Salida-area county roads:
Just west of Salida, CRs 120, 140 and 160 provide off-highway rides. For a 14-mile loop from downtown, head west on CR 160, Crestone Blvd., by Salida Golf Club, out to Frantz Lake, then to U.S. 285. Turn south on 285 up Hurricane Hill and head east on CR 140, passing Harriet Alexander Field, and on down Airport Hill. For another option, turn north at CR 160/285 to CR 291 back to Salida.
Monarch Pass, 21 miles one-way:
West from Salida on U.S. 50, it's an elevation gain of 4,200 feet to the top of the pass at 11,312 feet. The last 7 miles are a relentless climb. Early mornings are best before traffic builds.
Poncha Springs to Villa Grove, 21.5 miles one-way:
From Poncha Springs, head south on U.S. 285. Poncha Pass is gentle as passes go, topping out at 9,010 feet, an elevation gain of 1,500 feet from town. Once you are over the pass about 3 miles, the shoulder narrows from 2 to 3 feet to about 18 inches all the way to Villa Grove. The Villa Grove General Store provides snacks or lunch.
Buena Vista - Mount Princeton - Nathrop, 22 miles:
Head south from BV on CR 321, Rodeo Road (no shoulder), to Mount Princeton. The short descent to the hot springs is steep, so take care. Then head east on CR 162 to Nathrop and return to BV via U.S. 285.
Cottonwood Pass, 21 miles one-way:
West from Buena Vista's traffic light, the road gains 4,200-plus feet to the top at 12,126 feet, with some rolling ups and downs. With two stretches of 10 percent grades of a mile each, this is one tough ride. The rewards are spectacular mountain scenery, relatively light traffic, a half-dozen hairpins and good pavement, which make Cottonwood a locals' favorite.
BV-Leadville-BV, 74 miles:
U.S. 24 offers a decent shoulder to Balltown and about a 20-inch shoulder on into Leadville, where the 12-mile Mineral Belt Trail or the Turquoise Lake Loop are fun choices.
Independence Pass, 25 miles:
Starting from the U.S. 24-Colo. 82 intersection at Balltown, the route passes Twin Lakes and the town site of Twin Lakes (don't blink) on up to 12,095 feet. Views are terrific, particularly the last 4 miles to the top. Pavement is so-so. North of Twin Lakes the shoulder narrows and in spots disappears.
For longer loops we suggest:
Those wanting an ultra, training for a brevet series or for 2-day road trips, try these routes. Be sure to carry lights, rain gear and a ton of water, since convenience stores can be sparse.
From Salida, head west on U.S. 50 over Monarch Pass to Parlin; turn south on Colo. 114 and the gradual ascent over North or Cochetopa Pass. It's a narrow but generally quiet road to Saguache, then it's U.S. 285 back to Poncha Springs and Salida. Heading out, stock up on water at Monarch Crest or the bottom of the pass at Sargents. There are no services again until Saguache, unless you detour to Gunnison, 8 miles each way. 160 miles.
Head west on U.S. 50 over Monarch Pass to Gunnison, take Colo. 135 north to Almont, veer right onto Taylor River Road, then east up the Cottonwood Pass Road. The west side to the top is not paved, but hard packed and treated for dust, making it passable on a road bike. It's a scream to BV. No services from Almont to BV. About 175 miles.