Boulder is a cyclist’s playground, with bike – friendly roads, an extensive network of multiple use roads, and a variety of scenic trails in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It is a perfect destination for riders of all types and skill levels.
Due to Boulder’s outdoor ethos, many locals commute to work by bike rather than by car, and residents take full advantage of nearby mountain bike trails and Rocky Mountain trails for a great cycling session – contributing to an unparalleled cycling culture is in most parts of North America.
Cycling is by far one of the best ways to explore the city. Visitors who want to take part in the fun have endless routes to choose from, covering all sorts of sites. Whether you are looking for an easy pedal in the city center, a long road ride or a scenic mountain bike ride on rocky slopes, here are our picks for the best rides in Boulder.
Boulder Creek Road
Best ride for families and exploring the city center
7.5 miles (12.1 km) return, easy
The Boulder Creek Road is a popular and tranquil ride along the paved multipurpose trail that cuts through town from east to west, embracing Boulder Creek for about seven miles into Boulder Canyon. The path can be reached just a few blocks from the city center, and there are other access points throughout the city.
This ride is great if you want to experience Boulder’s cycling culture, but do not feel ready for the mountain roads, or are accompanied by children and want to stay out of car traffic. If you do not have your own wheels, you can pick up bikes at Boulder’s B cycle bicycle sharing scheme at stations along the path, especially in the sections closest to the city center.
For an easy afternoon getaway via the Boulder Creek Road, consider stopping at scenery Scott Carpenter Park or Net G Fine Park for a picnic, or just pull down and cool off by diving anywhere along the path into the creek during the summer months.
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Best beginner’s mountain bike ride
7.1 miles (11.4 km) return, easy to moderate
Betasso Preserve is a favorite local mountain bike riding zone that is perfect for newbies on steeper, rocky terrain. It is less than 20 minutes by car from Boulder city center, and the trails here are shared by cyclists, hikers, horse riders and runners.
The reserve is traversed by several tracks and loops that can be teamed together in longer rides. The most popular option is to connect Canyon Loop and Benjamin Loop to a 7-mile ride with approximately 768 feet of elevation gain. This trail offers breathtaking mountain views, views of golden plains, and lovely sections weaving through the Ponderosa pine trees.
The Benjamin Loop – located at the back of the reserve – is steeper and narrower than the Canyon Loop, so first-time mountain bikers may want to stick to the latter track for a short practice ride. However, the full 7-mile loop features a healthy mix of uphill and downhill sections that most riders will find doable, fast and fun.
Save just a little energy for a thigh-burning finish, as most of the elevation gain comes at the end of the ride. Also note that bicycles are not allowed at Betasso on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so plan your rides accordingly.
Best all-round mountain bike ride
12.6 miles (20.3 km) return, moderate
Located just south of downtown Boulder is Marshall Mesaa rolling mountain biking area that offers breathtaking views of the rocky foothills known as the Platysters. The mesa (hill with a flat roof) is a popular hub for local mountain bikers, connected to several other cycling routes in the nearby Eldorado Canyon State Park. This is a great place to create your own loop, taking into account your own taste for distance, difficulty level and type of terrain.
Locals like to combine the Coal Seam, Community Ditch, Doudy Draw and Springbrook Loop trails in a ride of approximately 12.6 miles, with approximately 942ft elevation gain. The back of this last lane takes you to a mesa-top vantage point overlooking the city, with views in the front row of the Continental Divide to the west. This is one of the most spectacular views in Boulder.
The Community Ditch and Doudy Draw sections of the ride are mostly smooth, with a flat or gradual slope, while the Coal Seam and Springbrook sections are steeper and more rocky. Mountain bikers with a bit of riding time under their belt should have no problems with the full loop – it is bumpy in places, but is not considered too advanced riding.
This route comes into its own during the spring, when the weather turns other local tracks into muddy swamps. Because it is high and exposed, Marshall Mesa gets a lot of sunlight on clear days, which helps snow melt faster and mud dries faster, and riders call back to the trails at the first sign of warmer, drier weather.
Best scenic hill climb
18 miles (28.9 km) back and forth, difficult
Loved by local cyclists, the Flagstaff Road is a long, winding mountain road that Chautauqua park near the base of the Flatirons. This road is one of the steepest in town and while the climb to the top is brutal, the views along the road make it all worth it. It’s one of the most popular rides in Boulder, and it can get busy on sunny afternoons.
The uphill climb starts almost as soon as you start pedaling. One of the first potential resting points is Panorama Point, an appropriate vantage point that offers breathtaking views of Boulder Valley. After that, the road continues to climb through a series of increasingly steep turns.
You can stop at Realization Point for a shorter variation of the ride, or continue to Lost Gulch Overlook, where you have views of Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Parkbefore completing the ride at the Gross Reservoir car park.
Wherever you decide to turn around and return, the back leg is an adrenaline-laden descent up the mountain. The steep hills and hairpin turns on the way down can be just as challenging as the climb, so make sure your brakes are set before you leave – you’ll need it!
Beware of car traffic, both on the way up and on the way down. Local drivers know to look out for cyclists on this road, but it is important to be careful on the sharp turns.
32.7 miles (52.6 km) round trip, hard
Left Hand Canyon is one of the best rides in Colorado’s Front Range – a long, sustained mountain climb on a paved road that is best tackled as an out-and-back, starting in the plains of Boulder Valley. The opening stages follow Left Hand Creek, climbing through sections of the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forestwith beautiful views to the historic mining town of Ward.
For most of the ride, the grade is moderate, but once you get close to Ward, the road becomes very steep. By the time you reach the top of the climb, you will be more than 9,000 feet above sea level! Once you reach the group of buildings that make up the city center, move in Utica street market – a cyclist-friendly grocery store serving snacks and drinks – before you turn around and head back down the canyon. The ride down is fast and smooth, so make sure you use your brakes and look out for car traffic.
Peak to Peak Highway
Best epic day trip
43.6 miles (70.2 km) round trip, hard
The Peak to Peak Highway is one of Colorado’s most epic bike rides. The highway connects the town of Black Hawk with the I-70 corridor, Estes park and Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the best times of the year to try this ride is during the fall, as it is one of the most popular trail-leaf trails in all of Colorado.
The complete version of this high-altitude, scenic ride, which runs parallel to the Continental Divide, is an epic, 60-mile one-way ride with a total elevation gain of 5,075 feet. However, most people who try the full route come with a support vehicle. Alternatively, consider the shorter, 43-mile back-and-forth version of the ride, which can be undertaken as a solo day trip.
The ride starts in the Netherlands, about 30 minutes by car from Boulder. From there, you climb north through Ward and up to Estes Park, before embarking on a long descent to Peaceful Valley, with incredible views of the Indian Peaks and Sawtooth Mountain. Once you reach South Saint Vrain Drive, you can turn around and return to the Netherlands, where you can look forward to a well-deserved feast of Colorado comfort food at Those of Ned at N Jefferson St.
Cycling Tips in Boulder
Consider the following tips when cycling in Boulder.
- Wear a helmet
- Use bicycle lights before dawn and after dusk
- Always give in to pedestrians, especially on multiple routes
- Keep right, pass left, and give a vocal warning before overtaking other cyclists
- On frequently used routes, give the right of way to other route users and any cyclists riding uphill
- Lock your bike – unfortunately, bike theft is common in Boulder
- Bring a first aid kit, a card and lots of food, water and sunscreen
- Check the weather before you go, and avoid driving during thunderstorms, blizzards and whenever the temperature drops below freezing.