The Copper Triangle is a very popular route for road bikers in this area. Since we were camping in the vicinity and we hadn’t biked Vail Pass in awhile, we decided to make our own variation with a gravel section of course! It includes Shrine Pass (gravel), Battle Mountain (road) and Vail Pass (paved trail).
From where we started, the first 7 miles are gravel and it’s all downhill. During this descent you get spectacular views of the Mt. Holy Cross (a 14er), you bike alongside Turkey Creek river, and you’ll see plenty of wild flowers during the summer months.
The towns of Red Cliff and Minturn are cute and not crowded. They are also great places to stop and get food and water, and you can easily find bathrooms if needed too.
Vail pass is a lovely and sometimes quite steep paved bike trail in which motor vehicles are not allowed. When you are not right along I-70 there are beautiful views of meadows, flowers and water.
Our roots come from road biking and it was fun to do these classic road bike climbs from the Copper Triangle route and be able to loop them with gravel.
One of the reasons we love gravel biking is that is gets you further away from cars. On this route, you are with cars and traffic about a 1/3 of the time.
Highway 24 between Red Cliff and Vail is a section of road that has a minimal shoulder. Speed limit is 40 MPH, but cars seemed aware and respectful of passing bikers.
Going though Vail includes a few busy round-abouts and you need to be especially careful and alert going though these areas.
Do this ride if you want to do part of a classic local road route, The Copper Triangle, (which has plenty of elevation gain!), but you also want a little gravel adventure thrown in there too.
We really recommend the loop route in the direction in which we did it. You get to descend the difficult gravel section and go up the iconic Vail pass. (If you have a desire to go up Shrine Pass in the opposite direction, check out this route).
We gave this route four mountains only for elevation gain since there is minimal technical terrain on Shrine Pass.
If you haven’t done Vail Pass before, be prepared for a few short sections of double digit grades and expect to see a decent amount of biker traffic.
This route is definitely a summer ride as Shrine and Vail pass may have snow until late spring/early summer.
Thunderstorms tend to roll in quickly in the afternoons at this elevation. Watch the weather and plan to start your ride early enough to be able to finish by 2:00.
We were camping along Shrine Pass and started right from our camp site, but a logical place to start this ride would be the parking lot/rest stop at the top of Vail Pass and I-70 instead.
Laura Karpinski and Rose Barcklow are the creators of Gravel Bike Adventures. Click on the About page to learn more about them.