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Autumn Splendor

Want to wrap up your road bike season with one last big blowout ride? Head to the West Elk Loop.

In September in Colorado, everything—the colors, the weather, the produce—is peaking. But here may be no better place to enjoy that golden bounty than the West Elk Loop, one of the state’s 26 Scenic and Historic Byways. Sure, you could drive the 205-mile route with stops along the way, but if you’ve got a bike, a credit card and a sense of adventure, you’re in for some serious sensory overload.

Here’s how it rolls: Get an early start in Crested Butte to maximize the fleeting, warm daylight hours. Enjoy the fast 30 mile spin to Gunnison, which is your last chance for bike supplies until Paonia. Next Highway 50 takes you from Gunny along the northern flank of Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado. Be sure to stop in at the Sapinero Village Store (don’t blink or you’ll miss it) for a quick history lesson on the Utes and the drowned town of Sapinero. Your next turn is Highway 92, which snakes north between the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (a great viewpoint awaits) and the West Elk Mountains. Hunker down for the night in Crawford, where you can rest your head at the Hitching Post Feed Store and Motel. In the morning, stop for coffee with Joe Cocker’s ghost at the Mad Dog Cafe, and then start the trek towards peaches and cider in Paonia. Hop on Highway 133 until the turnoff for Kebler Pass. Climb into North America’s largest aspen grove, and enjoy a glorious golden descent back into Crested Butte.

—Betsy Welch

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