One of the reasons Boulder has been touted the happiest, fittest, and healthiest town in the country has to do with our amazing outdoors opportunities. Just (sometimes literally) a stone’s throw away (or a stoner’s throw?) are the foothills to an impressive stretch of the Rocky Mountains, including the Flatirons, Devil’s Thumb, Mesa Trail, and countless more scenic landmarks.
While the hiking and skiing culture is robust here, as you might imagine, there is something else that makes Boulder as beautiful in its surroundings and its people, the likes of which only some areas of Europe can boast a comparison. That’s Boulder’s love of bicycling.
Bike paths, trails, and parks crisscross Boulder all the way up into the hills and all the way out across the plains of East Boulder’s open space. Most streets are flanked with bike lanes that go parallel to the cars (in some cases, they encroach on the regular car traffic, like the controversial Dutch design wide bike lanes down Folsom). Most Boulderites use bikes over cars to commute, and our fair city is one of the most bicycle-friendly around.
But beyond cruising around in the city itself, Boulder is also well known for its extensive bike-friendly roads, bike paths, and trails to test your mettle and enjoy the scenery as you do so. Here are the Top 6 road bike trails in Boulder (according to my own research and personal views: do tell us your favorites if I’ve left them out!):
1. NCAR Climb
Distance: 2 miles
Elevation: 700 ft
NCAR is a classic Boulder field trip, and the NCAR climb is classic too. It’s one of Boulder’s most popular climbs because it’s close to Boulder proper, it’s a relatively easy ride (so road bike cyclists of all abilities can tackle it without a hitch), and it’s one of the shorter prettier rides you can take in the space of a lunch break.
What probably makes the NCAR climb stand out most, though, has to be the incredible view at the top of the climb. What an awe-inspiring reward for an uphill ride! They say it’s a blessing and a curse, that you can clearly see the endpoint the whole ride up: it’s great because you can see the point where you can stop—it’s right there! But it’s also looming… either way you look at it, the scenery when you get there is well worth it.
2. Olde Stage Road
Distance: 12.5 miles
Elevation: 1164 ft
The ride up Olde Stage Road is another one of those beautiful road loops that are perfect for beginners, and seasoned riders wanting a relaxing ride alike. You’ve seen the weekend warriors congregating at Amante coffee on North Broadway, getting refreshed after their ride, or energized right before they embark—it’s right at the base of the Olde Stage Road ride as well as the Lee Hill/Left Hand climb, and it’s not a coincidence.
The Olde Stage Road ride shares several of the same features as the Lee Hill and Left Hand rides (and it even can connect to them), it’s just a little shorter. But it boasts similar smooth roads, rolling hills with brief steep climbs, which means a super fun fast descent on your way back down to town.
3. Marshall Mesa
Distance: various, depending on trails used
Elevation: 250 ft
The cool thing about Marshall Mesa is that it’s the hub for a bunch of different bike trails, that you can interlink to your tires’ content, whether they’re fat or thin. Some favorites, too–bikers across Boulder swear by Doudy Draw, and the Dirty Bismarck, the Community Ditch, and the Spring Brook Loop. There’s the Coal Seam trail and the Greenbelt plateau paths, too, and I know a photographer that has frequently sighted eagles and other birds of prey all over that area, so there’s lots to see beyond the lovely open space and fellow cyclists. You could start at Marshall Mesa’s trailhead every day for a month and not have exactly the same ride over the web of packed-dirt trails, depending on what turns you take.
The other great thing about the Marshall Mesa network is that it’s usually open (and more importantly, rideable by various bike types) during the months of the year when other trails can’t be used on account of weather, conditions, or construction. It’s also a comparatively easy set of rides, over in South Boulder as opposed to way up in the mountains. So it’s a fun and engaging time for beginners as well as a relaxing and beautiful ride for the more advanced rider needing a meditative and scenic few miles.
4. Lee Hill Road/Left Hand Canyon
Distance: 17.3 miles
Elevation: 1650 ft
This is a lovely, long, sustained climb perfect for road bikes, that begins at the famous Greenbriar, and goes up Left Hand Canyon, with smooth roads and gorgeous views the whole way up.
This climb (and the adjacent loop) is pretty gentle as far as steepness, except for one very steep stretch just as you’re about to get to Ward. The Lee Hill loop is pretty steep too, and makes for a lightning-fast descent! Or you can connect these rides to our next one, down Olde Stage Road. Either way, the views on this ride are incredible, and it’s another one that’s quick to get to right from town.
5. Betasso Preserve
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (mostly for mountain bikes)
Distance: various, depending on loops & trails used
Elevation: 429 ft
Ask any seasoned Boulder road biker where the best place is to take a scenic bike ride, and there’s a good chance she’ll say Betasso Preserve first. It’s a good combination of linked trails, and it has steepness and rocky terrain for the fat-tired, mountain biking veterans, as well as smooth sailing and fun flying for those who are looking for more of a smooth road bike experience. And it’s super fun, no matter what level (or what type of bike) you’re on.
The two main loops of Betasso are very different depending on the direction and are closed periodically, as well as change every so often too, so definitely look ahead if you’re planning on the Betasso experience. But one of the main things that makes the looping trails of Betasso Preserve special is the fact that you can ride up there right from town. The Betasso loops are accessible from the long bike paths that make up the Boulder Creek Path. Just hop on the path anywhere in town, ride on up the canyon, and you’ll make it to Betasso in no time.
6. Honorable Mention: Valmont Bike Park
A playground and a circus for bicycles, the Valmont Bike Park isn’t exactly your backcountry singletrack trail or challenging road climb with mountainous views, but the Valmont Bike Park has a wild and wide array of apparatus and areas (both natural and urban in design) to offer the cyclist on a short lunch break, or the n00b wanting to practice their skills before moving on to more difficult routes up on the slopes. Valmont Bike Park has it all (and your non-biker friends can while away their time nearby while you play; in the adjacent dog park, skate park, or frisbee golf course).