A Mountain Biking, Craft Beer Adventure sans Mountain Biking Trails
Rocky Mountain National Park and Stillwater Pass near Grand Lake are true Colorado camping meccas. Unfortunately, most of the trails are not meant for mountain bikers. Being the craft beer bikers that we like to call ourselves, this situation had to be remedied.
Quick Links to the Remedies
- The Ditch (Winter Park)
- Hideaway Park Brewery (Winter Park)
- Winding River Resort
- Idleglen OHV Trails
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- World’s End Brewpub (Grand Lake)
Camping with friends is one of the true joys in life. Camping in an area that doesn’t quite cater to mountain bikers while doing so, can either cause you to lose these non-mountain biker friends or compromise. Choosing not to banish some of our favorite people, we compromised.
Dividing Arapahoe National Forest and the Never Summer Wilderness, Stillwater Pass, at 10,664 feet gives access to the Idleglen OHV area, an off-roaders slice of heaven. Camping just outside of the Idleglen Staging Area, at Winding River Resort and RV Park near Grand Lake, Colorado, and the world famous Rocky Mountain National Park, we were excited to ride regardless of the lack of true mountain biking trails in this area.
The Infamous I-70 Drive
Coming from Denver, you will encounter a scenic drive of America’s purple mountain majesties, windy roads and passes covered in evergreens (as long as the Pine Beetles haven’t gotten ’em all yet), expansive views of 14’ers, and quite possibly a glimpse of a few mountain goats. Anything worth doing takes time and effort, right?
This drive holds true to that saying – not because of the mountain roads or the possibility of freshly fallen snow at anytime of the year, but because of the three million people that call the Denver metropolitan area home, and about half of them (or so it seems) heading their way into the mountains every weekend on the main thoroughfare that scares the crap out of every Denverite worse than Freddy Krueger. The dreaded I-70 drive.
“Traffic has increased incredibly statewide, and nowhere do you see that more actively than on the I-70 corridor,” said Amy Ford, a state transportation department spokeswoman.
“Between 2010 and July 2017, the population in Denver and its suburbs increased by an average of nearly 51,000 annually. In 2000, nearly 10.3 million vehicles on I-70 crossed the Continental Divide, which slices through the heart of Colorado’s ski country. That figure was about 13.4 million in 2018.”Colorado Public Radio News, 2019
While the stunning views are almost always worth the drive, what is truly brilliant about the drive to the Grand Lake area, is that you get to exit I-70 before heading through the infamous mosh pit that is Eisenhower Tunnel.
Taking the Winter Park exit, Highway 40, a few miles east of Georgetown and just west of Downieville (the Starbucks exit that matches the I-70 traffic), drastically decreases heart rates. While traffic can still be bumper to bumper at times, the stress of driving over Berthoud Pass on Highway 40 is much less than the white knuckle, tail-gaiting drive that has become quite common along the mountainous I-70 corridor.
Winter Park, Colorado
Driving straight through Winter Park is pretty much next to impossible. There are many shops, restaurants, bars, and parks to keep you occupied for hours. But two of our favorites stand out. You must make a stop at The Ditch and order the Ditch Burger (dude – green chili cheeseburger!) Enjoy some great time with locals and tourists alike while drinking some of your favorite worst beer (just our way of being the craft beer geeks that we are) or choose from their expansive choice of great craft beers. Then head next door for more tourists, more locals, and more beer at Hideaway Park Brewery. You could even bring your burger with you!
The Ditch on 40
The Ditch is a hole-in-the-wall, down-to-earth, sloppy-ass burger, green chile kinda place. You don’t want to miss this. And, get this, if you don’t want green chile on your burger, order a Bitch Burger. Go ahead, I dare you. Like everywhere in Colorado, it can get crazy busy, especially on the weekends, so remember you are in Winter Park, Colorado. Turn on your chillax vibes and chillax.
Hideaway Park Brewery
As for Hideaway Park, we have driven from the Denver ‘burbs (where there seems to be endless choices of great craft breweries) to Winter Park specifically to enjoy these delectable mountain brews and views. Known for its cozy atmosphere amidst the bustle of this well-known ski town, Hideaway Park nails their dark brews in the chill of the winter, just as much as their refreshing IPA’s and lighter brews in the summer. Finding ourselves there more often than not, hiding away from the I-70 traffic after a brilliant day on Mary Jane, you may catch us enjoying one of our favorites, the Cirque Stout.
Winding River Resort
For as much as we love the food and beer in Winter Park, we love our friends and mountain biking more (maybe). At any rate, it is time to move on down the road to the Winding River Resort just outside of Grand Lake, Colorado. If you happen to stay at places that include the word, “resort”, then this place is for you. They have everything from petting zoos to community events to horseback rides to playgrounds to showers and even OHV rentals. Just be aware; they are very serious about their quiet hours. We found that out right away.
While we normally do not stay in places that include the name resort, (craft beer dreams on a PBR budget), a few of our friends do, and we tag along. With our bikes nonchalantly tossed into the back of the truck alongside the coolers laden with steaks and beer, we were also tossed nonchalantly in the backseat of the truck alongside Boomer the Bear Rottie, and Sadie the Drooling Boxer.
Mountain Biking Idleglen OHV Trails
After our massage and shower from our spa partners, Boomer and Sadie, it was quite the treat to finally be at our destination. Trading the bouncing backseat of a truck for the bouncing seats of our mountain bikes, and back packs laden with beer for the journey, we were barely settled into camp before we took off down the road to the Idleglen Staging Area pretending to be avid OHV riders on our mountain bikes.
