Littleton – Highlands Ranch Loop

Another long ride similar to the Southeast Ride, this one cuts through a state park with a reservoir, features scenic trails and mountain views, and for better or worse takes on some big hills. A couple of differences include a much more rural setting, some on-road stretches along high-speed Santa Fe, sections of gravel trail, and a railroad crossing.

The ride starts at the Breckenridge Brewery Farmhouse, 20170301_174707_hdr1.jpgwhere you can get primed for the long ride with both tasty homestyle food and beer served either in the farmhouse building, on one of its screened patios, or in the expansive beer garden. The Farmhouse is extremely busy but if you start early parking shouldn’t be an issue and the service is always efficient. The beer selection can be hit or miss, so maybe just have one before grabbing your bike, riding out the main entrance, and heading left to launch southbound on the South Platte River Trail (Mary Carter Greenway on some signs).

The ride down the Platte River Trail offers beautiful river and mountain views and makes you feel like you are far from the city. Follow the signs for Chatfield State Park, which will take you under C470 and on a long westward trek including a large hill. After heading down the back of the hill, the route makes a u-turn to head up another hill to the top of the dam where it goes through the overlook (do NOT follow the road down the hill – we made that mistake and added yet another hill to the ride) and across the crest of the dam, eventually turning into gravel. After more pretty views, and what seems like forever, the trail makes a sharp left across railroad tracks. Crossing the tracks takes you to the Highline Canal Trail (almost there!). Head left to follow the trail north to Pioneer Sand and Gravel, exit to the right, and follow the industrial park road (Dumont) til it curves left and deposits you at Living the Dream Brewing Company’s doorstep. This is definitely the longest and most complicated part of this ride and you will need a map app.

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Finally having arrived at Living the Dream, grab a beer from their extensive and diverse list before taking a seat in the taproom, on the small front patio, or the large back patio with views. If the ride left you hungry, Living the Dream usually has a food truck too. As far as the beers go, Living the Dream’s large selection means you can always find something light and refreshing to quench a hot summer’s day thirst, or a little more substantial if you ride in cooler seasons.

Refreshed by a few beers, making the ride to 20170729_142934_hdr.jpgGrist Brewing Company is a breeze. Turn left from Living the Dream’s entrance, when the street ends turn right onto Brandon and take that to Santa Fe. Crossing the highway can be tricky since traffic is going at highway speeds, but once across you will enter a park on a gravel trail. Take the first left, go up the hill, and continue straight on the paved road to be deposited on Grist’s doorstep.

Grist’s taproom and patio are a little smaller than Living the Dream but the brewery is also generally less crowded so it offers a great place to unwind late in the ride. The layout is rather science-geek industrial, which supports Grist’s science-based beer philosophy. The beers themselves tend toward carefully-crafted standard styles with slight modifications or additions of extra ingredients and offering pretty much something for every taste.

Finally, a downhill and flat ride back to Breckenridge! First head west to Santa Fe, then turn right and head north about a mile to the C470 interchange. Santa Fe has a reasonable shoulder but you do need to ride beside whizzing cars and trucks. At the C470 interchange follow the signs to cross Santa Fe and pick up the Platte River Trail (aka Mary Carter Greenway) and retrace the earlier route north to Breckenridge. If the short Santa Fe ride sounds uncomfortable, it’s possible to reverse course through Chatfield State Park but that will add lots of miles and a hill or two.

Overall this ride offers a good workout, some very pretty views, and of course lots of tasty beer options. However as a caution, riders should come prepared with extra equipment for flats and protection from Colorado’s fickle weather, as several portions are exposed and far from assistance or cover.

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