We have talked about riding the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path for years. It always looked like a challenging but interesting experience. Well, we put it off no longer and June 22, 2020 was the day we attempted to tackle it. Luckily this was before the large Grizzly Creek wildfire that started in August.
The alarm was set for 6:45 am so we could get an early start on biking the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path. Glenwood Springs is a 45 minute drive from Rifle Gap State Park where we were camping and we weren’t sure where we’d have to park or how long the bike ride would take us. The bike path is about 15 miles from the trailhead in Glenwood Springs to the eastern trailhead in Dotsero. Our plan was to do the whole path from Glenwood Springs and back for a total of 30 miles. The elevation gain is less than 1000 feet.
We lucked out and got a parking spot on the side of the street near the trailhead, right next to Yampah Spa & Salon. We got our bikes geared up and ready to go. There was a little issue with our bike pump. Every now and then the pump would lock in the closed position as we were pumping. Then Right Buddy (RB) had issues getting the pump off the bike valve which totally deflated the tire and she had to start all over again. What added to the stress level was the traffic noise. I-70 was just on the other side of a guard rail from us, so semi-trucks were whizzing by just several feet from us.
The first mile is right next to I-70 so it is not very peaceful. Then the trail crosses over I-70 on a bridge just before Horseshoe Bend. As we were riding on our bikes, the cage over the bridge had the illusion that it wasn’t tall enough to fit under, but there was plenty of room. At this point, I-70 goes into a tunnel, but the bike trail follows the Colorado River around Horseshoe Bend. Ah, peace and quiet at last.
After Horseshoe Bend, the trail joins No Name Road through a small neighborhood of houses for a little while and passes the entrance to Glenwood Canyon Resort. The resort has a zip line that crosses the Colorado River. No Name rest area is not visible from the bike path, but there is a short spur that will take you up to the rest area.
Shortly after the rest area, the trail follows alongside I-70 again. However, now the trail is below the street level of I-70, so the traffic noise is not as bad. You can still hear it, but the roar of the water in the Colorado River is louder and you can hear the birds chirping. There are sections along the trail where there is a wall on one side and a railing on the other overlooking the river. In many sections the trail is running through trees and bushes. We were almost always in view of the Colorado River. A few times the trail runs underneath I-70 or on the other side of I-70 from the river. Most of the time we had wonderful views of the rocky canyon walls of Glenwood Canyon.
From Glenwood Springs up to Hanging Lake, the Colorado River was raging, with lots of rapids. This was the last day of spring, so we don’t know what the river is like in the fall. There were plenty of white water rafts and kayakers taking advantage of the exciting river. On the way back, near the end of our ride, we even saw a couple of people attempting the river on SUP boards. The next rest area after No Name is Grizzly Creek, which looked like a popular place to take rafts in and out of the river.
Grizzley Creek empties into the Colorado River at the rest area. The bike path crosses over Grizzly Creek on a bridge that has several educational signs about the local fish. There is also a hiking trailhead at the rest area. The hiking trail heads up Grizzly Creek.
The next landmark after Grizzly Creek is Shoshone Power Plant. We remember seeing some restrooms there, but not a very inviting place to stop. In addition to the power plant, this I-70 interchange is used by rafting companies and kayakers to put their boats in the Colorado River.
Hanging Lake is another place where I-70 goes through a tunnel while the trail and river go around a bend. Again, the trail becomes very peaceful due to the lack of traffic noise. However, there is on off ramp from eastbound I-70 that takes you to the parking lot for the Hanging Lake trailhead. A permit is required, costing $12 per person, to hike the Hanging Lake Trail. We believe in non-COVID years, you have to take a shuttle to the parking lot, but since they are severely limiting the permits this summer, people with permits are allowed to park in the lot. There was a person guarding the entrance to the parking lot and another person checking permits at the trailhead. To get to the trailhead, you have to walk from the parking lot along the bike path for about half a mile. We have hiked the trail years ago before permits were required. It is steep, an elevation gain of over 1100 feet, but only three miles round trip. The hiking trail follows a stream. At the top is a beautiful lake with a waterfall flowing into it. The one time we hiked it in the spring and the stream was flowing strong and sometimes flooding over the trail. Our kids were young and we remember warning them about staying out of the stream because it would have swept them away.
Update on Hanging Lake Trail: As of September 5, 2020, the trail is still closed due to the Grizzly Creek wildfire. The Forest Service has flown a drone along the trail and has reported that none of the infrastructure of the trail, such as bridges, signage, the shelter, and boardwalk, suffered any damage. However, there is no indication when the trail will be re-opened. The Grizzly Creek wildfire, which started on August 10th, is still burning and only about 83% contained.
While we were sitting at the rest area at Hanging Lake, there was a large rodent slowly crossing the bike path. Was it a marmot? We didn’t think marmots were at this low of elevation. Was it a groundhog? It turns out that groundhogs are marmots. However, there are several species of marmot. Out east they usually call them groundhogs and out west they are usually called marmots. And yes, some of them live at lower elevations. We were just used to seeing them at high elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We also saw quite a few snakes on the bike path. RB thought she was going to hit one as it was slithering across the path at the same time she was riding by. Looking back, it looked like she missed it.
After Hanging Lake, the Colorado River calms down. The trail is a little more exposed at this point, so the Bair Rest Area is a welcomed relief. It is a nice park setting with large grassy areas to stop and enjoy a picnic. The rest of the trail is somewhat uneventful, as well as the small rest area at the east trailhead. There is only a small parking lot with vault toilets at the trailhead. No picnic tables and no shade. So we headed back to Bair Rest Area to relax in the grass to eat our lunch.
Riding up the canyon was easier than we thought it would be. The incline is gradual enough that it doesn’t seem like a struggle, except in a couple of small, isolated sections. When we starting heading back downhill, we were surprised we had to pedal. We were expecting to coast and possibly using our brakes all the way down. What we were not counting on was the strong headwind coming up the canyon. RB was grateful because she has a mild case of tennis elbow in her right arm and was a little concerned about having to brake for long periods of time. Her backup plan, in case her arm went lame, was to stop at one of the rest areas and have Left Buddy (LB) come back and pick her up with the van. However, the only time she had an issue was when we were following someone with a bike trailer who was going slowly (understandably). Passing them when we had the chance solved that issue. Then, just when we thought we were about done, what seemed like the steepest uphill section of the day greeted us as we approached the No Name neighborhood. We believe it was there just to remind you of what going uphill was like after all of that downhill ride.
After our bike ride, we headed over to Grand Avenue to find ice cream. Chocolate Mousse Ice Cream Shop fit the bill. They served quite a few different flavors of hand dipped Blue Bunny and Dreyers ice cream. As usual, LB had a vanilla shake. RB had a waffle cone with one dip of mint chocolate chip and one dip of peanut butter and fudge. Then we had a scenic drive back to Rifle Gap State Park via Grass Valley Road. To refuel our bodies even more, we loaded up on carbs by having pasta for dinner.
Completing the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path felt like a great accomplishment. It was not as hard as we expected it to be and the views were better than we imagined. That just encouraged us to plan the next adventure. What challenges do you have planned in the near future?
Check out our related video: Glenwood Canyon Bike Path