As an avid motorcyclist it’s easy to appreciate the beauty in each state and for many riders seeking out amazing roads that most would overlook can become second nature, even an art form some may say. Throughout our vast and beautiful country called The United States of America, we are fortunate enough to have a plethora of both paved and dirt roads that are meant to be sought out like the Ark of the covenant. These roads are meant to be experienced intimately, the only way they can be, on 2 wheels.
Experiencing these beautiful thruways on a motorcycle can become a thirst that is never quenched, and although each state has its own unique characteristics ultimately some will stand out more than others. One state that has that effect for motorcyclists is Colorado.
Colorado is one of those states that as soon as you ride past the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign the roads seem to present themselves to you like a feast on a golden platter with an endless amount of wine.
The rides we will be reviewing in this forum can be completed in 1-2 days and are best ridden between late April and early October.
Best Motorcycle Roads In Southern Colorado
Southern Colorado is a rider’s paradise and a region that should not be missed for riders of all experience levels. Other avid motorcyclists have also recommended these roads to me, which reinforces my recommendations for these routes and motivated me to write this comprehensive layout to help others. I hope this breakout has proves to be helpful and serves as a reason to visit Southern Colorado and have the riding experience of a lifetime.
Million Dollar Highway - RTE. 550
This loop may be one of the greatest roads in all of North America. The road is paved and in immaculate condition. It combines some of the tightest switchbacks one can expect to experience on a motorcycle. The full route per the map is ~235 miles and can be done in 1 day, but highly recommend taking at least 2-4 to fully experience and immerse yourself in this beautiful part of the country.
There are endless forest roads off this to get your fill of dirt riding littered with an infinite amount of beautiful dispersed campsites. Some wonderful old mining towns rich with history, hiking, restaurants, hotels, and hot springs pave the way forward to this adventure.
Points Of Interest
There is no shortage of amazing places to stop along the way. Below is a small list of the places you should not miss along this route.
- Silverton – Great little mining town with wonderful people. A perfect place to load up on supplies if you are camping or to warm up after getting some miles in at the Brown Bear Café.
- Ouray – Beautiful mountain town with several hikes to waterfalls, hot springs, and some wonderful restaurants. My favorite is the Ouray Brewery.
- Rico – This is a really tiny town which consists of a great hotel and bar called The Enterprise Bar and Grill. Wonderful people with some great food and cold beer.
Where To Stay/Camp
There is an immense amount of national forest land that can be used to camp on along this loop. Really any dirt road you ride down will guide you to an epic campsite next to a creek that makes for a relaxing post ride spot to wind down in a hammock, while having a refreshing beverage.
The towns of Silverton and Ouray have several hotels that are right in the heart of the town and a short walk to tourist activities and restaurants. If you prefer to stay in a town to experience the wonderful atmosphere and people in this area.
There is no shortage of dirt roads to find here, this goes from flat well-groomed forest roads to the technical challenging mountain passes like Engineer or Imogene Pass (which I have not done due to the size of my GS1200 and conservative riding style).
Out of so many outstanding rides in the state of Colorado, Rte. 550, The Million Dollar Highway should be on the top of any motorcyclists list. This road and area really earns that 5 wheelie rating due to exceeding each standard for riders of all skill levels.
There are so many sights to see along this route that you will never tire of absorbing the beauty that surrounds you in this part of the state. If you are fortunate enough to have the time – doing the loop in reverse can be a great way to add a few more days to your adventure.
Mesa Verde National Park
Be prepared for the sense of overwhelming vertigo as soon as you enter the National Park and the road begins screaming up in elevation with incredible views overlooking the valley below. A wonderful feeling as the path goes on and on as you travel through the park.
Although the distance from the park entrance to the furthest point is only 28 miles, those miles are filled with numerous overlooks and pullouts that can make this seemingly short ride take 2-3 days. This is especially true if you are taking in the hikes along the way.
The only piece of concern for this ride is the numerous road snakes in some areas of this ride. Otherwise its full enjoyment as you have a 360 view of the valleys below that outstretch clear into Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Points of Interest
Since this is a National Park there are ample amounts of short hikes and tours to break up the day(s) you spend in this magical location. A few of the more popular ones are outlined below:
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Cliff Palace – This requires purchasing a tour ticket at Park Visitor Center, but even without one you can walk to the overlook to get a spectacular view of the houses the Hopi built into the cliffs which are all but hidden except from this vantage point
- Balcony House– This also requires a tour ticket but is well worth it as you can walk through the ruins and really get a sense of the majestic surroundings.
- Knifes Edge Hike – A great 2 mile hike with little elevation next to Morfield Campground which has incredible sunset views that enable the rocks to really light up and glow like you’ve never seen before.
Accident along Knifes Edge road -1920
Where To Stay/Camp
Morfield Campground- This is the only campground in the park so making reservations ahead of time is recommended. It is one of the better National Park campgrounds I have stayed at and includes free showers, great WiFi from most campsites (antennas are off the bathrooms), and a launderette, gas, and fully stocked store for all your camping and souvenir needs.
