Stage 1 – Sunday, June 9

Crested Butte to Gunnison (the back way)
65.1 Miles/2,492’ Elevation Gain
Highlights – Taylor Reservoir
Opening Ceremony: 8:00am
Route Opens: 8:00am – 10:00am
Route closes: 4:00pm

Link to map

This year’s tour takes place in central Colorado in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, with the start and finish in Crested Butte, one of the Centennial State’s most famous mountain towns. Once a bustling mining hub, CB (as the locals call it) is a year-round outdoor playground that boasts a world renown ski area, amazing hiking and wild flower viewing, and some of the best mountain biking anywhere on earth.

It’s also a great place to ride road bikes, as you’ll witness during the opening stage. Just don’t let the short distance fool you. Stage 1 of the 2019 Ride the Rockies packs a punch. From the start in Crested Butte, you’ll roll south out of town on Highway 135, then turn east for the short but testing push up and over Forest Road 813, which is better known as Jack’s Cabin Cutoff. A mile ahead pavement gives way to dirt for a gradual two-mile climb and then rapid one-mile descent.

Next it’s a left turn back onto pavement on Forest Road 742 for the long grind up the Taylor River Canyon to the Taylor Reservoir Marina. This stretch is roughly 17 miles and gains about 1200 feet. The good news is that the riverside scenery is sublime and there’ll be an aid station waiting for you at the top of the climb.

Once rested and refueled, it’s a rapid descent back down Taylor River Canyon to the intersection of Highway 135 at the small town of Almont. This is also where the East and Taylor Rivers come together forming the Gunnison River. Next you’ll turn back to the south for final leisurely 10.6-mile spin to the finish line in Gunnison.

This route also accounts for the second half of the 69.6-mile Ride the Rockies one-day ride, which starts in Gunnison and finishes in Gunnison. In between you’ll head north on State Highway 135, which bisects the Gunnison Valley as it gently ascends towards Crested Butte. But instead of heading all the way to the Butte, you’ll also turn east onto Jacks Cabin Cutoff around mile 16, and then trace the same path as outlined for Stage 1 above. Total climbing for the One-Day ride is approximately 3,261 feet.

1 Day Loop

Gunnison to Gunnison
Start Location:  Jorgenson Park
69.6 Miles/3261’ Elevation Gain
Highlights – Taylor Reservoir
Route Opens: 8:00am – 10:00am

Link to map

Stage 2 – Monday, June 10

Gunnison to Buena Vista
83.2 Miles/5,393’ Elevation Gain
Highlights – Monarch Pass, Collegiate Peaks, Arkansas River views
Route Opens: 6:00am – 8:00am
Route closes: 4:00pm

Link to map

The longest day of the 2019 Ride the Rockies, Stage 2 starts in Gunnison, then rolls east on US Highway 50 toward menacing Monarch Pass. The first 32 miles are mostly flat, but beware of the wind, which often whips down valley and into your face. Just after passing through the tiny town of Sargents, the climbing begins, as you grind your way up towards another encounter with the Continental Divide. From the base of the climb it’s 8.4 miles and 2750 vertical feet to the Monarch Pass summit at 11,312 feet. The good news is that the grade averages a reasonable 6 percent, making it possible to sit and spin. The bad news is that oxygen is sparse above 10,000 feet, so be sure to measure your efforts.

Once over the top you’ll enjoy a rapid descent to Poncha Springs, where you’ll turn north on US Highway 285 for the northward push to the finish in Buena Vista. This stretch includes stunning views of the towering Collegiate Peaks to the west, frequent glimpses of the churning Arkansas River to the east, and a pair of gentle climbs. So make sure to save a little energy for these final miles.

Stage 3 – Tuesday June 11

Buena Vista to Snowmass
73 Miles/5,779’ Elevation Gain
Highlights – Arkansas River views, Independence Pass
Route Opens: 6:00am – 8:00am
Route closes: 4:00pm

Link to map

The Queen Stage of the 2019 Ride the Rockies commences with a gentle, but testing ascent from Buena Vista north on US Highway 24. Along the way take in majestic westerly views of the Collegiate Peaks, including Mount Yale, Mount Harvard, and distant Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado at 14,439 feet. On the other side of the highway you’ll hear (and sometimes see) the Arkansas River’s rollicking whitewater, which helps make it one of the busiest commercially run rivers in the United States.

But all this is but an appetizer for the day’s main course. Around mile 20, you’ll turn left onto State Highway 82 and begin the grueling slog to the summit of Independence Pass, elevation 12,095 feet, the highest point on this year’s tour and the second highest paved road in the entire state. Initially the road rolls gently, passing through the small town of Twin Lakes and continuing to casually rise over the ensuing 13 miles. But then things get serious. Following a mile-long straight stretch through a sprawling valley, the road makes a 180-degree left and up you go. The next 4.5 miles are a grueling 5 percent, and the final mile and half is above treeline.

Now prepare for the rapid (and occasionally technical) 16-mile, 8000-foot descent where at one point the road narrows to a single lane through several tight switchbacks. Use extreme caution here. Once at the bottom of the pass, the route passes through Aspen, then turns left on Owl Creek Road for the final uphill grunt to the finish in Snowmass.

