Scouting Gravel Cycling Routes Around Hagerman Pass, in Heart of Colorado Rockies


Scouting Gravel Cycling Routes Around Hagerman Pass, in Heart of Colorado Rockies

Last August, four friends set out to explore the high mountain gravel roads around Hagerman Pass, Colorado, staging each day out of the newly renovated retreat center called “Beyul.”  The Hagerman Pass area is an under-appreciated gravel-riding gem in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. The pass connects Basalt- a small town just outside Aspen – to Leadville, which needs no introduction to the cycling world. Continue reading below for a sampling of the primo Hagerman gravel riding the friends found during their stay and for info about the Beyul gravel camp kicking off later this summer with Aspen Expedition Gravel Bike Guides.

Unlike most of the gravel roads along the Continental Divide—which are typically steep and loose, unmaintained mining roads that make for a rough day on a hardtail at best, or a long hike-a-bike at worst—Hagerman is home to a myriad of water diversions, dams, and micro-hydro plants. This means the state and regional electric company make sure the network of roads, several of which are old railroad grades, are regularly maintained, opening the area to a wider range of riders.

The nearby paved Independence Pass road also absorbs nearly all of the regional traffic, leaving Hagerman virtually empty of any motorized vehicle beyond the occasional dirt bike or power company pickup.

So, when I heard a group of young folk had recently taken over T-laxy Ranch (an aging guest ranch that sits at the gateway to the best riding in Hagerman) with the aim of revitalizing it as a retreat center and mountain escape, I immediately reached out. As the now rebranded “Beyul,” which means Hidden Lands in Tibetan, the retreat’s site advertised a half dozen outdoor activities in the vicinity available for guests, but had no mention of the incredible gravel riding at their doorstep.

That’s how I ended up at Beyul for a good part of the week with a few friends mapping out some of my favorite routes in the area (RWGPS routes and route description below). The photo gallery does it better justice, but we put together everything from chunkier and punchier high Rockies routes on some of the less maintained roads, to buffed-out, lower valley mega-rides that bring you close to Vail and back.

While all the roads are in decent shape by the standards of the high Colorado Rockies, it’s still the Rockies and you should expect some loose surfaces, punchy climbs, and the occasional chunky descent. Everyone in our group crashed at least once. A hardtail wouldn’t be overkill at all, but the group all agreed the ideal bike was the Revel Rover, a drop bar gravel bike, but setup with 27.5 wheels to allow for beefier 2.25 tires.

There are several USFS-managed campsites in the area and endless dispersed camping in the National Forest that covers most of the region. But returning back to Beyul’s rustic cabins, with hot showers, private kitchens, sauna, hot tub, and ice bath, was the perfect way to end each ride, relax, recover, and get rested for another day on the bike. After a few days up at Beyul, the “hidden lands” namesake really started to hit home and it was a hard place to drive away from at the end of our stay.

Below are three routes that leave from Beyul and some notes on each ride.

Route 1: Wildcat Mountain Loop
Miles: 40
Elevation Gain: 3,700ft

Leaving from Beyul, this ride begins with a few miles on pavement before turning off on the old railroad grade. You can skip the road warm-up by driving to the gravel turn off where the lollipop diverges into a loop. It then winds up to and around Ivanhoe Lake. Once you’re past the water diversion on the east end of the lake, the road is no longer maintained by the power company and it will get a little rockier, but it’s still an old railroad grade, so the incline is minimal. It eventually turns right onto a USFS road as the railroad enters an abandoned tunnel a few miles up which isn’t passable.

The route then begins to descend a 4×4 road that is a little loose and rocky at times. You will pass the access to the 10th Mountain Division Betty Bear Hut, after which there is a short singletrack descent that isn’t well maintained. Hardtail riders will be fine, but drop bar bikes might need to walk some sections. The singletrack puts you out by another road maintained by the power company which is a smooth gravel ride back. I would recommend a hardtail with smooth rolling tires or a drop bar bike with 35mm+ tires, anything less might make for a long day unless you’re a confident bike handler. I would also highly recommend doing the loop clockwise and not counterclockwise or you will likely have a decent amount of walking.

Route 2: Hagerman Powerline Loop
Miles: 30
Elevation Gain: 3,100ft

This ride starts from Beyul, but turns off onto gravel road within the first half mile and passes Elk Wallow Campground. The road is very well maintained until you pass a series of water diversions, after which the road becomes a little rougher but is still very readable on a gravel bike. After a series of switchbacks you’ll reach the top of a small pass with power lines overhead.

Note that the following descent can be washed out and generally has some large “babyheads” or rocks that can put you down if you get going too fast. After descending through an open field under power lines, you will take a right on an old railroad grade that will bring you back to payment and eventually Beyul. This railroad descent is the same previous route climbed and these two loops can be combined.

Route 3: Crooked Creek Figure 8
Miles: 58
Elevation Gain: 7,700ft

This route heads north towards the Eagle/Vail area instead of east in the high Rockies like the previous two routes. These lower-elevation roads are considerably smoother and make for perfect drop bar riding with anything over 35mm tires. There is a considerable amount of elevation gain on the ride but all the climbs are at a reasonable grade.

I would recommend doing both loops counterclockwise. If you wanted to shorten the loops you can drive up and skip the first loop. This is a beautiful Colorado gravel ride with no singletrack and not more than a mile of pavement involved.

Beyul recently announced that they are teaming up with a local guide operation to launch a fully guided and catered gravel camp this coming July 31 to August 3. You can find more info on the gravel camp here.