Pikes Peak

This is part of a summer series exploring great mountain rides in the state:

Length: 19.5 miles one-way

Top elevation: 14,115 feet

Overview: This one hurts. And that hurting starts before you reach the tollgate.

The Pikes Peak Highway is steep, challenging and one-of-a-kind. Sure, you can ride to 14,000 feet on Mount Evans, but the grades aren't nearly as menacing. And you won't find fresh, world-famous doughnuts atop Evans.

Aah, doughnuts. You'll have plenty of time to think about them during this excursion.

The rush of climbing America's Mountain will carry you . to the tollgate. Here, you'll exchange $12 for a bracelet that tells highway officials you're paid in full. That $12 also includes a few hours of pain and an unforgettable experience.

The road is narrow for several miles at the start with only a small shoulder upon which to ride. It can (and will) get congested, but drivers aren't typically in a rush to reach the top. It's a good thing because your legs and lungs are tested early.

Crystal Reservoir is a welcome sight and not just because of the postcard view. The ride becomes much easier in this stretch, offering renewed hope of making the summit. That feeling is short-lived, however, as you press on toward Glen Cove.

Just focus on the doughnuts.

The final 6 miles is Pikes Peak at its best. You move above treeline and begin a series of steep switchbacks that take you to Devil's Playground. Picturesque doesn't begin to describe the surroundings. It's unreal and better appreciated at a snail's pace on a bike.

Wind likely will be a factor. Rain, sleet, snow and hail are possibilities as well, so be prepared.

Not surprisingly, the ride concludes with a steep climb to a large parking lot and a warm summit house . with doughnuts.

How to get there: Take U.S. Highway 24 west to Cascade.

Nathan Van Dyne, The Gazette

Difficulty: 5 of 5

The climbing starts once you begin pedaling and really doesn't relent until you stop.

Scenery: 5 of 5

Any ride that reaches 14,000 feet provides an array of stunning vistas along the way.

Traffic: 4 of 5

This is a popular tourist draw, and the descent can be frustrating behind a string of cars.