AURORA | One of the biggest challenges for new cyclists looking to explore Aurora’s network of bike trails comes in breaking habits formed behind the wheel of a car.
According to Tom Tobiassen, the founder and leader of Bicycle Aurora, even the most enthusiastic of riders tend to cling to navigation skills formed in an automobile. Tobiassen, who currently represents the city on the Regional Transportation District board of directors, started Bicycle Aurora in 1998 as an advocacy group to help expand resources for cyclists in the city.
Many of the newer riders who take part in the club’s bimonthly rides around Aurora and beyond think in terms of major roads, he said, planning routes along arterials with a speed limit that’s 40 miles per hour or faster.
“Finding your way around town on the bike routes, the trails, is really the key to making the bike a successful tool,” Tobiassen said. “They often only know how to get around town the way they drive their car … (and) riding your bicycle on an arterial street is not really a good idea.”
There are plenty of safer and more scenic options for riders looking to get around the city, from the Highline Canal trail to the network of paths at the Cherry Creek State Park. From stretches of bike paths that follow spillways and bustling roads to more isolated rides that run along the Sand Creek Trail and the Aurora Reservoir, cyclists have a wealth of options that are off the beaten path.
Here are some of the top options from some of the city’s most avid riders:
Cherry Creek State Park
The land surrounding the 880-acre reservoir that stretches across Aurora and into Greenwood Village is crisscrossed by trails for every type of biker, from the street cyclist to those whose trips go off-road.
“For road riders — skinny tires and dropped bars — those guys generally are going to head for Cherry Creek Reservoir,” said Joe Sejut, store manager at the Treads Bicycle Outfitters store on Iliff Avenue and Buckley Road in Aurora. “They’re going to ride on the road, doing laps.”
That’s not to say the curvy stretches of off-road trails doesn’t draw riders who aren’t afraid of a few bumps. Those routes can be the ideal way to check out the park’s diverse wildlife, Sejut said, especially in the waning months of summer. Turkeys, deer, pheasants and snakes are common sights in the park at different times of the year.
“There are excellent bike paths. It’s quiet and there’s lots of wildlife if you go early or late,” Sejut said. “You see everything … I’ve seen rattlesnakes on the spillway trail at Cherry Creek. A couple of years ago they’d be out there quite regularly sunning themselves.”
Luckily, a good bike can lend for a quick getaway.
Highline Canal/Tollgate Trail
The Aurora portion of the approximately 60 miles of the Highline Canal trail includes stretches along Springhill Golf Course to the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. Those 13.7 miles stand as one of the city’s oldest and most reliable bike rides, a trail that includes both riparian wildlife and suburban neighborhoods.
“The Highline Canal is the old standard. It’s not good for getting anywhere because it loops back and forth on itself so many times, but the scenery is excellent,” Sejut said. “That’s one of the oldest trails in the city. You’re following an old irrigation canal that’s not used anymore … In some parts, you’re going through people’s backyards, and in other places it opens up on open space and there’s lots of wildlife.”
While the Highline trail doesn’t lead to many direct destinations, Tobiassen says it’s an important leg in an ambitious, 22-mile loop around Aurora, a ride that begins at Cherry Creek, intersects with the Highline Canal and joins up with the Tollgate Creek trail, which stretches 6.2 miles through central Aurora.
“I get on the Cherry Creek trail and head west to intersect with the Highline Canal trail. That intersection is in between Iliff and Florida. You’ll never know you’re on a street,” Tobiassen said. “You come back along the Highline, past Fairmount Cemetery. Then you cross back into Aurora, behind the Aurora Municipal Center to join up with the Tollgate Creek trail.
“It’s a good ride,” he added.
The 7.9 miles of trails at the Aurora Reservoir accommodate every kind of bike and riding style. That includes paved and crusher fine trails, as well as portions on the north and northwest roads that are shared with automobiles.
All of those options make the stretch on the northeast stretches of the city a good option for novices and experts alike.
“That’s another beautiful ride, and it’s easy,” Tobiassen said. “That’s one of the best rides in Aurora.”
The beauty of the rides at the reservoir come in part from the mix of wildlife, recreation and scenic views of the eastern plains. Tall marshes, a wide range of waterfowl throughout the year and the presence of windsurfers and divers in the summer make for picturesque views for any cyclist.
Sand Creek Regional Greenway
The 14-mile greenway that connects Aurora, Denver and stretches of Commerce City takes cyclists along the Platte River, past open space stretches and reclaimed industrial areas.
Kicking off a ride at the trailheads in Aurora near the Star K Ranch or the Aurora Sports Park, a rider can take in a wealth of environments and landscapes. The Morrison Nature Center, the Bluff Lake Nature Center and the Fitzsimons Golf Course are all stops on the Sand Creek trail.
“It’s one of the prettiest rides around. It’s all natural. It’s along the creek, so it’s riparian. It’s kind of a wetlands ride. You’ve got a lot of lush growth and there are a lot of wildlife sights,” Tobiassen said, adding that there are beaver dams visible along the trail’s stretches near Bluff Lake. “It goes through Commerce City, where you go through some industrial areas, but they’ve done a lot of improvements along the trail. They’ve done a lot of work to repair the years of damage. Eventually, it ends up at the Platte River, where you can continue on, either north or south.”
Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-449-9707