Microadventure: Bikepacking from Downtown Denver to the Colorado Trail

Short on time but craving an adventure? I know all too well the struggles of a workaholic with wanderlust. Thankfully I’ve become a master at microadventures, striving to maximize the little time away from my computer. This overnight bikepacking trip from Denver is the perfect jaunt to nurture the adventurous spirit without the commitment of a multi-day excursion.

In Colorado, bikepacking tends to have a sufferfest element to it. I find that it’s always more fun to have a friend alongside to endure the grueling sections together. I was lucky enough to have my Dad join me on this trip. We’ve been adventuring together my whole life. He taught me how to ride a bike, how to camp, how to read a map, and how to say YES to an adventure. He instilled Leave No Trace ethics and wilderness safety into each outing. 

When I called him up to ask if he’d like to go on an overnight bikepacking trip with me, he responded YES without hesitation. He’s no novice to bike touring, having cycled across the United States, Europe, and Vietnam (read the story here). In 1989, he completed the first ever crossing of Siberia by bicycle, then returned to write a book about it.

At 62 he still hasn’t slowed down. His positive attitude and perseverance motivated me to keep going during the sections when we had to push our bikes because it was too steep to ride. While I’m slightly envious of his super-human strength (there’s nothing like getting your ass kicked by the old man), I’m so grateful to have him along for the ride and I look forward to the next adventure together!

Ride Overview

If you live in Denver you can ride from your front door and back with minimal interaction with cars. This route is broken down into 3 sections that take you through paved paths, dirt roads, and singletrack trails. Round trip it’s roughly 75 miles and 5,500+ elevation gain, with options to cut it short or keep riding for a longer route. 

Section 1 

Leave home and ride through town to the South Platte River Trail. You’ll take this mellow paved path through south Denver and Littleton. When the path forks, cross the bridge to continue on to Mary Carter Greenway Trail. This section is 22 miles of paved bike path.

Stop for coffee and a bathroom break at Hudson Gardens / Nixon’s Coffee House. There’s also a bike pump if you need it. 

Continue on Mary Carter Greenway Trail towards Chatfield Reservoir. Stop for a snack and use the porta potty at Chatfield Reservoir. 

Denver Audubon is your last stop for structured bathrooms until day 2. This is also a good spot to fill up water. 

Section 2

From Denver Audubon the route transitions to a dirt road. Follow the path to the trailhead at Waterton Canyon and begin the beautiful 6 mile ascent to the start of Colorado trail. This section is closed to motorized vehicles and is often crowded with hikers and cyclists. It is common to see bighorn sheep scaling the walls of the canyon. 

Section 3

Now is a great time to have lunch! There’s a picnic table at the top of Waterton Canyon but to reach the trailhead for the Colorado trail there is still about .25 miles of climbing so you may want to get that out of the way first (I did). There’s a bench at the trailhead for a good lunch spot and beer break. Here the trail turns to singletrack and begins to gradually climb (1 mile) up to Lenny’s Rest. 

Once you reach Lenny’s Rest there are two options:

  1. Continue on the Colorado Trail to West Bear Creek for a quick .5 mile descent to the campspot
    • Good option for an out and back trip
    • Fill up water in Bear Creek 
    • Camp spots are available and free
  • Note: Not the most picturesque campsite and you will have to push/ride your bike back uphill the next day to Lenny’s Rest, then it’s all downhill from there.
  1. Take the Indian Creek Trail and camp anywhere along this trail before Roxborough state park 
    • Good option for the loop (as shown on map)
  • Note: There is no camping allowed in Roxborough State Park, you must camp in Pike’s National Forest on dispersed land.

Follow Indian Creek Trail through Roxborough State Park via Powerline Trail. The route transitions from singletrack to wide dirt road and eventually you’ll exit onto North Rampart Range Rd.

  • Note: Bicycles are only allowed in certain sections of Roxborough state park, make sure to read trail signs and adhere to state park regulations.

Exit Roxborough State Park and ride North Rampart Range Road until it intersects with Waterton Canyon Road. There you will find a Safeway and Starbucks for a breakfast and bathroom break. Continue down Waterton Canyon Road until you reach the trailhead. From there you’ll just follow the same route to cruise on home.

Be safe & have fun!

What to Pack

  • 2-3 Liters of Water 
    • I carried 2 liters in my camelback and .5 liters on my bike
  • Water filtration system
    • I used Iodine tablets because they are cheap, lightweight, and effective 
  • Clothes
    • Whatever you’re willing to carry
  • Tent
    • The lighter the better 
  • Sleeping bag & pad
    • I brought my 30 degree bag and was plenty warm for an early September night
  • Lunch / Dinner / Breakfast / Snacks
  • First Aid Kit
  • Bike tools and repair kit
  • Helmet
  • Bike Lock
  • Sierra Nevada Beer!

For further questions or a Denver ride partner, please reach out to addi.jenkins@gmail.com.

Addi Jenkins
Addi Jenkins
Addi's life is a tale of a ski bum turned marketing specialist. Originally from Wyoming, she has spent years playing in the backcountry of Colorado. Backpacking, mountain biking, skiing, camping, and hiking. She has a master's in business administration and works as a freelance marketing and pr specialist for various outdoor industry clients. She speaks fluent Spanish and has spent extended time working and volunteering in Latin America. Addi joins the Mappy Hour community from Denver and is eager to meet new adventure pals.

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