If you start from the parking lot, the first 15 miles are basically all downhill on some pretty fast dirt packed roads.
The entire route is 100% gravel/dirt and the surface quality was incredible! Sure, there are some potholes to dodge here and there, (and they can be hard to see when the shadows are across the road) but overall, all 40+ miles of roads were mostly washboard and sand free, packed and a little tacky from recent rain.
There is a nice mix of scenery throughout, starting with Chambers Lake, views of Cameron Peak, the sparkling Laramie River, Lodgepole pine forest, open fields dotted with cows, horses and pronghorn, and some sweeping views on wide open roads.
The loop portion of the lollipop route was particularly delightful. The first 2.5 miles are a pretty easy low grade climb, and then it is followed by 7.5 miles of coasting and fast pedaling downhill.
The first (and last) 3-4 miles of this route is through a burned area from the Cameron Peak Fire, which started in October 2020 from this exact area, and after 62 days of burning, became the largest recorded wildfire in Colorado's history. Despite the enormity of the fire, the portion you will see is very small. (You will certainly notice the dead and burn trees around the lake, which is sad and eerie, but once you get a few miles beyond the lake, the forest is lush and healthy, and scenery is beautiful.)
We did this in the later morning hours on a Sunday, and so we did see a fair number of trucks and campers on the road who were probably leaving their camp sites for the weekend and heading home. While a large majority of the drivers waved, slowed down and passed with lots of space, we did have a couple that sped by inappropriately. We imagine traffic is lighter on weekdays or even Saturdays after campers have already arrived.
If the first 15 miles are downhill on a lollipop route, it means the last 15 are uphill. Even though we were mentally prepared, having your last miles on a 45 mile ride be the toughest can be challenging! Couple that with a headwind, and those last few miles up to the parking lot felt like a slog.
Do this ride if you are are looking for a non-technical 100% gravel route with minimal elevation gain while still getting the full Colorado experience. It would be a perfect ride for a beginner/intermediate rider who has been doing 25-30 mile rides and is looking to up their adventure by riding in a more remote area and increase their distance without a lot of other technical challenges.
When we rode this, we parked at an undesignated parking/pull off area right at the junction of the Poudre Canyon Hwy and Hohnholz Lakes Rd (103), however, the GPX file has you starting about 1.5 miles up the road where there is designated public parking and a vault toilet. (The nice thing about starting at the intersection is it gives you a little warm up before a long downhill, but it does add another 3 miles to the ride.)
The route takes you past camping areas and trailheads which have vault toilets, so you have bathroom access at these points:
Tunnel Campground @ mile 4.9 and again at mile 39.5
West Branch Trailhead @ mile 5.3 and 39.1
Rawah Trailhead @ mile 10.1 and 34.3
Besides parking and bathrooms, there are no places to stop and refuel, so bring all of your water and supplies with you. The start is rather remote, and so the closest place we found was either the town of Rustic or Walden depending on which direction you are driving in from. There was also a Trading Post between Rustic and 103, but you'd want to check on the hours they are open.
We did not have cell phone reception for any of this ride (or most of the canyon drive getting there either). Remember to pre-load your route on your bike computer and have a plan for if you run into trouble. (We recommend carrying a satellite device, like the Garmin inReach Mini on rides like this one.)
Keep in mind that although this route has less elevation gain than a lot of typical Colorado Mountain routes, it still starts at 9,157 feet above sea level. If your traveling from out of town, don't underestimate the effect of exercising at elevation!
This could be a great bikepacking route by continuing up to Hohnholz Lakes or going over Deadman Pass road to Red Feather Lakes, just to name a few options.
This route is only able to be ridden seasonally as Hohnholz Lakes Rd (103) is closed from December-June. The fall is ideal as cooler temps make riding the miles easier (and Fall colors are a bonus)!
Laura Karpinski and Rose Barcklow are the creators of Gravel Bike Adventures. Click on the About page to learn more about them.