Episode 23: Rocky Mountain National Park and Beyond by Motorcycle: Part 3 - When, Where and How to have an amazing trip

Welcome everyone. Here we are for Part 3 and our final Episode about Planning a ride to Estes Park, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain National Park region. 

Now today’s Episode is what you may consider your Bonus Material, or Extra Features like what we used to get when we would purchase a DVD.  If you’re a rider who really enjoys putting in the miles in order to see as much of the Rocky Mountains as possible, well this is the Episode for you!  

In this episode, I will very quickly recap Parts 1 and 2, which are Episodes #21 and 22, then we will consider two full day options for returning back to Loveland Colorado from the Western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, where we left off, which is the Village of Grand Lake.  

If you haven't already listened to Part 1 and Part 2, Episode 21 and 22, I highly recommend listening to those first. There is some very important information there about timing your trip for the best experience.  

I’m reminded everyday how very fortunate we are to have a hobby, or some call a passion, for riding motorcycles.  Through this podcast I’m getting to meet more and more people who essentially tell me the same thing.  They ride motorcycles because it makes them happy, and they love motorcycling because sometimes, they also find inner peace.  That Peace of Mind that we’re all looking for.  

If you’re listening to this podcast through one of the many streaming services such Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or iHeart Radio, that’s awesome, but I would also encourage you to have a look at the website, peacelovemoto.com.  There, you will see a bit of an update to the Podcast moto which says “Peace Love Moto, The Podcast about the Peace of Mind we always seek and sometimes find from the seat of a motorcycle”.  Yeah, that’s the way I feel, and I hope that you do too.  Hey, as always, thank you for joining me today!


Now is another good time to take a close look at the Colorado map.  To recap Parts 1 and 2, we began in Loveland, Colorado, my home town.  We traveled west on Highway 34 and before reaching Estes Park, we took a somewhat hidden, small road that works it’s way up to Estes from it’s Northern side.  Remember, don’t miss that turn at Drake!  We talked about some can’t miss places to visit in Estes, topped off with gas, then proceeded into Rocky Mountain National Park by way of the Fall River entrance.  

As mentioned in Parts 1 and 2, it’s super important to know when is the best, least crowded time to ride into Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.  Traffic jams around holidays and summer weekends can really dampen your experience, so to repeat my advice from the previous 2 episodes, avoid holidays and travel on Monday through Thursday is your best bet for the best experience. Early mornings and evenings are your best times to viewing wildlife.

Now, when we finished Part 2, we were in the village of Grand Lake, which is the sister city of Estes Park on the Western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Now is the time to look at your watch.  You can either return to Estes Park and Loveland pretty much the way you came, or if you're ready to explore, then today I’ll describe to you two very different ways to return with quite an extended voyage of an additional 150 to 175 miles, each requiring an additional 3 to 4 hour from Grand Lake for a return to Loveland.  

So, if you’re totaling your mileage, it was about 76 miles from Loveland to Grand Lake by way of Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road. Count on about 2 and half hours for this journey, so for these two return options I’ll describe here, the total mileage will be 225 to 250.  So, all that said, if you’re really into mileage and exploring some of the most beautiful spaces on Earth, then you’ll have a blast!

As I mentioned, I will describe to two very different return routes, from Grand Lake to Loveland, Colorado. One going primarily to the North then East then South, the other going mostly South, then East, then North.  Confused yet? Well hold on tight and let’s go.

Here is what I’ll call Option 1, returning to Loveland by way of what we call North Park and the Cache La Poudre river.  So from Grand Lake, we will continue North on highway 34.  Highway 34 through Rocky, by the way, is also referred to as Trail Ridge Road.  I’m not sure if I mentioned that before. There are so few roads in Rocky that it’s almost impossible to get lost.  Rocky is mostly made up of Wilderness area, which by definition, is roadless.

From Grand Lake we will rejoin highway 34 and make our way to the little town of Granby.  Beautiful Shadow Mountain Lake then Lake Granby will be on your left.  Depending on how good of gas mileage that you get, I might recommend topping off with gas once more in Granby.  

This is where we turn right, or North and join county road 125.  Soon we will cross the Continental Divide.  I know that you're saying, wait, we crossed the Continental Divide before within Rocky Mountain National park! well, you are right but the Continental Divide is not a straight line. It curves. So we're going to get to cross it again! This is a beautiful stretch where we'll be out in Open Country for a short time then once again diving into the canyons and then over a small Peak then diving back down into what we call the North Park region. Within Colorado there are areas that are relatively flat, carved out by glaciers during the ice age. We call these areas North Park, Middle Park and South Park.  The spanned most of colorado. What's really cool about them is that they are generally flat spaces with straight roads but you're surrounded by snow-capped mountains in the distance. These are some of the most fun stretches I ever ride in colorado.

Soon you'll reach the town of Walden colorado. This is another good opportunity to top off with gas. I know that I mentioned that a lot, but there are not many options out here at all. it's always good to have more gas than you need, than to realize you don't have enough. There are two places in Walden that I enjoy stopping for a good lunch or dinner. the first one The first one is the River Rock Cafe.  The other option is a place called The 10th Frame. Yes indeed it is a bowling alley but they have some of the best hamburgers I've ever eaten.

Now is the time we begin our journey East on Highway 14. From Walden, Highway 14 begins a journey across North Park heading once again into the Rocky mountains. on your right, you will reach the Moose visitor center. this is run by the state of Colorado State Forest division. This is a great place to stop, talk with a Forest Ranger and watch the humming birds in area behind the facility.  

