Q: Where are the best mountain bike rides in the Royal Gorge and Colorado Springs area? I will be there in early June and wish to see some beautiful scenery while off-road biking in the mountains.
Rafael de Haro
Round Rock, TX
A: Depending on how far you're willing to drive, there are plenty of options for fat-tire touring in Colorado's Front Range. For a great, don't-miss ride about 40 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, head down to Cañon City and pick up the 65-mile Shelf Road loop, one of Colorado's best off-road tours. Built in 1892 as a freight toll road to the Cripple Creek mining district, the Shelf Road winds its way through Helena Canyon to Cripple Creek and returns to Cañon City along the Phantom Canyon narrow gauge railroad bed.
Unless you're feeling especially ambitious, we recommend splitting the loop in half by staying overnight in Cripple Creek or nearby Victor. Done this way, it's a very manageable, intermediate-level ride that allows plenty of time for exploring the old wooden trestles and train tunnels left over from Phantom Canyon's railroad days. Your first day will be a gentle uphill to Cripple Creek-Victor at 9,700-feet, with only about five miles of fairly steep climbing through Hole-in-the-Wall Canyon. The return trip is an easy coast back down to Cañon City. The route travels on good dirt roads with occasional breaks of pavement throughout and begins 12 miles north of Cañon City on County Route 9. Be aware that while the Shelf Road has very little vehicular traffic, the Phantom Canyon section can get very busy, especially on summer weekends. For detailed route descriptions for this and other rides, pick up a copy of The Mountain Biker's Guide to Colorado (Falcon Press), or contact the Cañon City Cycling Club at 719-275-1963.
Planning a trip of your own? [ask the AA]