Kay is a Colorado cyclist and lives in Boulder. She likes a good adventure and maybe goes a little too far sometimes...

 

Sometimes I like to go old school and drive Highway 6 through Clear Creek Canyon on my way up to the high country to go skiing. Last winter as I was winding my way up the canyon, I spotted a new bike trail meandering along the canyon walls! I put it on my radar to check it out once the snow melted.

Long  before Interstate 70 was built in the 1960’s, Highway 6 was the original road west. In the 1930’s the road was also known as the Roosevelt Highway and was the longest transcontinental highway in the United States running from Provincetown, Massachusetts to Long Beach, California. However, before there was a highway, there was a railroad…

When gold was discovered in Colorado in the late 1850s, the mining boom set off a chain reaction – thousands thronged to the mountains looking for an elusive bounty, towns popped up almost overnight to supply goods and services, and transportation to bring the gold down from the mountains became the primary motivator for building a railroad. The Colorado Central Railroad, located in Golden at the base of the foothills, built a narrow gauge railroad up Clear Creek Canyon to the mining towns of Blackhawk and Central City on North Clear Creek and Idaho Springs, Silver Plume, and Georgetown on South Clear Creek.

As the Territory of Colorado vied for statehood another battle was being waged on the tracks. Denver and Golden were pitted against each other and racing the clock to see which would become the first to connect a rail line and offer transcontinental service. Denver and the Union Pacific would eventually triumph to become the commerce center of the Colorado Rockies. So much golden treasure was brought down from the mountains that in 1862 the U.S. Congress established the Denver Mint!

The gold rush didn’t last long and by 1941 most the Colorado Central Railroad routes were abandoned creating the opportunity to use the old railroad bed as the foundation for a new source of transportation, the automobile. Much of Highway 6 was built over the the railroad grade and six tunnels were bored through sections of the canyon to accommodate the highway.

Tunnel 5 on Highway 6.

When Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was elected to his second term in 2015, he highlighted the Colorado The Beautiful Initiative in his State of the State address. The Peaks To Plains Trail or P2P is part of that plan and is intended to connect the Front Range with the High Country from the confluence of Clear Creek and South Platte Creek north of downtown Denver all the way westward to the Continental Divide at the Eisenhower Tunnel and Loveland Pass.

When finished, the trail will cover 65 miles and gain 5,600 vertical feet. The project was made possible by a $4.6 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, funded by the Colorado Lottery, which was awarded in 2012 as part of the River Corridors Initiative and by funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Next up for construction is the 8.5 mile connector section from the Big Easy Trailhead east to Golden!

Three naturally weathering steel bridges span Clear Creek and pay homage to Colorado’s mining and railroad history.

The Peak To Plains Trail follows the canyon along Clear Creek and Highway 6 but is entirely separated from the highway! The first completed section of the trail, part of a multi-year buildout, is four miles long and packs in a lot! Activities along the this ribbon of concrete include hiking, biking, fishing, climbing, rafting, hunting (permit required), and PROSPECTING! (Apparently there’s still some gold in them thar hills!)

Fly fishing class underway.
The trail is completely separated from the highway.
Thoughtfully placed stone steps at access points make the hike down to the creek easy peasy.
This creek access was too good to pass up!

Thanks to its rugged landscape, Clear Creek Canyon remains free of commercial development and is the premier wilderness canyon of the Front Range. The next time you’re heading west, take the the old highway up the twisting, turning road along the tumbling creek, look up at soaring canyon walls, and imagine those who travelled this route before you. The next time I travel up Clear Creek Canyon I might just pack a picnic and make a day of it!