Continuing East on Highway 14 we begin to ascend and to our right is one of my favorite places to take a picture of my motorcycle. This is a rock formation called the Nokhu Crags.  As you ascent, just keep looking to your right.  When you say to yourself “wow” then “WOW”, that’s it.  There is a place in front of that view of the Crags where you can pull of the road for a picture and just…. Take it in.  I sometimes stop here and just side on the guardrail and yeah, take it in.

Let's continue to ascend for a short distance further where we will cross over Cameron Pass.  Here we will begin a descent that continues for about 60 miles. Soon we will reach the little village called Rustic, home to the Rustic Campground and Restaurant.  This is a family owned restaurant and campground.  I’ve always found this place to serve wonderful food.  

I'll pause here for a moment to mention something that I think is important. As you know, the theme to this podcast is peace of mind certainly but it's also kindness. I know very well that the people who work and service here in Rustic are about 50 miles from what you might call civilization. They work hard and I always make it a point to tip well here for my service.  Do what you want but it makes me feel good to do that not only in Rustic, but all along any journey.

As you will have noticed by now, we are following a wild river.  This is called the Cache La Poudre River.  It’s headwaters were actually within Rocky Mountain National Park.  We passed right by it earlier when it was barely a trickle, but now as you can see, it’s a roaring river!  

On late Spring, Summer and early Fall days, you are likely to see rafters and kayakers flowing down this wild river.  Early season, this river flows very high and very fast, so if this looks like an additional adventure you’d like to try, I recommend checking in with some of the more popular professionally run rafting companies including Mountain Whitewater, A1 Wildwater, and Rocky Mountain Adventures.  Be braced for a wild ride in cold water that has just come off the mountains as snowmelt.

Now is the time to put on your tie dye shirt and headband because we're about to reach the Little Hippie Village called Mishawaka. you cannot drive by this place. you have to stop in. Mishawaka is located right on the river. The back deck literally hangs out to the river. It's here where you can experience wonderful service and wonderful food. The people who serve here are once again deserving a very large tips because they're some of the friendliest people I've ever met. There's always music in the background and sometimes there's a concert going on in the little Amphitheater that's connected to it. This place will take you back in time to the 60s, but its history goes way back. be sure and stop inside and learn about that. Again, the food and service here is just outstanding and don't miss that view from the back.

Now, as we continue to descend down highway 14, there is one option that I’d like to mention.  You will see a tiny little road to your right called Stove Prairie Road.  This is a very twisty steep ascent toward the Stove Prairie School, then on to Masonville, then on to Loveland.  I’ll go into more detail about this route in another episode, but I wanted to mention it here. Otherwise, continue going down Highway 14 until you reach Highway 287 where you will turn right, heading south toward Fort Collins then our home base of Loveland.

One great option for returning to Loveland is through the western edge of Fort Collins following the Horsetooth Reservoir road. This is a very hilly and beautiful ride. There are several options for returning to Loveland but from Horsetooth Reservoir you can take one of two roads to the left to work your way back to Loveland by way of Taft Hill Road.  I recommend taking the second one.  Taft Hill Road turns into Wilson Avenue when it reaches the Loveland city limits.

Now let's catch her breath for a moment and consider the other option for returning to Loveland from Grand Lake.In this option as I mentioned will be going south then east then north. As we did before, we're going to go from Grand Lake to the city of Granby. This will be by way of Highway 40. We will continue on Highway 40 through the tiny little Villages of Tabernash and Fraser before we reach the ski resort of Winter Park. Even in summertime, Winter Park is a great place to  visit. It's a mecca for downhill bicycling in summer, and of course skiing in the winter. It's also a great place within Winter Park Village to grab a caramel latte while watching the bicyclist descend the mountain.

From Winter Park we will begin a steep ascent over Berthoud pass. This is a great place to take pictures down in the valley below. We will continue on Highway 40 descending steeply from Berthoud pass going through the little village of Empire, then reaching Highway 70 where we will go east. Highway 70 is the  main Highway East and West across the center of Colorado.  

From Highway 70 watch carefully for the exit for the Central City Parkway. This is Highway 6 and you’ll be traveling North through the middle of a very mountainous area. Well, really all of this has been mountainous. I just thought I would reemphasize that. Haha.  Central City and its sister town called Blackhawk are very historic mining towns and now very popular for their Casinos. As we descend from Central City and go through Blackhawk, we will soon join Road 119. 

We will continue our journey North on 119 until we reach the village of Nederland. It's here in Nederland where you will find the Carousel of Happiness.  Just like I stressed about the town of Mishawaka, you must stop here in Nederland and you must ride the Carousel of Happiness. If you miss riding the carousel then you have missed out on one of the most important things you will ever do in life!   can you tell I love this place? I've had the privilege of meeting the man who hand carved all of the animals on this carousel. more to come on that in a later episode. from Nederland we will continue along what we refer to as the Peak to Peak Highway.  We will follow this Highway across the mountain tops until we descend back into Estes Park.  and finally to complete our journey we will descend back down Highway 34 to my hometown of Loveland.

Well, are you feeling overwhelmed? I know I've presented a lot of information today and combined with the information I shared in part one and part two, ah yeah it’s a lot I know.  But I've got to tell you I have been over these roads many many times and I'm thrilled every single ride. There's no better way to travel through the Rocky Mountains than by motorcycle.

I'm excited for the podcast to come. I have some interviews lined up and some wonderful information to share with you. I think you'll hear my voice how wonderful it is to see Mother Nature from the seat of a motorcycle. I have indeed found peace of mind in that way and I hope the same for you.

 Thank you so much for listening. I wish you peace. I wish you love.