Lookout Mountain, Historical Climb for Over 100 years

By Bill Plock

Since the popular cycling ap Strava became a thing, Lookout Mountain in Golden has been climbed by approximately 25,000 cyclists 248,000 times—which is a tiny fraction of the actual times it has been scaled since it was completed in 1914. 

In 1908 the letter “M” representing the School of Mines was painted on Lookout Mountain, about 4,000 years after native Americans left numerous campsites in the area and six years before the Lariat Loop Trail road was completed. In 1911 William “Cement Bill” Williams had a vision to build a scenic road to attract tourist to Golden and with many investors including Adolph Coors and Charles Boettcher (as in Boettcher mansion at the top) it was finished in 1914. In 1915 the American Automobile Associated named it the top scenic road in America. Before the road existed tourists could take a funicular to the top and visit a real estate office selling parcels of land. That office is located where TV towers now reside. (You can still see the scar of the funicular and if you look across the valley, there was another funicular that ascended South Table Mountain to serve a casino and dance hall on top of Castle Rock before the KKK took it over in the 1920’s.)

If you know where to look you can still find remnants of a watering station to help cool cars climbing the mountain in the early years. In 1917 Buffalo Bill was buried at the top and is now a popular place to rest after the 4.6 mile climb from the pillars at the base of the mountain. The classic timed route (and race) begins at the Pillars and finishes just before the turn to the grave.

Ride Basics:

  • Distance: Up and down–9.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,219 ft (to the Buffalo Bill turnoff)
  • Difficultly: Medium to hard
  • Average Grade: 5.3%
  • Fastest known Times, Men: 15:51, Women: 19:30
  • Map Strava
    VideoYoutube

Ride Thoughts:

Lookout is simply an iconic ride. It can be crowded (like yesterday) with many cyclists, motorcycles and cars. Be careful descending as cars sometimes take very wide paths around climbing cyclist drifting far into the downhill lane. Many cyclists rest at a designated area at the turn to Buffalo Bill’s grave.

If you continue on, you pass the historic Cody Inn and can take a right on Colorow road that climbs to the Lookout Mountain nature center and 104 year old Boettcher Mansion. The nature center is a good place to fill up water bottles.

Descending from there puts you back on Lookout Mountain Road that eventually connects to US 40. Many cyclists will climb through Mt. Vernon Country Club or US 40 to the I-70 Genesee Exit. From there, a bike path can take you to the Evergreen Exit and connect you to popular routes leading down Kerr Gulch or up Squaw Pass or into Evergreen all with descents down Bear Creek Canyon into Morrison. Some will cross I-70 and access the roads around Genesee Mountain eventually descending down US 40 or making a short climb up Grapevine Road (partially dirt) that connects to Idledale in Bear Creek Canyon.

Some people like to descend directly down US 40 from Lookout Road and go back up to the top via Paradise Road or they continue to the bottom and connect with Hwy 93 and head back into Golden. Some take a right, ride under I-70 and access Red Rocks, Dinosaur Ridge and the Rooney valley and head back to Denver or many points beyond via the C-470 corridor. By the way, part way down US 40 from Lookout Road is Mother Cabrini Shrine. This short road climbs to the shrine and offers amazing views if you are looking for something different.

In conclusion:

Lookout Mountain can be a great destination stand alone ride with many people riding to Golden from all over or there is adequate parking at the base of the mountain or in Golden. Parfet Park is also a popular gathering spot. Riding up Lookout is a great gateway to many rides in Jefferson County. It feels relatively safe as there are generally many cyclists, and motorists are going fairly slow. Beware of exceptions, especially descending–don’t hug the yellow line around corners.

Lookout is a great training route with a very consistent grade and with its 56 curves and switchbacks it offers a variety of directions to avoid straight on headwinds. If it is windy, there are a few points where cross winds can be hazardous, but for the most part it is fairly well protected. About halfway up is Windy Saddle with limited parking and access to some great hiking trails. Chimney Gulch trail that begins on US 6 about 3 miles down crosses the road here and continues west so be on the lookout for hikers and mountain bikers crossing the road.

303Cycling reviewed this route in 2013 and you can check that review out here: https://303cycling.com/lookout-mountain-hill-climb-bike-ride/

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