Summit County Cycling
by George F. Karioris
I’ve been traveling to Colorado for a couple decades now. My Odyssey started seemingly a lifetime ago when I graduated from Marquette University (Go Warriors!!) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two intrepid friends and I packed up a red 1972 Pontiac LeMans and pointed it west for a month-long road trip. That venture started a lifelong love affair with the beautiful state of Colorado. Since those bygone Halcyon days, I’ve visited that state in winter for many ski trips with “the guys”, and lots of summer trips with my family starting when my kids (now grown, how did that happen?) were small. Of the many blessings of my life, I always recognize and appreciate the time I spend traveling.
In recent years we’ve been finding our way to the towns that comprise Summit County; Frisco, Dillon, and Breckenridge. My wife, Amy, and I sometimes make the trip alone as a twosome and other years we have friends or family drop in as visiting guests with us. We find ourselves drawn to many of the same activities year after year. Why? Because they’re just so darn fun and take us to beautiful places. This article is a brief summary of the handful of our top go-to cycling activities that never disappoint us.
There is a fantastic network of paved recreational trails connecting the towns of Summit County. On any given day a cyclist can ride the smooth blacktop between Dillon, Silverthorne, Frisco, Breckenridge and Keystone. I ride a narrow tire road bike and the pathway is perfect for me. I know that others who love single-track mountain biking can find plenty of opportunities for riding nearby, but that’s just not my thing.
What’s great about the Summit County Recpath (recreational path) is that there are so many options on routes. So, no matter where one starts they can get pretty much everywhere, and there’s no getting lost. Navigation is super easy as long as one has a basic understanding of the very basic local geography. We happen to rent a small condo in the town of Dillon, so we get on our bikes and ride directly from there.
Cycling in Summit County is a great activity for the athlete or the whole family. The Recpath makes getting around and navigating very easy. Those who live in the area all have their own bikes for the Recpath and/or single-track road biking. But for those of us who are visitors to the area will need to get bike rentals. There are lots of places in the area to rent from, but we here at First Light Sports recommend getting your ride at Christy Sports. They always have the perfect bike for you. Whether it’s a sleek narrow tire road-bike, a tough full-suspension mountain bike, or a comfortable trail bike, they’ve got what anyone would need. The experts at the Frisco location of Christy Sports got us set up with well-tuned trail bikes and helmets perfectly suited miles of riding the local Recpath routes. We had great days of cycling with tons of fun and absolutely no problems.
Dillon to Keystone
The ride from Dillon to Keystone is Amy’s favorite route. It starts by following the Recpath south-westout of Dillon on the west side of the reservoir, remembering to keep the lake on the right. The first couple miles hug the shoreline giving riders a great view of the lake with the dam in the distance. This stretch has some curvy ups-and-downs which are fun and generally not too taxing. This year we were lucky to have another couple (Harry & Sandy) join us in Summit County. Although the elevation changes on this stretch are really not very severe, it’s good to remember that the lake sits at an elevation of about 9,200 feet. There is an extra consideration for exercise at high elevation, everything is tougher with less air!
Just after crossing the mouth of the Snake River the Recpath approaches Swan Mountain Road; riders will stay left to head towards Keystone. Leaving the lake behind the path begins to climb as it slips into the shady pines sheltering the Snake River. The heat of the day encourages the trees to perfume the air with their clean pine scent and, that along with the sounds of the rushing Snake River make these miles magical. Cyclists will cross beautiful bridges over the Snake and skirt Keystone’s fantastic River Course. Subtly climbing, the Recpath passes a small man-made lake as it enters Keystone’s more developed areas. The River Run village is a great place to stop for a coffee, beer, or lunch before making the return trip on the Recpath. A pleasant surprise for riders is that the climb up-river to Keystone will be rewarded by lots of glide time on the return.
There are lots of routes one can take on the Recpath. One of the more challenging rides is one that completely loops around the Dillon Reservoir. While one can go either direction, from Dillon I prefer to keep the lake on my right. This ride starts heading towards Swan Mountain road; instead of heading towards Keystone riders will cut to the right and head up toward the summit of Swan Mountain. This route will take riders up some very steep slopes as they approach Sapphire Point. Along the way they’ll be gifted with amazing views of the lake from higher and higher elevations. This ride is not for those who have not acclimated to the high altitude of Summit County. But it is doable for most bikers who are willing to take their time and press through the climbs.
It’s worth taking the time to park bikes and walk the small circle at Sapphire Point. The views from up there can’t be beat. It’s a very popular spot for visitors to drive up and take the short walk, and also popular for small weddings at the overlook. Riding the down-route from Sapphire Point towards the Blue River is the only section of this route where cyclists actually ride ON THE ROAD. I would advise extreme care on this 1.5 mile stretch as cars may be jockeying or passing on this steep downhill section. At the bottom of this section, riders will cross Hwy-9 and rejoin the Recpath and head toward the town of Frisco.
The Recpath has been modified in the past year or two for this section. There are several places where it slips comfortably through dedicated tunnels under the highway. Following along, the path will take riders up and down as it passes the Medical Center and onto the town of Frisco and the Frisco Marina. Riders should consider stopping at the Marina for a beverage and a rest. If this is lunchtime (or even if it’s not) this is a great place to get an order of fish tacos; they are awesome. After the Marina riders will head out on the Recpath paralleling Hwy-9 towards the dam holding the reservoir’s water. The Recpath takes on roller-coaster like elevation changes which can be great fun at medium speeds. But I would advise anyone riding to be cautious because there are lots of blind turns and hillcrests.
After a couple miles riders will cross the boggy section of the reservoir where the Recpath surface is on raised deck-boards. Shortly after that cyclists will climb to the only straight line of the entire day as the Recpath crosses the dam. As soon as riders are on the dam they’ll see the town of Dillon on their right across the water. A welcome sight after a great ride.
Biking Vail Pass
Lots of people ask me if there’s one can’t-miss bike ride in Summit County. Answering that questions requires absolutely no thought or waffling. The can’t-miss, must-do, gotta-get-there, Mac-daddy of all bike rides is the ride down Vail Pass to Frisco. When you rent your bikes at Christy Sports ask them to help arrange a ride to the top of Vail pass with your bikes. Then enjoy the ride down to your car or condo in Frisco.
The 14 miles of Recpath between the Vail Pass rest stop on Hwy I-70 and the town of Frisco is virtually all downhill. Let me state that again; this is a 14-mile downhill ride! Once that sinks in I’ll add that the views are nothing less than spectacular. The Recpath snakes its way down from the top of the pass at 10,600 feet of elevation to 9,100 in Frisco. Along the way riders will negotiate a couple sets of somewhat nervous and steep sharp-turning switchbacks. They’ll also experience exciting freewheeling stretches where more experienced and intrepid riders can easily reach speeds of 30+ MPH.
The Recpath will take riders through the village of Copper Mountain where they can stop for a snack or beverage. It’s a cool place look around and see what’s happening on the mountain, and there’s a place by the man-made lake to get hot mini donuts which are cruelly delicious.
Further down, the Recpath follows along the Tenmile Creek as it heads for the Dillion Reservoir. Along these stretches riders will see beaver ponds and other pooling lakes where trout fishermen may be angling with fly rods for that night’s dinner. Eventually all fun things must come to an end and the downhill slope terminates in the town of Frisco. Originally an old mining town, it’s now full of restaurants and shops perfectly suited to cyclists looking for a snack, meal, or a drink.
Summit County cycling – go and enjoy the ride!
Published August 2018