Summit County Rec Paths – Upper Blue and Dillon Reservoir Loop

  • 31.59 Distance
  • 7 Difficulty (1-10)
  • 1945 Total Ascent
  • 9550 High Point

As some of the first trails to open in summit county during the spring thaw and mud seasons, the rec paths offer a safe and challenging ramp-up to cycling fitness for those who have the fortune of riding them.  With over 45 miles of dedicated bike path, you could plan routes extending well over 50 miles in a single day without the dangers of narrow roads and car traffic.  I like the Dillon Reservoir loop in the early season, and Vail Pass as the snow clears in mid to late May.  You can ride the Dillon Reservoir Rec Path by itself at several different free parking areas along the path, or you could extend the route from Breckenridge by use of the Upper Blue River Rec path.

I have chosen this route for people who live, or visit, the town of Breckenridge and are looking for a route from town. The Gondola offers a good starting point for the rec path because of its proximity to local rental shops and hotels. If you are driving into the area and are looking to ride for the day, you could choose either the paid parking around town, including the north and south gondola parking lots or free parking at the Rec Center or along Valley Brook Road next to the soccer field. These parking locations will allow you access to some of the most scenic views along the Upper Blue Rec Path as it winds its way north along the Blue River.

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Gondola Parking Lot in Breckenridge –

Starting at the North Gondola Parking lot, or Breckenridge Station, you will work your way north at a leisurely pace through two underpasses straight away.  The first underpass goes under North French Street and has good visibility, but you still do not want to carry too much speed or cut corners.  After climbing out of the underpass, you will ride by the City Market shopping center to your left.  The next underpass needs to be treated with care as the Upper Blue Racpath goes under North Park Avenue, and the visibility is quite poor.  Expect to meet other trail users down below as you ride next to the Blue River.  Once you climb out of this underpass, the trail opens and begins to get scenic as it passes the Summit County Justice Center to the left.

From this point on, the views along the rec path are exceptional, and you will get a good idea of how this rec path brings the local community together.  Long Boarders, walkers, runners, roller skaters, roller skiers, mountain bikers, road bikers, and a lot of other recreationists can be using this path at any given time.  They can also be connected to their music devices and could be unaware of your approach from behind.  The best etiquette is to slow your approach and pass at a safe distance when there is no oncoming traffic on the path.  For the most part, everyone maintains their line and checks their surroundings before they cut across the trail or turn around.  Take extra precautions when passing kids and groups; they are often spread out along the path or very unpredictable.  As a cyclist, it is your responsibility to assess the people you approach to determine if it is safe to pass.  If you are unable to make that determination, you need to slow down and get their attention and only pass when it is safe to do so.

Other Parking Areas with Distance and Elevation updates

Upper Blue And Dillon Reservoir Rec Paths

North Valley Brook Road – Dirt Parking on the side of the road
Distance: 30.6 miles – Total Ascent 1927 feet – High Point 9501 feet

Coyne Valley Road – Dirt Parking on the side of the road
Distance: 29.3 miles – Total Ascent 1897 feet – High Point 9501 feet

Gold Hill Parking Lot – Dirt Parking at Gold Hill Trail Head
Distance: 27.5 miles – Total Ascent 1879 feet – High Point 9501 feet

Dillon Reservoir Rec Path Only

Note:  Wherever you choose to park along the Dillon Reservoir Rec Path, the total distance around the lake is 18.3 miles with 1560 feet of climbing.  The high point is Sapphire Point at 9501 Feet.

