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Loveland Pass

Loveland Pass gets across the obvious wall, that blocks the landscape some distance west of Denver. It has always played an important role in the life of the city. When there was no easy way over this wall,  it seemed to play an even bigger role, because of the detours it caused. - More about that in the history section. These days the hole through the wall ( ie Eisenhower tunnel ) is of bigger practical importance than the pass. But that's just the thing that makes the pass more interesting to cyclists. With much of the traffic safely far below, it becomes a more attractive cycling goal.

Loveland Pass is one of only two paved passes topping 12000 feet in the Colorado Front Range ( the other one is Trail Ridge Road ). - Okay, according to the list I checked Loveland Pass is 11992 feet, but if you're really tall, your head will be above 12000 feet.

click on profile for more detail
01.(mile00,5140ft) START-END EAST ALTERNATE: Denver, Confluence Park
02.(mile04,5100ft) turn from Platte River bikepath left onto bikepath following Clear Creek
03.(mile22,5680ft) START-END EAST ALTERNATE: downtown Golden
04.(mile27,6400ft) begin Mount Vernon Canyon, service road to I70
05.(mile31,7580ft) bike route joins I70
06.(mile34,7690ft) El Rancho, Squaw/Juniper Pass east end profile joins here; bike route exits I70
07.(mile41,7260ft) START-END EAST: rte6 I70 junction. Take the bikepath on the south side of Clear Creek
08.(mile47,7550ft) Idaho Springs, Squaw/Juniper Pass profile west end joins here. Bike route continues on service road crossing south of I70 at west edge of town.
09.(mile55,8270ft) Berthoud Pass profile joins here
10.(mile60,8570ft) downtown Georgetown, head for Georgetown Loop railway station to pick up bike path.
11.(mile61,9180ft) Silver Plume, bike route changes from bike path to service road, soon after that onto I70.
12.(mile71,10770ft) START-END EAST ALTERNATE: exit I70 for Loveland Pass road
13.(mile74,11998ft) TOP: Loveland Pass
14.(mile83,9350ft) Webster Pass profile joins here
15.(mile86,9250ft) START-END WEST: resort of Keystone
16.(mile90,9020ft) START-END WEST ALTERNATE : town of Dillon, Vail Pass profile joins here.


From East. It is tempting to place the beginning of the pass all the way back in Denver. If you could cycle up from Golden on Rte6 following Clear Creek to where it joins I70, you could also argue from a profile point of view, that the pass starts this far east. However Rte6 is closed to cyclists (until the bike path is finished), and even if it wasn't, heavy Central City gambler traffic makes this road quite unsafe at most times. Some people also feel that the tunnels are an impediment to safe cycling. This would be different in other countries where cycling is more common phenomenon,

The description starts where the profile begins, at the outskirts of Denver where Rte40 crosses I70 at exit 259. Rte40 parallels I70 up Mount Vernon Canyon with a good shoulder and much of the traffic safely removed on the Interstate. At Genessee Park a bike path parallels the Interstate. It is still legal to use the shoulder of the Interstate - nice to know when snow blocks the path. It is not maintained regularly. This section only lasts two interstate exits.

There are few signs to help negotiate the best biking route along the interstate. But just looking for the closest parallel route works good enough, except for one exception, described later. After the current section of the bike path ends, the route continues US40 on the south side. US40 becomes quieter and puts some space between itself and I70. At the top of the next noticeable climb, the frontage road switches again to the north side. The downhill from Floyd Hill leads to exit 244, where I70 joins Clear Creek Canyon and US from Golden. They are working on a bike trail up that canyon, that someday will replace the description up to this point.

There is also a quarry at this point, so that the road is often muddy from mud slurry on the the trucks, and the bike ends up looking as if you were doing gravel biking in a rainstorm.

Finding the continuation of the bike trail here is very tricky - so tricky it must be some kind of world record in trickiness. Generally speaking, traffic participants are discouraged from entering an Interstate highway in the wrong direction. Yet here, it looks like this is exactly what you have to do - go up the ramp of west-bound I25 exit. Looking closely - there is also a lane in the direction, leading apparently onto the highway in the wrong direction. It is only 100ft or so long, and then turns off toward the trailhead under an overpass. There is also a biker route sign at this second turn off. But you cannot see it from the first turnoff.

A combination of trails and service roads lead into Idaho Springs. You can negotiate that interesting old village by staying on a bike trail on opposite side of I25, by taking a low-traffic bike route through residential streets on the north side of downtown, or just take in the tourist shops and its ambiance along the main street.

The bikeroute leaves Idaho Springs north of the Interstate, soon crosses onto the south side on Standley road. In the next section there are service roads on both sides. A wrong guess is not a costly experience in miles or energy, either it ends immediately or it goes all the way through. At the juction with US40 to Berthould Pass, the southern option carries far less traffic and makes a better biking route.  In Georgetown the trick is to follow signs to the narrow gauge railway station. Here another biketrail climbs the impressive canyon to Silverplume, the other terminus of the narrow gauge railway. 

