Beyond the endless sprawl that typifies Colorado’s Front Range are a number of more isolated pockets, where the plains from the East run into the foothills of the mountains, that provide the Front Range with some startling geographic formations that make exploring these pockets on bike incredibly fun and almost makes you forget the endless rows of houses behind you. Such is both the frustration and joy of Colorado’s Front Range.
One of the better loops I’ve found in the Manitou Springs/Colorado Springs area winds through a number of these formations while providing some decent climbs and great views of Pikes Peak and downtown Colorado Springs (I’m all about the views). The centerpieces of the ride are Garden of the Gods Park and Cheyenne Canyon, two very distinct geological areas that we loop together through some of Colorado Springs cooler neighborhoods (don’t roll your eyes, they do exist).
The ride starts in Manitou Springs, a cool little pocket in and of itself, winds through town before beginning a short climb into the Garden of the Gods (you can also start in downtown Colorado Springs, but navigating to the Garden of the Gods from there is a bit more traffic intense). The Garden is a series of red sandstone formations that have been pushed vertical by some crazy geological mojo. The formations break up the view of the Pikes Peak foothills, and thanks to the area’s tourist town focus, sports a nice, wide road that runs through the entire park. The Garden sits on a series of hills, so this section of the ride is more rolling than anything else. At its high points, this part of the ride has amazing views of Pikes Peak and the mountains to the South. On a clear day you can see Red Rocks Canyon, the natural extension of the Garden that runs to the South. Because the Garden is a major tourist attraction, the traffic through it can be somewhat heavy, but thankfully the road is wide enough to easily accommodate everybody.
After the ride leaves the Garden of the Gods you will wind your way down toward Colorado Ave., and then head East, through Old Colorado City. Old Colorado City is a mix of shops, restaurants and bars, similar in vibe to Manitou, but with more of a focus on clothing boutiques. I like this area because it feels like a separate town from Colorado Springs, lacking in the whole Army/James Dobson vibe that Colorado Springs has at times (not that there is anything wrong with that. Sort of). The traffic through here moves slowly through two lanes, so riding with the traffic is not much of a problem.
After passing through Old Colorado City, the ride begins a long climb up to the Cheyenne Canyon Area. This part of town is where the huge, new money houses are. So along with every architecturally appealing home is one that looked it was designed by someone who was having a seizure while tripping. A lovely effect. After riding through the Cheyenne Mountain area, the ride takes a turn toward the West, and into the canyon that forms the other half of this ride.
Cheyenne Canyon is a deep gouge in the southern foothills of Colorado Springs, with high rock walls and narrow roads. Riding through the canyon is at once visually stunning, and a bit , treacherous, as there are a number of almost blind corners that cars often come through too fast (this is where our driving teacher took us in high school. I have memories of one of my classmates almost running us into the rock walls on every narrow turn. This is what I think about when I hear cars coming). BUT, don’t let this deter you, as most cars move pretty slow, and the road is wide enough for them to pass you easily. If you head up there at the right time, like the early morning or late afternoon, its rare that you will see a car back there. This part of the ride is the steepest, climbing up a road that runs parallel to a creek. As you come close the crest of the climb, the road passes by Helen Hunt Falls, a worthwhile place to take a break on the way down. Past the falls, the road takes a series of switchbacks before turning to turn at Gold Camp Road. This is where I turn around. The descent back down the canyon is super fast and lots of fun, just be weary of the slow-ass tourists that apparently have never seen rocks before.
After coming out of the canyon, the ride takes you into the Broadmoor neighborhood, but before doing so make sure to ride by Starr Kempf’s house. Starr was a local artist known for his huge steel sculptures that still reside on his front lawn. After this minor detour, the ride heads up past the Broadmoor hotel and crests at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. This is a short, somewhat intense climb that wraps up the side of Cheyenne Mountain. This part of the ride is worthwhile simply for the views of Colorado Springs and the mountains to the West. I usually loop through the parking lot before heading back down. The descent from the zoo is a ton of fun and will take you past one of the more aesthetically attractive buildings in this part of town, the Broadmoor, a luxury hotel with some amazing landscaping. A great place to bring a date for a drink. There are a number of cool neighborhoods around the Broadmoor/Zoo area that are worth exploring. After the Broadmoor area, the ride will return back through the Cheyenne Mountain neighborhoods, and back through Old Colorado city.
Distance: 31.50 miles roundtrip
Directions: From Downtown Manitou Springs, head East on Manitou Ave and take a left at Buena Vista Place, which is just past the Manitou Pool. At the stop sign take a right, and then your first left onto Garden Drive, which will take you through the Garden (the road goes through a number of name changes, but there is only one route through). You will eventually come to an intersection where you can go right or left onto Juniper Way. Take the left and head down the hill to the stop sign, where you will take a right on Gateway Rd. Look for a dirt road/path on the ride that parallels 30th St. This path is dirt, but lets you avoid the heavily trafficked 30th St. Take this path until it dead-ends onto 31st St. Head south on this and it will take you to Colorado Ave.
At Colorado Ave, take a left and head through Old Colorado City. At 26th St take a right, cross Cimarron/Hwy 24 and climb up to Lower Gold Camp Road. Once you hit Lower Gold Camp take a left and head downhill until you hit S 21st St. Take a right here. 21st will turn into Cresta, and will take you through the Cheyenne Mountain neighborhoods and past the Cheyenne Mountain High School. Soon after the High School you will come to Cheyenne Blvd. Take a left here and head West. Cheyenne Blvd will eventually turn into N Cheyenne Canyon Road. This road will take you all the way to the top of the Cheyenne Canyon section of the loop.
After descending back down the canyon, take a right onto Evans Ave, riding past Starr Kempf’s house, and take a left onto Mesa Ave, and then bear right onto Penrose Blvd. Penrose will take you all the way up to the zoo. Loop through the parking lot and head back down Penrose where you will come to a stop sign (you’ve already been through this intersection), and take a right onto El Pomar Road. This road takes you past the Broadmoor and to a traffic circle. Take the second exit and then take a left at the first opportunity which will put you onto Cresta Rd.
Take Cresta all the way back, but instead of turning back onto Lower Gold Camp, keep heading straight, over the hill, and down until the road (now 21st) intersects with Cimmarron/Hwy 24. Cross the highway, and take a left at Colorado Ave, which will take you back through Old Colorado City. At 31st, take a right and then your first left. This puts you onto W. Pikes Peak Ave, a road that parallels Colorado but has very little traffic. Eventually this road will dead-end. Take a right and then your first left, this puts you onto El Paso Blvd which will take you all the way back to Manitou.