New Dickey Trailhead – Located in the Frisco Adventure Park on the corner of Recreation Way and Peninsula Road.
Frisco Marina – Located in Frisco off Summit Boulevard and East Main Street
Dillon Dam Road – Located in Frisco off Summit Boulevard at the stoplight right before I-70
Dillon Marina Park – Located on Lodgepole Street and Lake Dillon Drive in Dillon
Swan Mountain Road Parking – Located a quarter mile down Swan Mountain road to the right

Valley Brook Road

Valley Brook Road to the north of the pond and the soccer field is your first road crossing.  This road has light traffic, so be prepared to stop if you need to.  This road crossing is an alternative place to park in the dirt lot next to the soccer field if there is room.  You can also drive down to Airport Road and take a left.  The immediate left after turning on Airport Road will take you to more parking at the Rec Center.  From this point, the Blue River Rec Path showcases its beauty as it crosses the blue river and meanders along its banks after a short climb and descent towards Colorado Mountain College and Coyne Valley Road.

Coyne Valley Road

Coyne Valley Road also offers a dirt lot next to the trail to park.  Heading north of Coyne Valley Road, the path changes views and works its way from the blue river.  The route cuts through dredge tailings left over from the dredging boom in the early 1900s.  These dredge tailings you see are most likely from the Tonapah Dredge #1, later named the Tiger Dredge, which operated off and on until 1942.  The town of Breckenridge and the surrounding communities have worked hard to preserve this area’s mining history, as can be seen along this trail and a host of other trails in the area.  After passing the roundabout of Fairview Boulevard and the Tiger Road crossing, you will make your way past one of the many landmarks of the area and cross back over the Blue River en route to Gold Hill.

Gold Hill Trail Head

The Gold Hill parking lot is free and another great place to start this route if distance is a concern.  This will cut 8 miles off your out and back route.

From Gold Hill down to Summit High School, you will notice the path is a bit flatter, and you will have to work a little more.  This section of the pathway is called farmers corner and is lifted above Highway 9 as it makes the corner.  You will be able to carry your speed from here through the length of the pasture to your right into the winding turns that lead you to a residential area right before Summit high School.

After crossing the road, you will ride the sidewalk for a few hundred feet before turning a sharp left and crossing Alpensee Drive.  This meadow has excellent colors in the summer and a creek that runs on the side of the path.  On the north side of the high school, the trail intersects with the old section of trail that used to be the Swan Mountain Rec Path.  With the reroute of Highway 9, the path has adjusted to remove the street crossing of Swan Mountain Road and Highway 9.

For the Strava crowd out there:  The Dillon Reservoir Rec Path segment which starts at this intersection and finishes 20 to 30 feet before the frontage road near the trail crossing sign on the descent of Swan Mountain Road.  There are 14 timed segments on the CW loop of the Dillon Reservoir Rec Path.  There are also 17 timed segments if you choose to ride the route up Swan Mountain Road on the CCW loop.   There is a bike lane for uphill bike traffic on this road, and it’s missing from the downhill side as riders completing this loop will be riding with traffic on the road.

Crossing under Highway 9 brings you to the new section of the rec path that was created during the reroute of Highway 9.  The new section of Rec Path from Swan Mountain Road intersects here.  Riding straight towards Frisco follows the old highway 9 route and has a pullout where you can learn more about the mining history in the area to the left.  Take a break here as you will be climbing to the top of the Frisco Peninsula after rounding the bend.  As you reach Highway 9 again, you will want to turn right to continue on the Dillon Reservoir Rec Path.  Following the path straight turns into the Ten Mile Rec Path that will take you to the southwest side of Frisco and up to Vail Pass through Copper Mountain.  Turning right will take you up to the trail access parking lot for the Frisco Peninsula.

The Frisco Peninsula

The Dickey Day Use Area has been moved here and offers free parking and an excellent place to hike or mountain bike and enjoy some of Frisco’s dirt trails.  Further down the path and you will see the Frisco Bike Park, which offers a progression to the sport in the form of jump and pump tracks.

Passing the Frisco Adventure Park, you will work your way through the ups and downs and small hills that will be a regular feature of the bike path until you reach the Swan Mountain climb on the other side.  You have one residential crossing just east of the stoplight at Peak One Blvd.  Check for residential traffic in either way and continue on your way to the Frisco Bay Marina. You will cross over another wooden bridge of many you will see on the path and navigate two sharp turns before catching sight of the marina.

