The Ride: Rist Canyon Loop
Distance: 42 miles round-trip
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Arguably the most epic road ride in northern Colorado—for both scenery and terrain—the Rist Canyon loop begins and ends in the hamlet of Bellvue, near Fort Collins. From Bellvue Bean, head west on Rist Canyon Road, which quickly climbs out of bucolic rolling farmland into the Roosevelt National Forest, gaining nearly 3,000 feet of elevation in 11 miles. The final few switchbacks are unapologetically steep, which means you’ll want to stop for a breather at the top and enjoy the endless views of the Buckhorn Canyon Valley crowned by the 12,000-foot Mummy Range.
Take it easy on the descent: Two miles after the left-hand (south) turn onto Stove Prairie Road (CR 27) lurk three cattle guards (read: cyclist-swallowing metal grates) that span the entire width of the road. Having slowly passed over these teeth-rattlers, you’ll want to stay on the brakes through the twisty narrows of Buckhorn Canyon and watch for slow-moving traffic. As the road continues (it’ll change names to Buckhorn Road) to drop into Masonville (the 25-mile point), things begin to feel less remote courtesy of summertime tourists towing their toys to the water. You’ll stay on Buckhorn Road/CR 27 until you veer onto W CR 38E near Masonville. Remain on W CR 38E until you hang a left onto Centennial Drive (S CR 23) for a ride along the edge of Horsetooth Reservoir. You’ll have to deal with some motor vehicle traffic, but the route is pretty enough to make up for having to share the asphalt. The road offers sweeping views of Fort Collins to the east and glimpses of the cobalt waters of the reservoir to the west. Save a little bit of juice for the end—the route finishes with a series of three short, punchy climbs along the water before rolling back through the alfalfa fields into Bellvue. —JM
Centennial Drive Loop (Easy)
In the mood for a less leg-busting climb? Get all the beauty of Horsetooth Reservoir without having to climb Rist Canyon by using Fort Collins’ multi-use trail system. The 23-mile Centennial Drive Loop starts at Bellvue Bean and heads east through the plains to Fort Collins via the 11-mile riverside Poudre Trail. Pick up the Spring Creek Trail for seven miles to reach W CR 38E, then turn right on Centennial Drive when you hit the reservoir.