Breckenridge by way of the Blue River
Let the Blue River recpath and riverwalk guide you to vacation fun
BRECKENRIDGE — The Blue River and Breckenridge are synonymous.
Long before ski trails were first cut into the Tenmile Range above Breckenridge in 1961, the river brought the great American gold rush of the late 19th century to the mining valley that became Breckenridge.
A century and a half later, a stroll or bike ride down the Blue River corridor is the way to take in the history, culture and community of Breckenridge. Along the Blue River Recreation Path and the parallel riverwalk, locals and visitors can see historic mining and skiing locations and find the town’s acclaimed breweries and art galleries nearby.
To appreciate this special connection between the town and the river, there’s no better place to start than the Blue River Plaza. Located across from Main Street and Washington Avenue, Blue River Plaza is the heart of downtown Breck. Walk around the various art installations or watch kids skip rocks and hopscotch on boulders from one bank of the river to the other in summertime. Since it’s smack-dab in the middle of downtown, it’s also a great spot to find lively local entertainment and events or take a break and relax in the sun (or shade) as the river babbles close by.
The Breckenridge Welcome Center is at the plaza’s corner and is the ideal spot to learn about the town’s history and create a walking itinerary for shopping, dining or sightseeing. From the Welcome Center, stroll southward along the river to visit the Alpine Garden and the Dredge. Cross the Blue River to find various performing arts events at the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center or head over to Main Street to check out the Summit Ski Museum.
On days devoid of “white gold” — an oldfangled local’s term for snow — one popular activity is to hop on a bike and visit the breweries along the Blue River corridor. Breckenridge has a wealth of watering holes, from Breckenridge Brewery at downtown’s southern terminus to Broken Compass Brewing a couple of miles north on the recreation path. Rent a bike of your own and pedal from spot to spot to sip suds or join one of the tours put on by a town business.
Near the southern end of Main Street, Ridden Breckenridge is one of the local shops that uses the Blue River corridor and recreation path to cater to these two Breckenridge pastimes. The business operates fat-bike tours of town year-round, stopping at old historic spots before taking the recreation path to spend some time at the Breckenridge Distillery or Broken Compass Brewing.
Jared Black, general manager of Ridden, said the shop thought up the bike tour idea as a way to cater to visitors on their “down day” in Breckenridge — when they aren’t at Breckenridge Ski Resort or hiking atop a nearby mountain.
“It’s most popular in the summer now, though it was originally created as a winter product,” Black said. “We stop at the Dredge (mining boat) for some Breckenridge history, we talk about the arts district, see the Barney Ford House Museum — give them an idea of the original miners up here.”
Ridden is just one of many bike shops in town that offer bike rentals and tours. There are some shops in Breck that specialize in planning adventures along the town’s nearby mountain bike trail system while others help casual cyclists cruise down the recpath. Mountain Wave, across from Main Street Station, specializes in bike-path cycling for visitors. Owner John George says the shop often helps visitors to find the fun their looking for on a bike by either shuttling them up to the top of Vail Pass or suggesting a ride down valley to Frisco.
This story previously published in the Summer 2020 edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.
The Vail Pass shuttle allows for bikers to ride down from the 10,666-foot mountain pass at the Continental Divide on the Vail Pass Recreation Path through Copper Mountain and Tenmile Canyon into Frisco. Once in Frisco, guests can drop off their bikes at Mountain Wave’s special drop-off location at Abbey’s Coffee on Frisco’s Main Street and then hop on the free Summit Stage bus back to the shop. Bikers looking for more of a challenge can bike the 10 miles and 600 feet uphill back to Breckenridge.
If biking down from Vail Pass seems a bit much, Mountain Wave suggests riding from Breckenridge to Frisco — a popular 10.5-mile, downhill bike-path. George said many visitors choose to rent a road bike or cruiser for the ride downhill along the river before being shuttled back to Breck.
Last year, local laws permitted the use of e-bikes — bicycles that can be powered by traditional pedaling or an electronic motor. George said more guests are interested in renting e-bikes, which have become popular for those looking to do a loop around Lake Dillon and up Swan Mountain Road.
“And quite honestly, if you wanted to ride to the top of Vail Pass on an e-bike, you can do it,” George said.
Skateboarding is another popular activity along the Blue River Recreation Path. Steve Rosenthal, outdoor recreation coordinator for the town of Breckenridge, recommends visitors park their vehicles at the town’s gondola parking lots before dropping their skateboards at the recpath access point between Breckenridge Station and the Blue River. From here, skaters can have fun on the meandering trail as it dips downstream with the river before feeding directly into the Breckenridge Skate Park, where more fun awaits.
Located on the recpath not too far from the Breckenridge Skate Park, the “stair step pools” provide for a stunning spring scene — especially during spring runoff — as visitors drive into town from Frisco. Longtime local guides, like Jackson Streit at Mountain Angler on Main Street, says that the “stair step pools,” as Breck locals call the stretch of the Blue just north of downtown, are the place to go for that classic Breckenridge angling experience. It’s in here, as the weather warms and snow melts into the stream, that these town-built pools provide a chance to catch nice-sized rainbow and brown trout. The fishing here, Streit said, is flies and lures only — no bait — with a catch-and-release limit of one fish over 16 inches.
Considering the ever-changing fishing conditions on the Blue River, especially with the high variability of Rocky Mountain runoff each year, the quality and difficulty of the fishing on the Blue near town can be tricky. But it’s an idyllic and fruitful spot to walk and wade thanks to the annual stocking by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
In the winter, when deep snow blankets the Blue River corridor, the town of Breckenridge regularly grooms the path. Each Monday and Thursday, the 9-mile stretch from the Breckenridge Transportation Center to Frisco is groomed. Though conditions along the recpath are subject to change thanks to the county’s wild winter weather, Breckenridge Recreation does its best to keep the trail in tip-top shape, and users are encouraged to report any hazards, such as downed trees that need to be cleared. Recreationists are welcome to cross-country ski, snowshoe, fat-bike or hike on the recpath in winter.
“You can even fish that water in the wintertime,” Streit said, though he added the prime fishing is after spring runoff, typically from June through August.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.
Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.