< Left Panel   Colorado Summits and Passes   Areas   Tables   Maps   All Favorites  
Main Panel:   Main Page   Map+Profile   Picture Page   Rides   Colorado Map  

Vail Pass 

I have always had the impression, that Vail Pass is Colorado's most popular pass for cycling. I have never seen any statistics on the subject. But in order to come to that conclusion, all you have to do is ride the pass on a warm summer weekend. The biking scene covers all ends of the spectrum, families with trailers, racers clad in advertising billboards, children trying to ride in a straight line, cycling club riders aligned like ducks in a row, or sometimes even ski clubs riding to the top where an elaborate catered buffet waits for them. The reason for this: a trail that is not only separate from the road, but in most places far away from it, ideal conditions for riding - at least uphill. The descends are slower than they would be on a paved road and require careful attention to your fellow cyclists.

picture page

01.(9022ft,mile00) START-END EAST ALTERNATE: Dillon Reservoir, connects to Loveland Pass profile
02.(9075ft,mile06) START-END EAST: downtown Frisco, biketrail trailhead is near I70 west of town
03.(9708ft,mile12) Wheeler Junction east of Copper Mountain Resort. Enter resort on main road and find bike trail at west end of town
04.(9973ft,mile14) junction with Searle Pass trail
05.(10384ft,mile17) junction with Ptarmigan Pass trail
06.(10554ft,mile19) TOP: Vail Pass
07.(9562ft,mile23) bike route joins service road
08.(8168ft,mile32) START-END WEST: center of Vail
09.(7796ft,mile36) bikepath is at end of road, south of Interstate
10.(7745ft,mile37) START-END WEST ALTERNATE: Dowd Junction, joins with Tennessee Pass profile


From East. Many cyclists begin a ride over the pass in Copper Mountain. The paved trailhead is easiest to access by car at that location. But then you skip the ride through Tenmile Canyon, a great chance to warm up, and a nice little climb in its own right. The profile starts all the way back at Dillon Reservoir. This very first part also makes for a pleasant ride along the lake, but hardly increases the elevation gain. The first point on the profile connects to the Loveland Pass profile.

The biketrail from Copper Mountain quickly climbs to treeline. It continues through alpine meadows, crosses into a large space between opposing lanes of the Interstate, does a few switchbacks ( careful on the downhill ! ), and delivers the riders to an elaborate restroom facility at the top.

From West. The town of Vail is usually thought of as a start or end on the west side. But, as shown in the elevation profile, including the part to Dowd Junction increases the climb significantly. A signed bike route connects the western end of  Vail on the south side, with Dowd Junction. The last point on the profile connects with the Battle Hill Summit and Tennessee Pass profiles.

A bike path on the north side of the valley stretches through most of Vail Village. Going up the pass, biking traffic funnels onto the I70 service road. It crosses south of the Interstate, and after the first short steep climb becomes a biketrail. As the path climbs further, it parallels the Interstate in close proximity on its north side, treating the cyclist to smells of burnt break pads and straining engine noise. Along the top the trail leads along a small lake, onto the service road to the elaborate rest facility for tired drivers, who had to work so hard to get to the top. 


Historically speaking, Vail Pass is a recent development, notwithstanding that today, it's the most popular point on the most important traffic corridor heading west, I 70. But the state was very different in the 1870s. Leadville was the most important city and all roads lead to Leadville. This meant traffic coming up Tenmile Canyon turned south over Fremont Pass. It was not until long after the economic importance of Leadville had diminished, that a direct route west became important enough to justify a road over this pass.


Modern Highways (<Monarch Pass):  The highway department had already made an attempt to name a pass after the chief engineer of the highway department, Charlie Vail. But the name wasn't popular. In fact it was rejected by the people outright. A year later, the highway department tried again, and this time with more success. 

In the 1930s Denverites ability to travel straight west took a giant step forward. Loveland Pass was transformed into a modern road. Now there was enough traffic to justify a route heading straight west. Beginning in the summer of 1940 travelers could continue from Loveland Pass over a brand new Vail Pass. This time the name "Vail" survived.