Cycling Rim Rock Drive
Special to Free Press
Many locals will tell you that there is no better way to see Colorado National Monument than from the seat of a bicycle. More advanced riders value the 2,300 feet of lung-burning elevation gain, followed by an equally thrilling descent. Beginner riders may choose to drive up the four-mile hill in order to take a more leisurely ride across the top.
On its own, the gate-to-gate distance is just 23 miles, but many cyclists choose to use connecting roads to make a 33-mile grand loop. Cyclists of any ability will appreciate the stunning vistas of red-rock canyons, and the spectacular panoramas of the Grand Valley framed by distant views of the Bookcliffs and Grand Mesa.
Whether you’re a first-time rider or an old pro, there are things you need to know about biking the monument. Unpredictable weather in the desert can lead to environmental emergencies such as heat exhaustion or hypothermia. Always bring extra layers (even if it’s warm) and plenty of water. Once you reach the top, the weather patterns can be very different than in the valley, especially if a sudden storm blows through. Strong winds along the exposed upper road can also make cycling risky. There is no bike lane on historic Rim Rock Drive, which means cyclists share the road with everyone from Glade Park commuters to foreign tourists. Mutual respect and awareness are critical to everyone’s safety.
The east hill on the Grand Junction side has one long tunnel. The west hill on the Fruita side has two shorter tunnels. When operating a bicycle in a tunnel, cyclists are required by law to use a white light that is visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and a red light that is visible from at least 200 feet from the rear. This regulation is in place to help protect cyclists from vehicles that may not see them when they enter the dark tunnels from the bright light outside. Vehicles are also required to use lights in the tunnels.
There is an entrance fee for cyclists wishing to ride Rim Rock Drive. A $5 individual receipt ($10 for vehicles) is good for seven days of access to the monument. If you possess Colorado National Monument’s annual pass, or any of the other Federal Recreation passes, you may bring up to three other cyclists in with you for free. If you’re using an annual pass, please remember to bring a valid photo ID with you on your ride. You’ll need to stop at the entrance station on your way in to show your pass or purchase a receipt.
Mid-ride, take the time to stop at some of the spectacular overlooks, or explore the visitor center. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, coyotes, golden eagles, collared lizards, or any of the other creatures that call the monument home. The rugged solitude and stunning views may take your breath away as much as the climb. At the end of the day, whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime ride, your weekly escape, or a training ride, cycling Rim Rock Drive is a great way to experience Colorado National Monument.
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The Coal Ridge High boys suffered their first 3A Western Slope League loss of the year Thursday night on the road at Gunnison, falling to the defending league champion Cowboys 65-45.