Tag Archives: Lookout Mountain

Cycling up Mountains in a Storm

Loveland Pass on Sunday May 23, 2021

Colorado can be a pretty confusing and frustrating place in the Springtime. In most mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere places, Spring is a time of revival. It is the time of year where people who had mostly been indoors and inactive during the winter return to life. Here in Colorado, Springtime is a period of major weather fluctuations. In Denver, March and April are often the snowiest months. It can even snow in May. Sometimes it feels like we go from tracking the weather for snow to 90 degree heat with barely a week or two in-between.

Credit Channel 7 Denver

At higher elevations it snows quite a bit during springtime (Leadville is 10,200 feet (3.1km) above sea level), even as the snow melts into mud on most trails. It is probably the most inactive time of year in the mountains.

Image from Weather Atlas

Springtime in Colorado requires a combination of planning, adjustment and resiliency. The weekend of May 22nd and 23rd would test my resiliency because I kind of dropped the ball on planning.

On Saturday, I climbed Lookout Mountain, a ride in Golden, Colorado that climbs from 5500 feet (1675m) to 7300 feet (2200 m).

The day was somewhat stormy but also quite active. Paragliders took off from Lookout Mountain, flying over the town.

And the road was packed with cyclists. Only about 20 miles (32 km) from Denver, this is a very popular ride!

After noon, with even more paragliders taking off from the mountain, I encountered the storm.

Some cyclists chose to wait out the rain by finding a building to stand next to. I raced back home, into a fairly significant wind down the hill.

The next day, I went up to Loveland Pass to climb another mountain, this one at a much higher elevation. My ride began at the parking lot of Loveland Ski Area, which sits at around 10,600 feet (3230 m). I could already see that the storms had returned.

As is the case with going upwards in elevation, the weather was much colder, probably only around 45°F (7°C) at the start of the ride. From the very beginning, the ride felt like it was taking place in a different season.

Much of the ground was still covered with snow. Unlike on Lookout Mountain, I was the only one on a bicycle on the road up to Loveland Pass that day. The only other people I encountered were backcountry skiing. One joking asked me for a ride to the top of the pass on my handlebars.

Higher up the mountain, I suddenly found myself doing something I typically try to avoid, riding in the snow. It became scary as it was obvious that slippery conditions existed.

Near the top visibility continued to decline.

Finally, just to be true to the cycling community I belong to, I took a photo holding up my bike in front of the sign that indicated I had reached the top of the pass at just shy of 12,000 feet (3650 m).

There I stood, the only cyclist, almost out of place, like I was suddenly in the wrong season. It reminded me of how often we forget that different people in different places are often having quite different experiences. Two months ago, towards the end of March, while most places in North America were seeing people emerge from their winter dormancy and return to life, life in the Central Rockies was slowing down as the ski season was coming to an end. Now, there could not be more contrast all around me.

As the United States has mostly put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, countries with slower vaccine rollouts are dealing with some pretty bad case numbers associated with newer, more rapidly spreading, variants of the disease. This sits in sharp contrast to last summer, when other more prepared countries had much greater success in containing the virus through behavioral measures than we had. Heck, even the period of time westerners refer to as the “dark ages“, were not a dark time for everybody. The Tang Dynasty was remembered as a golden age for China. It was also a time of great advancement in the Islamic world. Finding myself on my bike in the snow in the second half of May reminded of the benefit of understanding that not everyone and not every place is having the same experience.

Two Ways Up Lookout Mountain


The first time I heard about Lookout Mountain, the first thing I thought of was teenagers making out in their cars half an hour after sunset.  It just seemed like the kind of place a crazy new high school couple, with access to a vehicle along with the freedom that comes with it for the first time in their lives, would go.  It is that perfect middle ground for high schoolers starved for both attention and alone time.  They are far enough out of the “public eye” (i.e. social circle) to not feel too awkward, but not far enough out of the “public eye” to not get the recognition they crave.

To some, the fact that I automatically defaulted to this thought process is a demonstration of a disturbing level of immaturity.  But, I am strangely comforted by the fact that my mind occasionally defaults to such ideas and pursuits.  One of my goals as I get older is to never lose that youthful sense of wonder that makes everything seem so significant and magical early on in life.  Sure, if I were still trying to take high school girls “up to Lookout” at this age, it would be quite pathetic!  However, I take significant pride in the ability to still see places like this and imagine it’s possibilities from a perspective that is quite youthful, while still approaching it with the wisdom and maturity that I have gained over the years by being an astute observer of the world, humans, and human nature.

