Heeney bike-n-hike: Looking to ride somewhere new? The 10.5-mile Heeney Road may be the perfect stretch for a day trip
If you’ve hit every turn and hill along the Summit County recreational bike path and are looking for one final fall foliage ride, Heeney Road north of Silverthorne may be it. This remote stretch of county road provides a cycle that is different than most anything else in the county.
To boot, if you’re interested in a hike-and-bike kind of day, there are jaunts up into the White River National Forest by mountain bike and into the Eagles Nest Wilderness by foot that can provide an extra layer of adventure for your excursion.
Though the tiny river- and reservoir-front town of Heeney — population 76 as of the 2010 Census — may feel more like Grand County than its Summit sister localities to the south, Heeney is located just 23 miles north of Silverthorne. That means you’ll only have to drive 25-or-so minutes on Colorado Highway 9 North — a straight shot — to this hilly county road. Once there, you’ll bike at first amid the aspens along the Blue River, then along the rocky hillsides high above Green Mountain Reservoir, before reaching the almost canyon-like area at the base of Green Mountain near the water body’s man-made dam.
There’s also the stunning backdrop of the Eagles Nest Wilderness’ striking 13ers in view to the southwest at select stretches of this ride. About a third of the way into the ride, if you turn and look in the opposite direction to the northeast, there’s an actual eagle’s nest in view from the roadside. Bring your bincoluars, as it’s located near where the Blue River’s inlet becomes Green Mountain Reservoir.
Whether you’re looking to complete the 21 miles round-trip or are interested in a point-to-point bike along Heeney Road, the best place to park is at the turnoff onto Heeney Road from Highway 9. You’ll know you’re at the turnoff when you see the blue signs on the right side of the road, while driving north, for the Melody Lodge Cabins & Store and the Master Bait & Tackle Shop, two of the only businesses in the remote town. This turnoff provides a handful of parking spots in a gravel roadside lot at the start of Heeney Road. You’ve gone too far north if you notice the Blue River has gone from the right side of your car, to the left. If you choose to do the point-to-point bike from south to north, there are also roadside parking locations at the northern terminus of Heeney Road, which rejoins Highway 9 about 7 miles to the north on the state highway, which hugs the east side of the reservoir.
Once parked at the southern terminus of Heeney Road, the first 2 miles of the road provide, essentially flat riding along the river. It’s doable by road bike, cruiser or mountain bike. In the fall, the aspens turn golden, canopying the road at a few stretches. In the spring, the whitewater of the Blue River is particularly impressive and provides the kind of noise that reminds you you’re miles from the civilized core of Summit County.
If you’re looking to take a quick jaunt by foot shortly into your ride, the Brush Creek Road Trail that leads to the top of the hillside at the foot of the Eagles Nest Wilderness is located about a half mile into the cycle. Brush Creek Road is steep, though, so be aware this kind of a side hike is replete with loose dirt, rock and plenty of climbing. Once atop the hillside, the views open up from dense forest to spectacular views of the Gore Range mountains.
Considering Brush Creek Road’s steep grade, mountain biking up through the national forest portion may prove impossible. So no matter your wheels, it’s probably best to leave the bike behind near Heeney Road.
Back on the bike, Heeney Road climbs steeply from the area around Melody Lodge Cabins & Store to the top of the hillside flanking the Blue River to its southwest. The top of this hill is marked by the sign for the U.S. Forest Service’s McDonald’s Flats Campground. Once here, remember to also turn around to get a glimpse of the Gore Range 13ers. It’s a magnificent hilltop view after pedaling through the aspens below.
After McDonald’s Flats, the road zigs and zags with rocks jutting out from the hillside to your left before opening up to a splendid view of the river inlet leading to Green Mountain Reservoir. This stretch of the bike ride is particularly beautiful at sunset, considering its orientation and how it illuminates Green Mountain at the reservoir’s rear and its waters below.
About 4 miles along the road is when you’ll dip back down into the ranch country where the eagle’s nest is located. Don’t be surprised to find mule deer, elk and fox scurrying near the roadside through this stretch, particularly around dusk. Depending on where the local rancher’s cattle have been moved, you’re almost certain to pass herds of these domesticated critters from spring through fall.
After climbing another hill, you’ll near the halfway point of the ride where more and more year-round and seasonal residences begin to pop up. It’s also 5-1/2 miles into the ride when you’ll see the turn off to Cataract Creek Road to your left. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous on a mountain bike and are looking for a mid-ride jaunt up into the wilderness, the beautiful Lower Cataract Lake is just 3 miles away. Once at the lake’s wilderness boundary, though, you’ll have to abandon your mountain bike for a short circumnavigation of this small, remote water body. If you do, and if its been raining, don’t be surprised to see a waterfall with the dramatic 13,432-foot Eagles Nest mountain in the backdrop.
The ride climbs and dips over the next few miles to the heart of Heeney, past the community center, Master Bait & Tackle Shop and Heeney Marina, before declining to the Green Mountain Reservoir Dam. Once turning at the dam, the road will go from a canyon-like, cliffside feel to open up over the final 2 miles with jaw-dropping views of Ute Peak in the distance to the southeast, the Gore Range to the southwest and Green Moutain Reservoir right in front of you.
One final thing: If you’re an angler, don’t forget to bring your pole for some spin-fishing. There are known honey holes near Lower Cataract Lake, but if you feel like taking a break and don’t want to venture up there, anglers alongside the Blue River’s exposed riverbed is a common sight in the spring and fall.
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