South Denver 100: Ralston Creek Trail, US-6 Trail, C470 Trail, Cherry Creek Trail, and South Platte Trail
This route offers quite a bit of climbing for a 100-mile course. Much of the climbing is on the western half of the circuit. I chose to frontload most of the climbing by going counter-clockwise.
The Ralston Creek Trail comes through Arvada and rises out of the city to lead to Golden. From Golden, the US-6 trail climbs rolling hills, then connects to the C470 trail via Rooney Road.
The C470 Trail traverses more rolling hills along the base of the foothills, then curves East and takes you through a range of conditions all the way to the Cherry Creek Trail. The Cherry Creek Trail offers lush prairie scenery with wetlands wildlife preserves.
I’ve been wanting to ride this route, and get my first 100-mile ride down, for quite some time. I hadn’t been able to ride the past few weekends due to rainy weather. So between being ride-deprived and the experience of waiting for the time, energy, and conditions to line up, I was really eager to give it a go.
As it turns out, the upside of the rainy weather that kept me from riding the past few weekends was a ride brimming with lush surroundings. I had the absolute pleasure of riding through scenery that felt like the surrounds of some idyllic vacation.
All in all, I take from the ride lessons on balance, perseverance, and seizing opportunities. I knew that the landscape was super green this weekend, and I knew it would be a great opportunity to take this ride around Denver.
As it happened, I ended up with a short weekend, but I decided to get out on the ride regardless. Sometimes you just have to live your life! As I write this, I am taking an extra day off from work to rest, as I have been absolutely wiped out by the most exhausting ride of my experience to date!
The morning of the ride, I had still been a bit tired from a long, demanding week of work, as my job is pretty physical. As I set out on the trail, my legs felt pretty far from fresh. But I fed myself the old “Journey of a thousand miles” mantra and just started peddling.
I’ve been experimenting with how to store and manage water for longer rides in hot temperatures. This ride was the second time I tried bringing a couple extra water bottles in my rear bag. As I’d done the previous time I tried this, I ended up drinking or dumping the water as soon as I hit serious climbing, as the weight there made the climb grueling.
I drank most of one bottle and dumped another one right around where the Ralston Creek Trail begins to climb in earnest. Later in my ride, I would miss that water. But I don’t know if I could have made it up the climbs with that weight distribution. My bike feels like a tank as it is.
At the top of the Ralston Creek Trail, I typically take the Fairmount Canal Trail, which is dirt, for a couple miles before I connect to Easley Road, which in turn connects to the last leg of the Clear Creek Trail that leads into Golden.
Despite seeing puddles on the Fairmount Trail, I decided to just try to ride through it all. I didn’t get far before my bike ground to a halt. I was forced to pull over and inspect my bike, at which point I realized I had clay-like mud caked all around the fork and brakes of the front wheel.
I ended up popping off the front wheel and digging out the mud with a tire lever from my kit. Even though I carried my bike over dicey areas for the rest of the Fairmount Trail, I still had to dig mud out of the fork two more times before I got to the next road.
I ended up turning onto the road earlier than I normally do on this stretch of trail, as I just didn’t want to deal with more mud at that point. And honestly, now that I’ve done much more road biking than I’d done when I first rode this area of trail, it wasn’t a big deal to ride a bit more road.
After that, I got into Golden without much issue. There were some detours in Golden, possibly due to high water, but I found my way around them and was soon headed South out of town on the US-6 Trail.
At this point, I began to get blasted with some pretty strong headwinds. Several cyclists who passed by were pretty much like, “Boy, this wind is a pain, eh?”
The headwinds did slow me down a bit on the downhill portions of the US-6 Trail, but thankfully they didn’t hit as hard on the uphill parts. Either way, I feel like I’ve learned to deal with wind, now. It seems mainly to be a matter of mental toughness.
Pretty much the entire ride on the US-6 Trail I was just in awe of the splendid day, the dazzling sky, the green, rolling hills, and the majesty of the mountains.
Without any real trouble this time, I got onto Rooney Road, which bridges the US-6 Trail to the C470 Trail, allowing you to ride all the way from Golden to Southeast Denver. The last time I’d come this way, I’d fumbled about finding Rooney Road.
I had some more fumbling about later in my ride, as it is often the cost of exploring a route for the first time. It’s nice when you know the way from experience. But opening up new routes is invigorating, so it’s worth the trouble.
The following stretch of the C470 trail descends while offering a sweeping, dramatic view that is truly an awesome experience. I wasn’t as free to enjoy it as I might have been, as I had to fight the wind to keep speed going downhill. But I’d only seen the view in the winter before, so seeing it Spring green was lovely!