So, although my first thought of this mountain was one of 16 year olds making out in cars and possibly allowing themselves to go further, I came to understand it’s cultural significance to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains when it became the first major mountain I climbed on my bicycle after moving here from Illinois.  In a way, Lookout Mountain welcomes people like me to the world of cycling in the Rockies the same way I imagine it welcoming those 16 year olds to “adulthood”.

As the stormy weather that plagued Colorado the week leading up to Memorial Day came to a close, I decided to pursue this mountain in another unique manner.  I decided that on Monday, I would hike up the Mountain, using the Chimney Gulch and Lookout Mountain trails.  Then, on Tuesday, I would ride my bike up Lookout Mountain Road.

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Regardless of whether one decides to pursue this mountain on foot or by bicycle, it begins at a (relatively) light to moderate level of difficulty.  The trail heads up a gentile slope that would be considered “moderate” in terms of hiking.  The bike ride is up a slope that most with little or no climbing experience would consider quite difficult, but it is a bit over a mile into the ride before the climb picks up.

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While the bike ride does offer some amazing views, and I would argue better views of the Denver skyline, about a mile into the hike, some waterfalls form at this time of year, when rains are significant, giving me a whole new perspective of Lookout Mountain.

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It is at this point cyclists will encounter their first major set of switchbacks (along with some steeper terrain).  The hiking part also picks up in intensity.

Just after the halfway point comes a somewhat easier part of the climb.  It is at this point the road somewhat flattens out for cyclists, and most can shift up a gear or two and pick up a few miles per hour in speed.

Roughly 2/3 of the way up the mountain, the hiking trail meets up with Lookout Mountain road for the second and final time, at a place called Windy Saddle Park (near Windy Saddle Peak).

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Windy Saddle Park offers a great view of the Clear Creek Valley to the West.  The photo to the left was actually taken back in April on a previous bicycle trip up Lookout Mountain, while the one on the right was taken on Memorial Day.  Colorado is typically a very dry state, with a very brown or red look (depending where you are).  However, the week preceding Memorial Day was quite wet, with daily thunderstorms, and even four consecutive days of hail.  These photos, taken from the same place, demonstrate how different Colorado can look during different seasons and weather patterns.

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After Windy Saddle Park comes the most challenging part of the trip, regardless of whether one is hiking or cycling.  Cyclists will encounter a series of switchbacks with a higher grade and frequency than the switchbacks in the earlier part of the climb.  When I continued on the hiking trail, I had anticipated the same increase in intensity.  What surprised me was the sudden change in tree density.  It felt as if we had suddenly left the wide open and entered a forest.

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There are two trail junctions in this more challenging (although still not “14er” level) part of the trail.  First, the Beaver Brook Trail, which is a longer trail that winds through the rest of Jefferson County, breaks off to the right.  Luckily, these trail junctions are clearly marked so nobody spends hours wandering around wondering when they will finally get to the top.  The second junction is with the Buffalo Bill Trail, which goes to the part of the mountain where Buffalo Bill’s grave is.

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Lookout Mountain is not a single peak.  It is more of a mound.  One one end of the mound is the tower most commonly associated with Lookout Mountain.  On this other end is Buffalo Bill’s Grave.  Buffalo Bill’s Grave is a great destination point for cyclists.  There is a gift shop at the top offers water for free, nice bathrooms, and great snacks.  Being pretty much at the same elevation as the other side of Lookout Mountain, one can stop and turn around without feeling like they cheated themselves out of part of the climb.

While (excluding driving) there are two ways up the mountain, there are three ways down.  One other thing I discovered about Lookout Mountain is that it is a popular place for hang-gliding/ para-sailing.


Depending on the day of the week and conditions, it is not too terribly uncommon to encounter around a dozen gliders taking off and landing at different points on the east side of the mountain.

Between the awkward adolescents in their cars just past sundown, cyclists like me achieving our first significant Rocky Mountain climbs, and hang-gliders soaring through the air over town, Lookout Mountain is truly a place where dreams come true.  It is a place where people feel a sense of achievement, a sense of advancement, and a sense of welcome into what’s ahead.  For cyclists like me, it is even more challenging bike rides, higher into the mountains.  For those adolescents, it is adulthood, and all of the challenges that will come.  Either way, it is both magnificent and scary, but best appreciated by looking upon it with the same sense of wonder that we begin our lives with.