When I first fist rode this route, Silverplume meant that the cyclist had to come to terms with exhaust and the smell of breakpads on the shoulder of I70. But the situation has changed dramatically.  A bike path (again you have to look for it) on the south side of the road leads far from the higway through a green climbing tunnel. It always surprises me to find so few people using this great route.

Looking for the entrance to the bikepath while coming down Loveland Pass is again inevitable to miss. But immediately afterwards the road leads into the Interstate in the wrong direction. So -again-  this may be a hint that something is not ideal about the chosen route. Searching for a path a few hundred feet before the momentuous occasion, will eventually lead to finding the trailhead.

After all those miles the passroad itself is just a hop, skip and shift to the summit. Well - maybe not. But at this point it's difficult to get lost, and in comparison the actual passroad above treeline really is very short on this side. Once past the Loveland ski area, traverse leads above treeline, and one or two switchbacks up the conical shape of Mount Sniktau to the summit of the pass.

From West. (also described upwards) This approach to Loveland Pass leads past the refined cookie cutter architecture of ski resorts. I think that in the summer this modern ghost town atmosphere can have a certain appeal. Keystone is left behind quickly as the road climbs steep and straight, paralleling the North Fork of the Blue River. Another ski resort appears, Arapahoe Basin, before the final series of switchbacks coax the rider to the top.


Colorado Gold Rush of 1859/60 (<Georgia Pass|French Pass>): Colorado miners did not cross Loveland Pass in their search for gold. Instead they panned their way completey around it, until they were 20 miles from where they had started and the "Loveland Pass ridge" separated the two points.

It had all started in Gregory Gulch and the Idaho Springs  area. Gold seeking continued over Guanella and Kenosha passes into South Park, onwards by any number of passes, until finally a small group panned themselves up over Georgia Pass and then up the Snake River, to present day Keystone, in the spring of 1860. At that point they were on the west side of Loveland pass. But they might as well have been in a different country. The Continental Divide stayed true to its name and divided the continent.

Leadville Boom (Fremont Pass>): In 1878 the extend of the Leadville mining boom started to become clear. The shortest route on paper between Denver and the next pot of gold still was directly over the divide. The Loveland Pass Wagon Road was finally spurred into existence by competition. The Tenmile Wagon Company was building a road from Bakersville, up Grizzly Gulch, heading for a crossing between Argentine Pass and today's Loveland Pass, then still named Irwin Pass. William Loveland responded by hiring a 100 men, and put his long hedged plan to cross the divide on fast foward. The road suceeded where Argentine Pass had failed and Webster Pass started had to succeed. It became the dominant crossing of the Continental Divide, and a very busy one at that, because Leadville starting to enter a boom period.

Railroads (<Fremont Pass|Blue Mesa Summit>): This pass was never crossed by a railroad. It still bears inclusion into this thread - I think. The fact that no rails cross Loveland Pass doesn't mean nobody tried. Paradoxically a few remnants of the attempt are still a tourist attraction, today's Georgetown loop railway.

In a way the story of rails entering the Colorado mountains starts and ends with Loveland Pass. In the beginning there were three competitors, the DRG, the DSP and the Colorado Central and Pacific railroad (DCP). Before there were any rails over any passes, the DCP reached up North Clear Creek, short of Central City in 1873. The DCP was UP backed, and had grand schemes of crossing the continental divide at Loveland Pass.

Twenty years later much had changed. Narrow gauge lines crossed a good dozen of passes in the Rockies. The UP, the company that originally bypassed Colorado with its transcontinental line through Wyoming, had fought hard to profit from Colorado traffic. After twenty years, its corporate tennacles not only controlled the DCP, but also the DSP. But even evil corporate masterminds, like Jay Gould, could not keep the DRG from ruling Colorado's ore traffic.

The UP mounted one more final assault, a line direct from Denver across the mountains and across Loveland Pass. The tracks reached within 8 miles of the eastern foot of the pass. The first 3 miles were such a maze of trestles and curves, that with the help of some tourist hype, such as calling the 8th wonder of the world, it became a major tourist attraction, even back in 1882. It remained a tourist railroad till 1937. It would be interesting to know if that is a world record ratio for "time spent in real service" to "time spent as a tourist railroad", a ratio that is being enlarged with every day that the cute little tourist railroad is in operation again, since the 1980s. For a period they were drawn by Shay piston engines, a curious rare breed of steam engine that has little resemblance to the original engines that crossed the trestles during its extremely short life.

Cycling - Ride the Rockies:  (<Fremont Pass|Blue Mesa Summit>). No other pass is more closely identified with the Denver Post's "Ride the Rockies" mass event than Loveland Pass, in spite of the fact that Fremont Pass has been crossed more frequently by this tour. But Loveland Pass has provided the exclamation mark at the end of the route. More often than not, this ride ends with a massive cycling invasion of the Denver area. In recent years this has also happened over different routes. But between 1986 and 2005, Loveland Pass was still by far the most commonly used route, a full 8 times ( 86 87 89 91 93 94 97  and 2004 ). The stage has started in Frisco or Breckenridge and ended in Idaho Springs, Golden, Denver or Boulder.