The Frisco Marina

The Marina is on the east end of Main Street in Frisco and offers a broad range of water rentals for when you are not riding or hiking the trails in the area.  You can find parking here if you plan to walk up Main Street after your ride around the lake.  Canoes, Kayaks, paddleboards, boats, and fishing rentals, as well as tours, lessons, and food, can all be found here.  Indeed, If you can make it through the Marina without stopping, the trail winds back up to Hwy 9 for the last time.  You will ride parallel to it for a few hundred feet until the path takes a sharp right up a hill and zaps your legs and makes you grab gears until you get to the top.

This short hilltop will give you great views of the Frisco Marina, and you will ride along the bay until you pass Summit Middle School and Snowy Peaks High School to the left.  Once you leave the schools, the path moves away from Frisco and into the vast expanse of the shoreline open space.  This section of the Frisco Open space will reward you with beauty and views and remind you of why you chose this path in the first place.  This 3-mile picturesque section to the Dillon Dam is one of the best sections of rec path in Summit County, coming a close second to the route from Copper Mountain to Vail Pass.

In no time, you will cross another bridge where the trail turns left and reaches an intersection.  Turn right and ride over another longer bridge.  After this long bridge, turn right and continue on the path through the wetlands and back into the trees.  The trail will curve to your left and eventually merge into the Dillon Dam road.  While the route follows the Dillon Dam Road, you will only ride alongside it here, and a mile before it crosses the Dillon Dam.

After a few hundred feet, the Rec Path breaks away into the trees again and rises and falls with the contours of the landscape.  For the first quarter-mile, you will want to proceed with caution as there are several parking lots in this area to the left of the trail that has visitors from the beach crossing on either side of the path.  The sight is limited in this area, but people are used to the traffic of the bike path.

Once you pass all the side trails leading down to the beach, the path turns exclusive once more and rewards you with short, punchy climbs, quick descents, and incredible views along the way.  At mile 12.6, you will come to the road crossing into Heaton Bay Campground.  Treat this crossing with care as it gets quite busy in the summer months.  Crossing the road and climbing just a little bit will reward you with two fun descents and one punchy climb.  Stay in your lane and expect to see trail users heading toward you on their side of the path.  At the bottom of the second hill, there is a sharp left-hand corner, which leads to an opening in the trees and a right-hander that, if done right, rewards you with significant momentum up the climb on the other side.  It does seem to catch oncoming traffic in a bit of a pickle at times.  You can carry a lot of speed through that corner while maintaining your line and could surprise a descender coming down the hill on the other side who believed the path was free from a viewpoint above and had decided to cut the corner.  Please, never cut corners on this rec path at any point.

We can’t all trust that the other trail users will not stay in their lanes, so it’s best to prepare to move to the right side as far as possible to avoid whoever cuts a corner.  I nearly got hit on the right-hander after the leading left-hand corner because I used the descent and momentum through the left-hander to prepare me for the climb after the right-hand corner.  There were loud ceramic breaks from me and skid marks from the guy who cut the corner, but neither of us collided.  I ended up with a few inches to spare from going off the path altogether.  I had already chosen my exit point.  It’s a good rule of thumb to ride this section of the path conservatively and defensively, ready to slow down at a moment’s notice.  There can be dog walkers and families using this trail, too, and they can be at any point along the path.

After that climb and a few more corners, you merge back onto the Dillon Dam road where the path is painted red and is quite large to accommodate 2-way bike traffic.  It is about a mile from here to the Dillon Dam.  Once you reach the Dam, you will have a chance at a .9-mile Strava segment across the length of the Dam to the other side.  I turned myself inside out on this segment once after a trip around the reservoir loop and got a PR with an average speed of 29.4 mph.  It is quite long so I usually average around 18 to 20 MPH.  The path is plenty wide for 2-way bike traffic and passing.