While some bikers like to stay on true mountain biking trails, we usually find ourselves anywhere we can ride, OHV trails being one of them. Trails made for larger vehicles with larger wheels offer great dirt paths for mountain bikes, but at a cost of bigger hills to climb and rocks to maneuver around.
Not wanting to miss out on the vistas these trails offer, we opt for walking the steep hills when we need to, scratching up a few things while at it (gotta earn our beer), allowing us to be rewarded with views of Grand Lake and beyond once on top.
We love exploring trails not generally meant for mountain bikes. It’s a way of slowing down compared to the OHV’s, gathering in more scenery. And the quiet treads of bike tires compared to roaring engines allow for more possibilities of wildlife sightings. One day we will catch a glimpse of that Yeti creature. Plus, what goes up, must go down!
Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)
Winding River offers immediate access to OHV trails, but only a couple of miles down the paved road is the west side entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park where over 60 mountains exceed 12,000 feet topping off at 14,259 feet with the majestic Longs Peak towering above it all. While there are over 300 miles of hiking trails in RMNP, mountain biking is only allowed on the paved roads.
But don’t let this stop you. While riding your bike through this national gem doesn’t require a mountain bike, it does require some common sense and awareness skills. You are sharing the road with cars, and if you’re lucky, maybe an elk or two.
Riding through this beauty is worth it, especially when you catch a glimpse of a moose and her baby nonchalantly wandering through the forests next to a delicate mountain pond. Definitely easier to pull of the road when you’re on a bike. Keep your distance, though. Moose, especially mamas, are not hanging out with a beer waiting for you to drop by.
Trail Ridge Road
Highway 34, more commonly known as Trail Ridge Road as it winds the 48 miles from the west entrance near Grand Lake to the East Entrance near Estes Park, tops off at 12,183 feet. Encompassing views of lush aspens to the alpine tundra, and all the wildlife and nature in between, this highway, while quite comfortable from a car, can best be experienced on the seat of a bicycle.
Offering a much slower pace, you can take in more of everything from the wonders of wildflowers to twisted trees while feeling your powerful legs move you up the mountain both literally and figuratively. There’s just something magical about pushing yourself up a mountain, persevering through the uphill battles to ultimately fly down, fully present, feeling the wind whipping through your cheeks and the colors of nature your only true company.
Ok, it sounds like we rode the entire 48 miles. We did not…Yet. But the ten miles we did ride still brought us to that moment of power and freedom, and the knowledge that we earned our beers that night.
Craft Beer Biking
Speaking of beer. What do you drink after a hot summer afternoon of biking, when the sweat sticks to you, quickly evolving into a chill as the summer sun sets into the mountains dropping the temps into the 40’s and 50’s? Just like dressing in layers in Colorado whenever and wherever you go, you must bring layers of beer to combat the layers of Mother Nature.
Still brimming with sweat, plopping down into the camp chairs, smells of campfires just beginning for the night, the sun still shining just above the horizon, it’s time to slam back a few PBR’s! Wait! What? Just kidding. How about Station 26’s Tangerine Cream or New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger, instead.
And as the sun settles in, and your friends treat you like royalty cuz they miss you (sometimes it pays to live in an RV and leave your hometown for a few months), the campfire started, a fresh pot of homemade chili simmering on the camp stove, those darker heavier beers such as Lefthand’s Wake Up Dead or Great Divide’s Oak Aged Yeti (Ooh, I found the Yeti!) come out in a slow caress. Sharing these big sippers around a Colorado campfire creates bonds to last a lifetime.
Grand Lake, Colorado
The next day dawns bright and…oh, who am I kidding? Dawn? Waking up around 10, stumbling our way through a few cups of coffee, a few possible thoughts of another bike ride creep their way into our consciousness. That is until somebody suggested a trip into town.
World’s End Brewpub
Grand Lake, less than four miles away, is a cute lakeside mountain town with cute gift shops to match. With no breweries directly in Grand Lake proper at the time, we found the next best thing, a tap house. World’s End Brewpub has wine, liquor, pub fare, and rotating taps of Colorado craft beer. Not a bad place to enjoy friendship, great beer, and Colorado mountain views. Not to mention they are in the planning stages of brewing their own beer. Guess that means we have to come back.
Create Your Own Rules
There are no rules when it comes time to live your best craft beer lifestyle. You create the rules you want to live by. If there are no trails, make some. If there are no breweries, bring your own beer and create your own bottle share. Introduce people to the things that you love, and be receptive when they do the same.
The great takeaway from this camping adventure is that you don’t always need mountain biking trails or breweries to create a craft beer biking lifestyle. You just need some really great people.
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We are not experts, nor do we claim to be. We just want to tell you our stories and experiences from mountain biking in hopes that we can help you enjoy your own experiences. Generally, when biking we use MTB Project. You can use that, too, or any other apps out there. There are some great ones. Just keep in mind, when on OHV trails and roads, be aware of vehicles, just like you would be aware of people and other bikers on any other trails. Bike smart so you can enjoy the beer part of craft beer biking.
Happy craft beer biking!
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Ken and April, craft beer and travel lovers. We live and work from, RAIF, our 24 foot RV, while traveling to drink good beer, visit Mother Nature, and mountain bike. We are not experts and don’t want to be. We are, however, tourists, just like you, and we want to do everything and visit everywhere. We also know that this is impossible (dammit – and wrote a post on it), so in order to help you experience as much as you can in the time you have, what we experience, we pass onto you. We hope to only give you guidance (although our friends say to never follow April), because you need to also create your own adventures along the way. Happy craft beer and biking travels!