The very best hiking, camping, paddling, fishing, climbing, mountain biking, and road cycling within two hours of Denver.
Still Learning Betasso Preserve West of Boulder If you’ve mastered rolling your fat tires along crushed gravel and are jonesing for that singletrack your seasoned mountain biking buddies rave about, head west of Boulder to the Betasso Preserve. The 3.3-mile Canyon Loop is a locals’ favorite and a consummate introduction to the sport. Build confidence on the smooth, winding sections, and practice your precision and stability while navigating a handful of not-too-technical rock fields. Your lungs will appreciate the trail’s alternating climbs and descents. Ride the loop in the posted direction (which switches month-to-month) at the trailhead and head elsewhere on Wednesdays and Saturdays when the park is closed to cyclists (except for Canyon Link Trail). 303-678-6200, bouldercounty.org
Take a Load Off: Before your ride, hit Snarf’s in Boulder to grab a hefty Italian sandwich to go, and once you’re done with the loop, rest your legs at one of Betasso’s multiple picnic tables at the trailhead. Revel in the peace and quiet—you’re far enough from town that all you’ll hear are the sounds of the wilderness and cyclists raving about their rides. 303-444-7766, eatsnarfs.com
Seeking a Challenge Alderfer/Three Sisters Evergreen The trails at this Jefferson County open space park will have you oohing and aahing like a kid on a ’coaster. Park at the smaller of the two lots off Buffalo Park Road, pedal across the street, and start the steady, 3.2-mile quad-burning ascent up Evergreen Mountain (the tight, rocky switchback near the top of the climb will test any rider). Catch your breath while gazing at the Continental Divide, and then descend the fast, rollercoaster-esque singletrack on the opposite side of the mountain. Cross the road and ride through the bigger lot to pick up the Sisters Trail—the steep, rocky drops on this 1.2-mile stretch will force even advanced riders off their bikes. The connecting 1.5-mile Ponderosa Trail snakes down to the parking lot where you started. 303-271-5925, jeffco.us/openspace
Replenish: A workout like this deserves a reward. Stop at Evergreen’s Tin Star Cafe & Donut Haus for a “Glutton” sandwich—house-rubbed pulled pork and spicy Polish sausage piled on a specialty apple fritter—and don’t you dare feel guilty. 303-679-1155, tinstarcafe.com
Best-Kept Secret Ceran St. Vrain Roosevelt National Forest Ceran St. Vrain is tucked deep into the hills northwest of Boulder, which largely means that last-minute planners looking for a quick fix have yet to discover this trailhead. Translation: Ride. This. Trail. Now. Suitable for confident intermediate riders, the singletrack weaves through a dense forest, mimicking the path of the nearby South St. Vrain Creek. After a couple of miles at a modest grade, the trail bottoms out and transitions into an arduous climb up a loose jeep road, where even your triathlon-fit friends will have to hike-a-bike (though summiting affords dazzling views). The ride down is good for a hefty adrenaline spike: Plunging over gnarly roots, toppled trees, and choicely situated rocks will have you tightening your grip—and planning your return. 303-541-2500, fs.fed.us
Drink It In: You’re already 10 miles north of Boulder, so tack on another half dozen and visit the Oskar Blues flagship in Lyons for a Dale’s Pale Ale—live music starts at 8 p.m. on weekends. 303-823-6685, oskarblues.com
ASK THE EXPERT Fred Nolting Wheat Ridge Cyclery inventory manager and avid mountain biker
Q: What part of my mountain bike am I forgetting to check before I head to the trailhead?
A: Suspension pressure is often overlooked. Buy a shock pump and consult your bike manufacturer’s website for the right pressure setting, which varies based on the model of the shock and the weight of the rider. Check the pressure about every three months.
Q: Got any tricks for learning how to ride with clipless pedals?
A: Make sure to lighten the spring tension at first. Right out of the box, the grip on the pedals will be too tight for a novice. Loosen the screw on the side of the pedal until it stops and then turn the screw clockwise one or two rotations—that’s a good place to start.