Sanders: Riding Rollins Pass
July 28, 2016
Last week I received a text from a friend. He and several others were riding from Winter Park to Boulder and wanted me to lead them to the top of Rollins Pass. I’m amazed how many people ride this route both to and from Boulder to Winter Park. Last summer Dirt Magazine did this ride and featured it in their June issue (this was through the efforts of the Winter Park Chamber and their bike marketing specialist).
Our ride started out like most group rides. Catching up with friends that you haven’t seen in a while, bikes needing work and the list of forgotten items. Getting any group going is much like taking a bunch of puppies on a walk. It seems so simple but focusing that attention in the right direction is a challenge. We finally rolled out of town and began our journey.
Getting to the trails is easy. Most were surprised how quickly we were on the first singletrack. Our ride began by rolling past Hideway Park then quickly onto the Meadow Trail. The Meadow Trail takes you into the Idlewild trail system which has many of my favorite trails. Rather than going direct to Rollins Pass I took a few “short cuts” in order to have a bit more fun. We rolled on classic trails such as Crosstrails, Winter Woods, Woops then on to Serendipity. Serendipity rolls through aspens and open areas that give you an amazing view of Byers Peak, Vasquez Wilderness area and those mountains to the south that tower over the valley and eventually terminates into Yankee Doodle. This allowed us to skip the bottom part of Yankee Doodle which is challenging do to terrain and steepness.
Yankee Doodle is one of my favorite close to town trails. The mid-to-upper section climbs well while the terrain is mixed just enough to give you some challenges. We topped out on Yankee Doodle then began the main climb of the day on the Rollins Pass road. If you aren’t aware, the Rollins Pass road is the old railroad grade that was in use before the Moffat Tunnel was built. You can get information at the Cozens Museum near the Rendezvous light across from the Rec Center on US Highway 40.
Rollins Pass is not a hard climb. The gentle grade made for trains lets you roll along. When we reached the intersection of Rollins Pass Road and Broken Thumb we hopped on the top part of Broken Thumb which at this point parallels the road but lets you ride a more fun option. One more climb led us to our next trail, the Riflesight trail.
The Riflesight trail is one of the most picturesque trails anywhere. You follow railroad bed while looking down on the Middle Fork of Ranch Creek directly below and the Indian Peaks Wilderness to the north. Mount Epworth looks like a sleeping giant that watches over the valley. Just past the intersection with the Moffat trail you can see the remains of railroad car wreckage below giving you a reality check on how dangerous travel in the mountains can be. After walking over a couple of old trestles you pedal to the end of the trail that is at the bottom of the old trestle near the intersection of the Rollins Pass road and Rogers Pass. Hike up the hill and then navigate the trail near the top of the trestle that allows you to reach the Rollins Pass road.
Our ride continued to the top of Rollins Pass on the road. Spectacular views constantly distract you. First, Mount Epworth, then the overall awe inspiring landscape that is so unique to the top of the Continental Divide as you ride above the tree line. When we reached the top we took a moment to take in the snowfields to the north and then said goodbye to the group and headed back down to Winter Park.
A different route home
Our route down was slightly different than the ascent. Why not use gravity as our friend for once? When we reached Broken Thumb we descended it and then continued down on Twisted Ankle (this is one of my favorite trail combinations). A left at the bottom of Twisted Ankle then right on Ditch trail until it ends on Homestead. Left on Homestead and it will take you back to the Meadow Trail where you journey began.
This ride is a lot of fun, not too technical and should be on your list of rides to do. One word of caution, start early to avoid storms and be prepared with rain gear as well as a few layers. High elevation weather has a mind of its own. As many are aware you often come across trees that have fallen across the trail. Due the huge trail system here is nearly impossible to keep them all clear. If you do come across a downed tree email Headwaters Trails Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beavers Sports Shop does a weekly group mountain bike ride every Friday at 6 p.m. from Beavers Sports Shop at the Best Western Hotel in downtown Winter Park. The ride is open to anyone of intermediate ability and above. The pace and type of trails are determined by the group. Come join us! Call 970-726-5988 for more info.
Looking for more information or want to get involved as a mountain biker? Like Grand Mountain Bike Alliance (GMBA) on Facebook. GMBA is your local mountain bike group. Check out Mountainbikecapitalusa.com. Great site by the Winter Park Chamber! Keith Sanders is the President of the Grand Mountain Bike Alliance, 3x US National Mountain Bike Champion and owner of Beavers Sports Shop. You can reach me at email@example.com