There are also several wonderful hiking trails to hike right next to the campground if you choose to get some exercise in closer to camp at the end of the day where deer are plentiful as you enjoy winding down in the evening.
This is one of the drawbacks of listing this in a National Park as there is no off-roading permitted within the park boundaries. The beauty and activities from hiking and riding makes up for this shortcoming.
GRAND MESA SCENIC BYWAY- RTE 65
A beautiful Colorado mountain road filled with switchbacks that rise in elevation and bring you up to over 10,000 feet and onto the World’s largest Mesa. There are several pullouts along this route to take in the views, but no gas stations from Cedaredge to Mesa (50 miles, but can be close to 100 miles if you are doing the off-road portion) so plan accordingly.
Points Of Interest
The main point of interest the mesa itself and the amazing views, alpine lakes, dispersed camping, and off-roading.
- Lands’ End Observatory – Well worth a 10 mile off-road ride to get to this viewpoint.
- Wagon Wheel Restaurant and Motel – A great place to stop for a beverage and a burger for lunch, charge your equipment and take a breather.
Where To Stay/Camp
Dispersed camping is plentiful along Rte125 where you can get a lakeside campsite with little issue and make it your own paradise for the evening as you watch the sunset glistening off one of the many alpine lakes.
There are also plenty of campgrounds along the way if you are looking for less primitive camping. Hotels are scattered along this route in the towns of Delta, Mesa, or driving to up Grand Junction for a greater variety of lodging.
Rte125 Surface Creek Road is a great 15 mile loop. This road has you experience the mesa while passing crystal clear alpine lakes with numerous dispersed camping areas. There is also a 10 mile dirt road in great condition to visit the Lands’ End Observatory. The views off the mesa looking down on the plateau will allow you to see into Utah on a clear day with awe inspiring views.
GRAND JUNCTION TO NATURITA RTE 141
A 105 mile long, low elevation beautifully paved road which will have you leaning your ride until you feel the mist kissing your windshield from Dolores River as you pass amazing rust colored mesas that stretch into the sky and rival that of Monument Valley.
The road has very little traffic which will allow you to enjoy some solitude as you embrace the scenery you ride through. The only minor drawback on this route is the lack of amenities so come more prepared than you usually would.
Points Of Interest
This stretch of road is in quite a desolate area outside the tiny town of Gateway. Gateway Canyons General Store is owned and run by the preacher of the church next door to it. This is the only place to gas up between Grand Junction and Naturita so be sure to check your fuel levels.
Where To Stay/Camp
Dispersed camping here is plentiful but mainly in one area just south of Grand Junction, Divide Road. This road is a steep switchback dirt road that connects to numerous other roads which are great fun exploring for campsites or campgrounds to settle down in. There are numerous dispersed sites with beautiful views over the canyon in which you can see the Dolores River running far beneath you.
Divide Road also encompasses numerous off-roading opportunities that sprawl out across this mesa. This is a perfect place to explore for that unique dispersed campsite while hitting some fun dirt trails to enhance your day. There are however areas of slippery clay, so if it is raining or has been, it can make it a bit slick in portions of these roads.
PAGOSA SPRINGS - LAKE CITY RTE 160, 149
This route consists of 45 miles of 4 lane highway on Rte 160 that summits at over 10,000 Ft which then drops you into South Fork, CO where you will turn left onto Rte 149. Rte 149 will quickly whittle down to a tighter quieter 75 miles of mountain passes. South Fork is the only town between these areas so ensure you gas up, get lunch before heading onto the second part of this amazing road that will have you speeding across lower elevation prairies and then climbing high into the mountain tundra that will resemble something from another planet.
Points of Interest
I specifically wanted this trip to begin (or end) in Pagosa Springs so you have an opportunity to experience the hot springs in Pagosa.
- There are free hot springs you can visit called Hippy Dippy Hot Springs, but I highly recommend taking an afternoon and enjoying the springs at the Pagosa Springs Resort.
- Mountain Pizza is the perfect place for a great pizza prior to starting on the 2nd part of this ride in South Fork.
- Rio Grande National Forest is a great spot to stop and stretch with views of magnificent waterfalls along Rte149
Where to Stay/Camp
Throughout the ride there is no shortage of camping both dispersed and paid locations. In Pagosa there are numerous hotels to stay in. I prefer this hotel directly across the street from the spa as it is much more affordable then the spa and in a great location
For Lake City, the Matterhorn is a beautiful Swiss style motel which will allow you a solid night’s sleep at a great price. It’s a perfect spot to recharge if you are going to take on some of the more challenging off-road portions in Colorado the following day.
Lake City is the takeoff point for some of the more serious off-roading mountain passes. A few of the most popular passes begin there including Cinnamon and Engineer passes. Both surpass 12,000 Ft in Elevation. These are some of the best passes in Colorado and if you are craving technical off-roading challenges with views that can’t be beat these are the two I recommend.