The C470 trail then runs into Bear Creek Lake Park, which is a large area with its own network of trails. It’s possible to follow the Bear Creek Trail from there, which I’ve done. But on this ride, I crossed the park to continue the C470 Trail.
Around this point, I was realizing that I might not have as much water left as I’d have liked. There was a convenience store right at the South exit of the park, and I ended up regretting a decision I’d made to not pack my bike chain. I would have loved to have bought some more water!
Instead, I forged on. The C470 Trail heading south from this point is mostly descent, with a little climbing here and there. Due to the direction of the wind, I had a strong headwind for the entire stretch.
The difficulty of riding into the wind was somewhat made up for by the fantastic views along this stretch.
As I rode along the length of the C470 trail that curves to the west, a couple passed me on a tandem bike. My first thought was “hashtag goals.” Then I also realized that I got passed by a couple on a tandem bike!
I seem to get passed by everyone! I have to remind myself that not everyone is riding 60 or 100 miles. Also, I’m just starting out, so I can’t really expect to be the best. I’m hoping to continue to learn and get better.
I decided to try and get the most out of the downhill slope on this part of the trail, so I ducked down and peddled away like a proper road biker. Normally, I’ve tended to be kind of lazy and just let the wind hit me. But I think I knew the ride was going to be long as it was, so maybe I wanted to save a bit of time.
I continued along with Chatfield Reservoir as my mental checkpoint. I had previously ridden trail up to there, albeit in the opposite direction.
I was looking forward to seeing the parts of the C470 trail I hadn’t seen before.
As it turns out, it was quite a long length of trail that I’d yet to see, and it was quite varied.
The trail passed through a lush area with a lot of lakes. There were a lot of trees surrounding the trail, and it was a really nice arboreal vibe that I dig.
Then the trail started climbing, one hill after another. It wasn’t the toughest climbing of the ride. But I was starting to feel tired, for sure.
I continued to ration my water, so I was pretty much thirsty most of the time. Thankfully, I was getting by and functioning.
There was a pretty fair portion of this length of the C470 trail that wasn’t my favorite, as a lot of it ran right next to the highway, so there was a lot of really loud traffic noise. It’s not generally my favorite vibe.
But, not unlike riding into strong wind, you just take what the trail throws at you. Something I learned is that a 100-mile ride inevitably brings a variety of challenges and conditions.
After what seemed like quite a long time, and many times of checking my GPS to see my progress, I arrived at the intersection with the Cherry Creek Trail.
There is actually a pretty fair portion of it that runs south of the intersection with C470, about another 20 miles. I turned north to head back toward Denver, saving the length of Cherry Creek as an adventure for another day.
(It’s great to know that there are so many adventures that remain for another day!)
Starting up the Cherry Creek Trail from south of the reservoir, one enters into a variety of wetlands environments that are a delight to ride through.
Some of the turns you need to take aren’t obvious, so it’s helpful to have your route plugged into GPS. I was fortunate, too, to have met a jogger who gave me pointers on a couple places where the turn is easy to miss.
He knew I needed the information because he came across me as I was doubling back after missing a turn! So thanks again to him!
As I was riding through Cherry Creek State Park, I wrestled for about an hour with whether to adjust my route. I originally planned to branch off about halfway back on the Cherry Creek Trail, following a canal trail to the Sand Creek Trail most of the way home.
But Sand Creek is a dirt trail for most of its length. I really didn’t want to run into 8 miles of mud at mile 90 of my ride.
I guess it’s a testament to how difficult it is for me to be mentally flexible that it took me an hour to give myself permission to change the route. I was really hung up on the possibility that the length would come out to less than 100 miles.
Ultimately, reason prevailed, and I resolved to follow the Cherry Creek Trail all the way back to downtown Denver, where it meets the South Platte Trail, which I would take most of the way home, at Confluence Park.
Unfortunately, around the north end of the Cherry Creek dam, I forgot that I wasn’t following the route I’d plugged into Strava, and turned off of the Cherry Creek Trail to head toward Sand Creek. I ended up riding about 3 miles before I realized my error.
The upside was making certain that the trip tallied 100 miles. But, as I ran out of water about 16 miles away from home, I did think about that extra mileage quite a bit.
The last leg of the trip was pretty much a gut check. I steeled my reserve and kept my legs moving. I was thinking about chugging huge bottles of water.
I was very thankful to get back, happy that I had set out and accomplished a goal I’d had for a long time. I have been really tired and wiped out for a couple days since the ride. But I feel good that my strength and ability should be increased a bit.
I have so many more rides that I’m eager to do. I am looking forward to getting out there! And to sharing the experience!