Stage 4 – Wednesday June 12

Snowmass to Carbondale
38.0 miles/2,529’ Elevation (without Castle Creek option)
Highlights – , sprawling high mountain vistas, Roaring Fork Valley views
Route Opens: 8:00 am – 10:00 am
Route closes: 3:00pm

Link to map

Link to Castle Creek Option Map

For the third day in a row (if you’re so inclined) you’ll be riding more than 70 miles and climbing in excess of 5,000 feet. But instead of one big climb, stage 4 serves up its punishment in multiple doses. The first and toughest test comes early in the day, as you head up Castle Creek Road to the old ghost town of Ashcroft. To get there is no easy task, though, as this road is approximately 13 miles and gains around 1,600 vertical feet. [Note: This section of the route is optional. If you choose to skip it, you’ll shorten your ride by roughly 41 miles and reduce the climbing by approximately 3,661 feet.]

After the fast descent back toward Aspen and a short climb back up to the original starting point at Snowmass, the short and long courses join, and you’ll spend the rest of the day working your way west toward Carbondale. But instead of a straight shot down Highway 82, you’ll take on a more circuitous route that includes several short but stiff climbs, including Brush Creek Road, Sopris Creek Road, and the nasty grunt up Upper Cattle Creek Road, which gains nearly 1,000 feet in under 2 miles. That’s followed by a scenic roll on the rural roads north of Carbondale before dropping back down to the valley floor for the finish.

Stage 5 Thursday June 13

Carbondale to Hotchkiss
65.4 Miles/3,958’ Elevation Gain
Highlights – McClure Pass, Paonia State Park and Reservoir
Route Opens: 7:00am – 9:00am
Route closes: 4:00pm

Link to map

Following three very tough days in the saddle, things get a touch easier — but just barely. Stage 5’s route is a straight shot south on State Highway 133. And while the finish is almost 1,000 feet lower than the start, there’s plenty of work to do in between, highlighted by the grinding ascent up McClure Pass. This 3.5-mile climb has an average grade of 6 percent and gains about 1,200 feet, topping out at 8,770 feet.

Once past the summit, it’s essentially all downhill, as you speed past Paonia State Park and Reservoir, the mostly defunct coal mines around Somerset, and the peach orchards of Paonia proper, before wheeling into the finish town of Hotchkiss, which sits in the heart of the fertile North Fork Valley on Colorado’s Western Slope.

Stage 6: Friday June 14

Hotchkiss to Gunnison
79.1 Miles/6,861’ Elevation Gain
Highlights – Black Canyon, Blue Mesa Reservoir
Route Opens: 6:00am – 8:00am
Route closes: 4:00pm

Link to map

In terms of elevation gain, this is the hardest day of the 2019 Ride the Rockies, gaining almost 7,000 feet during the near-80-mile ride from Hotchkiss to Gunnison. Fortunately, Stage 6 is also one of the most scenic days of the tour, availing stunning views into the yawning depths of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which owes its name to the fact that parts of the canyon receive less than an hour of direct sunlight per day.

The ride itself kicks off with a jaunt through the town of Crawford, and then heads steadily skyward on State Highway 92 to the route’s 9,128-foot high point at Hermit’s Rest Overlook around mile 30. From there it’s a rolling ride along the Black Canyon’s northern rim before the road drops away as you cruise down toward the shores of shimmering Blue Mesa Reservoir, crossing Blue Mesa Dam, and then heading eastward on a mostly flat section of US Highway 50 to Gunnison.

Stage 7: Saturday June 15

Gunnison to Mount Crested Butte
31.2 Miles/2,086’ Elevation Gain
Highlights – Gunnison River, Almont, Elk Mountain Range views
Route Opens: 8:00am – 10:00am
Route closes: 2:30pm
Closing Ceremony: 3:00pm

Link to map

The final day of the 2019 Ride the Rockies is also the shortest and easiest. Unlike Stage 1’s dirt-laden, climbing heavy “back-way” ride from Crested Butte to Gunnison, this day’s ride is a smooth, mostly flat affair on tarmac that runs northward on State Highway 135. Yet, while you’ll never feel like you’re going uphill for any great length of time, there is over 2,000 feet of elevation gain from one end of the Gunnison Valley to the other.

Along the way, keep an eye out for bald eagles, which often nest in the tall trees along the banks of the Gunnison River between Gunnison and the small tourist outpost of Almont. Once past Almont the scenery quickly changes, as the towering peaks of the Elk Mountain Range, including Mount Crested Butte, come into sight. This is foreshadowing for the final chapter of this year’s tour, which is punctuated by the short, but steep climb to the base of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort ski area and the final day finish celebration.

Daily Route Schedule

Please note the opening and closing schedule of each day’s route. Ride the Rockies will provide complete route support only during the posted schedule. If you choose to leave before the route opens, please understand that we cannot guarantee there will be support for you on the route. That means no bike techs, SAG’s, medical support or aid stations. Route support is only provided during the posted schedule. Also note that daily route closings are based on a cyclist leaving at the latest scheduled route opening time and traveling an average of 10mph. Thus it is very important that you track your progress during the day. Do not spend too much time at aid stations or viewing areas if you feel you might not make it.

Special thanks to Jason Sumner for writing the route descriptions.

Jason will be participating in the 34th Annual Ride The Rockies. An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book “75 Classic Rides: Colorado.” When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.