Delta County is rapidly becoming one of Colorado’s hot spots for road biking with hundreds of miles of rural roads on upland mesas and along river valleys surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery. Delta offers plenty of varied terrain from flat country lanes to epic climbs up the 10,000-foot Grand Mesa, the biggest flat-topped mountain in the world.

The county has designated 24 road rides that range from 11.5 to 50 miles in length, traversing agricultural country, passing fruit orchards, cattle ranches, and vegetable farms. It’s easy to start from any major county town—Delta, Cedaredge, Hotchkiss, Orchard City, Paonia, or Crawford—and hit the asphalt. At the end of your ride, park your bicycle and celebrate your Delta County road miles with dinner and drinks at a local restaurant or brewpub.

While most of the rides are on country backroads with sparse traffic, some follow state highways. Wear a helmet, pedal with caution, and remember that Colorado law requires motorists to pass bicyclists with a three-foot clearance.

Where To Ride

Delta: Pea Green Loop

The Pea Green Loop makes an easy 17-mile circuit through bucolic farmland south of Delta. The lightly trafficked route, with 390 feet of climbing, begins at the Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta’s Confluence Park, and then works through town to 1600 Road. The ride edges along the Uncompahgre River before jogging west on Banner Road to Pea Green Corner, a country crossroads on California Mesa. Fields filled with pinto beans, onions, and the famous “Olathe Sweet” sweet corn surround the historic Pea Green Store. The now-closed store once sold more quarts of beer to quench thirsty farm workers than any other Colorado store! Finish the loop by riding north on Highway 348 and dropping down into Delta. After a leisurely ride, stop by Needle Rock Brewing Company, Daveto’s, or Fiesta Vallarta for a late lunch.

Cedaredge: Grand Mesa Hill Climb

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Moving forward

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The Grand Mesa Hill Climb is the Delta County toughie, climbing 16.25 miles from Cedaredge to the turn-around at the summit. Gaining 4,124 feet, the out-and-back, 32.5-mile Grand Mesa ride terrorizes the legs with its relentless uphill grade, but the rewards are a fast cruise back down and breathtaking mountain views. The not-to-be-missed ride, one of Colorado’s best climbs, begins at the Apple Shed in Cedaredge on Highway 65, the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. The two-lane tarmac immediately starts to climb, passing farms and orchards, before entering a pygmy forest of juniper and scrub oak. Below the Mesa rim, groves of quaking aspens line the route, lending spectacular color displays in late September. The route ends at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center by Island Lake. After catching your breath, enjoy the ride back to Cedaredge—it’s all downhill. Park your bike in town and head to Lost Mesa Grill for fresh fish tacos, 4B’s Brewery, a family-owned brewpub with craft beer and an old-fashioned soda fountain, or Creekside Café for lunch and a tasty dessert.

Hotchkiss: Around the Block Ride

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😍

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Hotchkiss, sitting on a bench above the North Fork of the Gunnison River, is the starting point for the 32-mile Around the Block ride. The pleasant route, with 1,895 feet of elevation gain, makes a big loop across Rogers Mesa, passing fertile fields of vegetables, apple and peach orchards, and two wineries—Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyards and Mesa Winds Farm and Winery. It’s the perfect time to take a refreshing stop at the tasting rooms for a glass of organic wine! Mesa Winds Farm also sells fruit in the fall, so bring a bike basket. The ride begins at City Market in Hotchkiss at the junction of Highways 133 and 92, and then meanders west and north on country lanes before returning to Hotchkiss. For a longer ride, do the Heaven and Hell loop. At ride’s end, hit up for Delicious Orchards Café or 133 BRGR for local cuisine or PJ’s Neighborhood Pub for drinks and a menu full of creative options as well as familiar bar staples done well.

Paonia/Crawford: Needle Rock Loop

The Needle Rock Loop is a 32-mile, lollipop-shaped ride that runs along the base of the towering West Elk Range, including 11,396-foot Mount Lamborn, a Delta County highpoint. The route, starting at the Paonia Town Hall, climbs south onto sloping mesas divided into farms, ranches, and orchards and then crosses shale badlands studded with sagebrush. Past the lonely junction of Crawford and Cottonwood Creek Roads, the route keeps right to picturesque Crawford. If you’re hankering for lunch, stop at Diamond Joe Café or Old Mad Dog Café, originally built by rocker Joe Cocker. A few miles east of Crawford, the ride jogs past vertical Needle Rock, a local landmark that towers 800 feet above the road. The rock formation is the remains of an ancient volcano. Finish the ride by turning back north and descending 1,100 feet back to Paonia and a platter of drink and dining options, including the Living Farm Café and the Paonia United Brewing Co. (PUB), which features locally brewed craft beers.

Crawford: Black Canyon National Park Loop

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The Black Canyon of the Gunnison lit by moonlight – one of the most insane places I’ve ever been. After driving for an hour or so on a flat & boring gravel road, having not seen anyone, we finally arrived at the North Rim Campground. After setting up camp, I decided to go for a walk to see if I find anything cool, because at this point I was irritated there were no signs whatsoever of any canyon. After walking for maybe a minute (it was so short) I stumbled across the most breathtaking, sheer, and deep canyon I have ever seen. The photo you see here, lit by moonlight, is what I saw (though it's almost impossible to get and idea of scale by this photo). For over an hour, I just sat on the edge, in the bright moonlight, taking it all in. The sound of the river thundering over 2000 feet blow is indescribable. The Gunnison River descends here at 240 feet per mile! For comparison the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon drops drops at an average of 7.5 feet per mile. I watched across the canyon, on the opposite wall, as two climbers worked their way up by headlamp (you can actually see their light in the middle of this photo). Overall 10/10 experience.

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The 28-mile loop ride to the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of Delta County’s most spectacular and unforgettable bike trips. The two-wheel tour offers scenic views of the West Elk Range, passes placid Crawford State Park, runs across hills and pastures dotted with grazing cattle on Fruitland Mesa, and finally drops down Grizzly Gulch to the abrupt canyon rim. The gorge, carved by the rushing Gunnison River, is one of Colorado’s iconic natural wonders. While the North Rim ranger station is the turn-around point, stop in and learn about the canyon and then ride over to North Chasm View and take a short hike out to the airy overlook above sheer cliffs. For extra credit, ride the five-mile dirt North Rim Road and stop at its six viewpoints. The tour, with 2,082 feet of elevation gain, is mostly moderate terrain with no steep climbs. The last six miles, however, are gravel, so ride a thicker-tired bike if you have one. Back in Crawford, celebrate your successful ride with dinner at Diamond Joe Café or Old Mad Dog Café.

Road Biking Resources

Delta County has plenty of bike shops (some offering rentals), bicycling groups and organizations, and bike guides to get you out on the open roads. In Paonia, stop by SK Bikes for repair service, tune ups, and local beta or Cirque Cyclery for rentals and bike tours. For bicycling info, check out Cycling Western Colorado for resources, guides, conditions, bike shops, and bicycling events.

Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated Media in partnership with Delta County Colorado.

Featured image provided by Jim Good

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