FATMAP difficulty grade
From Buena Vista, Colorado, this gem is a 41-mile beauty of a ride with a little bit of everything: amazing views, paved roads for the first 15 miles, dirt for the next 5, climbs (both short steep and long sustained), and fast, fun descents.
What's not to like? Actually, when the county has treated the dirt road for dust control, the surface is so smooth and hard that the entire ride could be done on a road bike.
In spring, however, when the road is being graded after the winter snows, a gravel bike is the better bet.
Whichever bike you choose, this 41-miler is a worthy endeavor! The route begins at 7,965 feet at the whitewater park in Buena Vista.
Just 1.5 miles up CR306, the route travels south on the gorgeous, lightly-trafficked Rodeo Road.
Rodeo Road ascends gradually for 6.5 miles as the stately 14,197' Mt.
Princeton dominates the views to the west.
The reward for the climb arrives abruptly as Rodeo Road drops dramatically via several switchbacks that make for a screaming 1.5-mile adrenaline rush, ending suddenly at a stop sign.
Turn right to begin the 12-mile and 1,500-foot climb to the ghost town of St.
Elmo. The next 12 miles takes riders through breathtaking scenery that passes a wildlife viewing area, fishing access, forest service campgrounds and alongside the gorgeous Cascade Creek.
Be warned that the stiffest pitch of the route will require good gearing, strong legs, and good lungs! As a generous reward for the effort, there is a full-on view of Cascade Falls just before finishing the pitch.
Once past the falls, the road's grade mellows significantly. At 15 miles in, the pavement ends and is dirt the remaining 5 miles to St.
At its best, the dirt is concrete-like, feeling just like pavement.
Be aware that those 5 miles could be freshly graded and somewhat soft, increasing the effort required accordingly.
Whether hard or soft, the scenery is equally impressive as the road ascends through massive mountains. Just when it seems as if St.
Elmo will never appear...
there it is, 20 miles from the start.
As a “ghost town,” St.
Elmo is a bit unique: it is a mixed bag of historic, preserved buildings and still-inhabited homes. “St.
Elmo, one of the most well preserved ghost towns in Colorado, was founded in 1880," [according to MtPrinceton.com](https://mtprinceton.com/colorado/st-elmo/).
"Built around mining, the town hit its prime in 1890.
With over 150 mine claims, a telegraph office, general store, five hotels, dance halls, a newspaper office and a school house, the population peaked at about 2,000 people.” One of the occupied buildings is the seasonally-operated St.
Elmo General Store, where a weary biker can purchase a cool drink or even an ice cream treat.
After enjoying a snack, take the time to meander through St.
Elmo, taking in some of the history of the destination before starting back down. The return trip is all downhill except for the 1.5-mile climb back up Rodeo Road from Mt.
Princeton Hot Springs.