The Dillon Marina

The Strava Segment ends at the intersection of the Silverthorne Bike Path and the rocks that signify the end of the dam pathway.  The next section of the bike path to the Dillon Marina goes through Dillon Marina Park.  There is a designated walking path to the right, and the rec path stays to the left.  This is also a great place for parking when riding the Dillon Reservoir Recpath.  The descent down and around the Dillon Amphitheater will give you momentum for the climb up to Marina Drive.  Be prepared to slow down and respect other rec path users around the blind corner.  There will be plenty of time to slow down and pass safely.

There is a bench at the east side of the Marina Parking lot along the path with a plaque of the mountains you see in the Ten Mile Range on the other side of the lake.  Stop here if you need the rest.  From here, you will climb just a bit more before you descend into a residential area.  At the bottom of the descent, the path continues across the road.  I prefer to stay right and stay on the right side of Gold Run Circle for the duration of the short climb up to Tenderfoot Street.  Turn right on Tenderfoot Street and continue to the parking lot on your right where you will see Big Baldy Statue.  This small parking area is another excellent place to stop and take a photo or two if you are into that sort of thing.

The next mile and a quarter follow Dillon bay towards Keystone and will be the last section of the bike path near the reservoir.  It is open and has some flow as it follows the contours of the beach.  As you move away from the Dillon Reservoir, you will cross Roberts Tunnel Access road, a popular walking path, and access to the Dillon Nature Preserve.  Roberts Tunnel, started in 1956 and completed in 1962, is 23 miles long and 10 feet in diameter.  It diverts water from the Dillon Reservoir to Grant and is responsible for sustaining over 1.3 million people.  This access road marks the base of another climb that ends above the Dillon Nature Preserve Trailhead.

The next descent takes you down into Summit Cove and another bridge that crosses the Snake River Inlet.  After this bridge, you will see an intersection where the Dillon Reservoir Rec Path continues to the right. Remaining straight will take you up to Keystone.  After crossing Swan Mountain road, you will merge into Cove Blvd breaking away from the road again just before the Soda Creek Condominiums.  From here, the rec path follows the soda creek wetlands, and you will get a good glimpse of the Swan Mountain Climb you will soon be climbing.  Best not to dwell on that too soon.  Instead, look for birds and the beaver hut in the wetlands and enjoy the gentle ascent to the turn that merges you into Royal Coachman Blvd.

As the trail veers away from the boulevard, you will have a small descent to a bridge that marks the base of the swan mountain climb.  The first part of the climb is 1.5 miles long, with a max grade of 12.7%.  Most of this climb isn’t too steep and will take you about 10 to 20 minutes based on your fitness.  Three-quarters of the way up the climb, you will reach a natural shelf in the mountain and a bench to take a break.  Use it if you need to, but as a general rule of thumb, it is always better to rest at the top of a climb if you can make it.

At the top of the first part of the climb, you will look out over Dillon Reservoir again from high up on Swan mountain.  This view will give you an idea of how far you’ve come as you can see the Dillon Dam on the horizon.  You can also see the Swan Mountain road as it makes it’s way up to Sapphire Point.  Keep an eye on traffic as you will be crossing the road very shortly.

The crossing at the Swan Mountain road alerts drivers when a cyclist is on the path by the use of flashing lights on either side of the road.  You also have a stop sign once you reach the road.  Just today, it was a good thing I stopped at the stop sign because there was a vehicle that couldn’t be bothered enough to slow down even though I was within sight alongside the road.  As a cyclist, you must expect people not to pay attention on the road and be defensive always.  Stop, look both ways, and cross when it is safe to do so.  On the other side of the road, there is an even better viewpoint.  Stay for a while, and enjoy the sights.  You will have a short downhill and a long switchback climb up to Sapphire point.

The climb up to Sapphire Point from this overlook is three-quarters of a mile and climbs 174 feet.  It’s not a bad climb either, but towards the end, it has a max grade of 10.4%.  Most of it is okay in your lower gears, and you won’t feel it too much except for a few spots.  Sapphire point offers another vista point, but this time it’s towards the Ten Mile Range and the Breckenridge Ski Resort to the South.  From here, you have another quarter-mile of rec path before merging on the Swan Mountain road for your descent.  The only bike path on this part of the Swan Mountain Road is reserved for uphill bike traffic on the left side of the road as you are looking down.

