In the first installment of adventure cycling routes we have Rist Canyon. Situated in Bellvue, Colorado, this route is one of the most popular with cyclists in the area, with almost 10 miles of steep, blissful tarmac. Going from prairie lands to alpine mountains with incredible views, Rist Canyon should be at the top of any cyclists’ to-do list in Northern Colorado. Read on for what makes this one of my favorite adventure cycling routes!
For a route to qualify as an adventure cycling route, it needs to contain the following criteria: Challenging, Fun, Epic Views, Good Roads or Trails, Not Much Car Traffic.
Adventure Cycling Routes: Technical Data
- Location: Bellvue, Colorado
- Route Length: 9.2 miles (14.9 km)
- Avg/Max Gradient: 5%/21%
- Beginning Altitude: 5295 ft
- End Altitude: 7936 ft
- Total Ascent: 2641 ft
- Climb Category: HC (Hors catégorie)
- Road Condition: Excellent/Freshly Paved .ca Summer’17
Adventure Cycling Routes: Features
Rist Canyon is in Northern Colorado, known for its juxtaposition of mountains with prairies. Due to this topographical location, the beginning of Rist Canyon cuts through expansive prairies, with farms and frequently windy conditions. When the road begins to ascend, you will see the environment change from prairies, to tree lined mountains. With a stream lining the road for much of the way, you will hear the flow of water, the signing of birds, and your own gasping breaths as you pedal along.
There is an incredible amount of flora and fauna around Rist Canyon, from songbirds and mule deer, to unique wildflowers.
When the tree lined area starts to thin, you’ll see the alpine mountain tops of Mount Ethel and Buckhorn Mountain near the summit. The remnants of a recent devastating forest fire can be seen along the higher sections of the road. People living in the area are still recovering from this fire, so have respect by not littering, and being friendly with a wave or greeting as you ride by.
Near the end of the 9.2 mile road, you will encounter the two most difficult parts of the climb. There are two “kickers” where the gradient jumps up significantly for around a mile each. In between these two last kickers, there is still an 8+% gradient to contend with, so pacing here is key. The last part of the climb will have your heart pounding as you climb up ridiculously steep gradients. However, when you reach the summit at the end of the second kicker, you can rejoice.
The summit of Rist Canyon road is between two mountains, Mount Ethel and Buckhorn Mountain. When you gasp your way to the top of such an epic climb, the view that greets you is appropriately epic. If the day is clear, as it usually is in this area, you will be greeted by southwestern views of the snow capped Rocky mountains. It doesn’t really get any better than this for cyclists in the area.
Enjoy the hair raising descent! Make sure to check your brakes and wheels/tires before descending, as speeds of 50mph can be reached on some sections.
Adventure Cycling Routes: Pros & Cons
- Gorgeous mountain Views
- Plentiful flora and fauna
- Fresh pavement .ca Summer ’17
- Minimal traffic
- One of the longest climbs in the area
- Fast and twisty descent
- Close to town of Fort Collins and Bellvue
- Limited tree cover at times
- Can be a cold descent due to lower temperatures from summit (bring a gilet!)
- No phone signal for majority of road (good reception at summit)
- No amenities along road (in an Emergency, you could ask the fire station halfway up the climb for water or assistance)
- Some of the birds are jerks!: During early summer, there are Red-Winged blackbirds that have dive bombed me to usher me out of their territory. It doesn’t happen all year around, however its harmless, amusing and makes this road even more memorable.
- Admittedly, there aren’t many cons to this route. As a result, this makes Rist canyon one of my top favorite adventure cycling routes of all time!
Rather than climbing the whole 9.2 miles, a common local alternative is to climb until the first set of mailboxes, then turn around! Do I hear hill repeats?