.
287 miles on the day. While it is an optional route, for me, there is no option.
The Altimeter Tour – Day 5 – 7/11/2019
Montrose CO to Gunnison CO
Scenery – 2/3/4 Twisties – 1/3/4 Crowds – 3/1
After yesterday saw winding roads for most of the day, time to get some straight cruizin’ back in the mix. The first part of the morning takes us along the 4 lane divided US 50 to the edge of Grand Junction. One more quick hop on I 70, eastbound this time and we find ourselves at the north end of Grand Mesa.
From there it’s 50 miles of a mixture of nearly every kind of scenery Colorado has to offer. Sweeping curves through sage brush, quick switchbacks to up to altitude, sweeping vistas that open up as we round the bends, mountain lakes scattered throughout. We see the highest point at Grand Mesa Summit, 10,839’. Just over the summit, there is a Visitor Center worth a quick stop.
As the road depends and straightens out again, we pass through Cedaredge, on our way into Hotchkiss for lunch at the north end of CO 92, also known as the West Elk Scenic Loop Byway. At first this road crosses a section of high desert, but after passing through Crawford, thing start to get a bit more interesting. After a short while it becomes a fantastic challenging road, with very minimal traffic. Near abandoned at times. The road tops out at 9,121’, but the curves and the views are both spectacular. The last gesture the road has to offer is crossing the dam at Blue Mesa Reservoir before running into US 50.
We then wind around, and frequently over Blue Mesa Reservoir on our way into Gunnison.
235 Miles on the day.
The Altimeter Tour – Day 6 – 7/12/2019
Gunnison CO to Salida CO
Scenery – 4/2 Twisties – 3/1 Crowds – 1
We start today heading back west on US 50 to catch CO 149 in the middle of Blue Mesa Reservoir. This is another one of the roads I came across while reading ‘Best Motorcycle Roads” lists. And they aren’t wrong. Broad sweepers with excellent visibility through low, rocky terrain make up the first section. Then we descend into the valley, where the foliage gets denser, but the curves remain sweeping. That takes us to Lake City for the first stop of the day.
Coming out of Lake City, we start to climb. There are a handful of hairpin curves mixed in to the sweepers as we ascend to the top of Slumgullion Summit at 11,530’ for our highest point of the day. A quick drop through the valley, and then over Spring Creek Pass at 10,089’ and into the Rio Grande watershed. We catch glimpses of the river as it grows from a mountain stream as we descend into South Fork for lunch.
Shortly after lunch in the town of Del Norte, we turn away from the river and head up one and then another of those long straight roads that cross the high plains in the space between the ranges.
After we pass through Saguache, the road starts to twist around a bit again. Another low pass brings us into Poncha Springs, and then finally into Salida where we stop for the night.
251 miles on the day.
The Altimeter Tour – Day 7 – 7/13/2019
Salida CO to Denver Southwest
Scenery – 3/4/2 Twisties – 2/4/1 Crowds – 1/5
The last day of the tour is upon us. We head east on US 24 for 100 miles, crossing Wilkerson Pass at 9,504’ on the way to the final fourteener. That would be Pikes Peak, which clocks in at 14,114’, a full 26’ less than Mount Evans on Day 1. But it is a much better road. Fully two lanes with smooth pavement and center and edge stripes the whole way. And traffic. It is an easy fourteener, so if you only feel the need to do one, this is the one to choose. At the top is what is touted as the Highest Gift shop, for your souvenir collection…
After Pikes peak, we head into Colorado Springs for lunch. Then the final stretch back into Denver and the conclusion of the Altimeter Tour.