Watch for car traffic before you merge onto the road and begin your descent. It’s best to let a group of cars go by and pull out behind them rather than try to beat them down the road.  There are a lot of things to consider when descending Swan Mountain road on a bike.  The first thing you might not think about is wind, and it’s direction.  If you have deep-dish carbon rims and an aero road bike like I do, the wind can come up and mess with you quite a bit, forcing you to drop your speed.  If you have cars behind you and you are unable to signal them to slow down that could cause problems.  Most vehicles that catch up to you on the descent will give you a lot of room and pay critical attention to your speed.  But if you run into issues and forced to slam on your breaks, that would not be good for the lot of you.

I have had issues when descending where the wind has come up and caused me to lose balance with the end resulting in dropping a lot of speed.  On one descent, on a different bike then I ride now, I was going for a speed PR on a straight chip sealed downhill.   The chip seal created resonance, and I watched it in horror move up the forks from my hub to my gooseneck at well over 40 mph.  There were no cars on the road, and I was relatively safe of outside vehicle interference but, the bike started shaking so bad I thought I was going to get thrown off.  The only thing you can do in that situation is to raise your chest position broader to the wind to slow down and hang on until you can grab a little break without making it worse.  I was able to get slowed down and regained control of the bike at around 19 mph.

Something like speed wobbles may not happen to you on this descent, and it is relatively safe at around 35 mph, even with my aero road bike and 64mm deep wheels.  If you are not used to the road, it would still be okay to take the middle of your lane at that speed, but you may want to slow down a bit to around 30.  A mile down the road, you will see a 25 mile an hour sign announcing a sharp corner.

Please slow down to less than that for the corner as it is really sharp, and a faster speed will send you into the uphill traffic lane.  Once through that corner, the road straightens out and is smooth to the bottom.  Stay to the right and merge back into the bike lane, which has been painted red for you as it passes the Upper Blue Sanitation District building.

Turn right at the crosswalk and ride down Goodale Road for a quarter mile until you see the new section of the Dillon Reservoir Rec Path peel off to the left.  This path will take you to the highway 9 underpass, where you will reconnect with the Blue River Rec Path or turn right if you have parking near Frisco.  From here, you have 6.5 miles up to the Gondola in Breckenridge on the Upper Blue Rec Path.  The gradient is between 1 and 3 percent and will wear you down if you have miscalculated your nutrition.  If you are good to go, then take it easy and remember it is mostly uphill, so don’t feel bad if the speed isn’t as fast as it was on the way down from Breck.  I usually ride this in sections, and it allows me to be fresher through each section than I would be if I kept watching the mileage.  Gold hill is an excellent place to stop if you need to.  Coyne Valley Road is also a great place to stop, but from there, you only have a few miles left.  If you would like to stop again, the rec center is also a great place to rest before riding the underpasses and finishing at the Gondola.

Conclusion

The rec paths in summit county are some of the best in the state for sure.  I enjoy riding the Dillon Reservoir Rec Path all season long as it is just as much of a challenge as it is fun on either my road bike or my mountain bike.  I would not recommend allowing kids to ride down Swan Mountain road.  There are plenty of bike paths in summit county that can accommodate them where they don’t have to ride with vehicle traffic descending a 2-mile section of road with a sharp 25 MPH turn in the middle that requires a lot of care and respect.  It would be cool to include an out and back from the Frisco Peninsula.  The distance would be close to 29 miles with a massive climb in the middle. However, you choose to ride them, the Blue River and the Dillon Reservoir Rec Paths are worth considering while you visit or especially if you live in one of the communities.  And Now, Since the rec path rules now allow e-bikes, class one e-bikes are allowed on all rec paths in this area.  I have seen several e-bikes on the path just this last week, and I will no doubt be renting one at some point this summer to see what they are like on the path.