From high-mountain descents to high-desert singletrack, here are 10 unforgettable Rocky Mountain rides.
It goes without saying that a state bisected by the Rocky Mountains is going to have amazing mountain biking trails. Indeed, Colorado is one of the country’s premier fat-tire destinations, blessed with myriad options, ranging from the swoopy and smooth high-dessert delights in Fruita, to all-day, big-mountain epics around Crested Butte, to Durango’s exquisitely maintained Horse Gulch trail system. Here’s a look at 10 of our favorite Colorado trails.
Doctors Park, Near Almont
The ultimate foreplay ride, this 19.5-mile loop starts with a 2,500-vertical-foot fire-road climb before transitioning to a middle-ring doubletrack grunt to the trail’s highpoint at 10,877 feet. From there, riders drop in on one of the best extended cross-country downhills in Colorado. “You can definitely make the argument that Doctor’s is the best trail in the area,” says Dave Ochs. And that’s saying a whole lot considering Ochs, a local race organizer, lives 20 minutes away in the mountain bike haven of Crested Butte.
Colorado Trail, Tiger Road, Near Breckenridge
Covering 500 miles between Denver in the northeast and Durango in the southwest, the Colorado Trail is littered with amazing riding opportunities. One of the best is a stretch near the ski town of Breckenridge. From Highway 9, head east on Tiger Road to the Dredge parking lot, then jump on your bike and continue up the road to the North and Middle Forks road junction. Now turn right, keeping an eye out for the Colorado Trail crossing the road. Go left here and grind your way up a sustained climb, staying left at the fork about 40 minutes into the ascent. Now sit back and enjoy. The trip down has several sustained go-as-fast-as-your-nerves-can-handle sections, plus lots of amazing Rocky Mountain views.
Horsethief Bench, Kokopelli Trail System, Fruita
Pro rider and Fruita local Ross Schnell calls this 3.7-mile loop the region’s quintessential ride. “It’s chock full of primo rocky, technical, and flowing desert singletrack.” To get there, head a few miles west on I-70 from Fruita, then take exit 15 to the main Kokopelli Trail System parking area. Head down Mary’s Loop trail until you come to the Horsethief turn-off on your left. “Then ride (or hike) down the infamous Horsethief drop-in,” says Schnell. “There’s bragging rights for anyone who can clean it.” Once at the bottom of this boulder-strewn pitch, buckle up for a high-speed clockwise loop that’s light on climbing and heavy on fun. Schnell can complete the circuit in about 16 minutes, but most mortals will be out there for at least 25 minutes, longer if you take a few minutes to stop and enjoy the majestic views of red rock cliffs and the Colorado River below—or do a second lap.
Colorado Trail Off Kenosha Pass, West of Denver
Another top-flight Colorado Trail ride, avoid the afternoon thunderstorms and get an early start for this approximately 24-mile out-and-back high-alpine adventure that starts at the summit of Kenosha Pass off highway 285, about 90 minutes outside Denver. You’ll spend the first few hours zipping through aspen groves, and climbing through thick pine tree forests, before popping into the open for the final push to the summit of treeless Georgia Pass, elevation 11,585 feet. None of the climbs are overly steep, but you’ll definitely feel the sting of the altitude. The return trip is primarily a downhill singletrack romp, but make sure to save a little gas for the final push back up to your car.
Trail 401, Crested Butte
Arguably the best-known singletrack in the Crested Butte area, Trail 401 is required riding for any self-respecting mountain biker. The adventure typically starts at the Copper Creek trailhead parking area a half mile past the Gothic town site on Gothic Road. From there it’s a 5-mile dirt road grind to the top of Schofield Pass where you turn right onto a twisting tree-shaded trail. The climbing continues for another 1.3 miles up to a spectacular high alpine meadow. Stop for a minute and enjoy the distant views of the majestic Maroon Bells Mountains, then buckle up for one of the most mind-blowing singletrack descents in the state. “It’s not too technical, so most people can ride it,” says pro racer Jenny Smith, who lives in nearby Gunnison and rides for the NoTubes elite women’s team. “And if you hit it at the right time the wild flowers will be going off. It’s a really magical experience.”
Zippity Do Dah, 18 Road Trail System, Fruita
The best part about the 18 Road Trail System is that in one long day you can ride just about every trail—and they are all a ton of fun. But if forced to pick only one, Zippity Do Dah best represents the unique terrain that earned this area mountain biking Mecca status. After a mellow middle-ring climb out of the parking lot, hop on the Front Side trail as it winds upwards, before making an abrupt turn south onto Zip for what is truly a two-wheeled roller coaster experience. Posted signs rate the trail as double black diamond, but if you just let go of your inhibitions and go with the flow, you’ll soon be ripping down amazing tightropes of buttery smooth singletrack. “It’s best ridden in the evening when the late day light casts its glow on the spectacular Bookcliffs,” says pro rider Ross Schnell. “It’s one of those trails that will have you grinning ear-to-ear, giddy with anticipation as you head back up for another loop.”
Government Trail, Aspen
Arguably the Aspen area’s premier mountain bike ride, the Government Trail is a blissful nine miles of sweet singletrack. It starts out moderately technical, then gets progressively trickier (including a gnarly rock garden) before smoothing out as you rip through thick aspen groves. The trail is best ridden west to east starting at the Divide Road trailhead. At the end you can catch a free bus back to the starting point near Snowmass Village or pedal along the bike path if you’re still feeling fresh.
Monarch Crest, Top of Monarch Pass, Near Salida
Incredible views of the Continental Divide and miles of incredible high alpine descending are the calling cards of this must-do shuttle ride just a few miles outside Salida in central Colorado. “It’s tough and technical early on, but then it smoothes out and gets rolling faster and faster as you start dropping down into the aspen groves,” says Brian Smith, who lives on the other side of Monarch Pass in Gunnison and rides for the Alpine Orthopedics team. “There are also a lot of add-on options if you want to do a really huge day.” The standard route starts at the scenic chairlift parking area near the summit of Monarch Pass, and sends riders on a primarily downhill 30-mile trip that ends just south of Salida.
Ribbon Trail + Gunny Loop, Tabaguache Trail System, Grand Junction
Imagine a slab of slickrock the size of a football field tilted at a 10-degree angle and you get an idea of the playground that is the Ribbon Trail. “It starts with an unforgettable, high-speed descent,” says longtime Grand Junction local Ross Schnell. “You’ll smell burning brake pads as you descend past towering red rock formations.” Then, after a quick climb out of a dry wash, cross the road and connect with the Gunny Loop trail. “It’s one of my personal favorites in the Grand Valley,” adds Schnell. “There’s usually not many people out there, so you can just let it rip down the long slalom section.” It’s possible to ride the Ribbon Trail as an out-and-back, but most opt to use a shuttle. To get there, drive south out of Grand Junction on Little Park Road to the Ribbon Trail trailhead, then prepare for true two-wheeled bliss. Total distance is about 13 miles, but the ride can be lengthened or shortened depending on where you park your shuttle car.
Horse Gulch Trail System, Durango
Known by locals as Durango’s Central Park, Horse Gulch (also known as the Telegraph Trail System) is a roughly 12-mile network of trails that borders the famed cycling city’s southeast side. “That’s one of the best things about all the trails around Durango,” says former U.S. national cross-country champ and longtime area resident Travis Brown. “Horse Gulch, Overend Mountain Park, Animas City Mountain, and the new trails at Twin Buttes are all no more than a 10-minute ride from the center of town.” The Horse Gulch network has something for everyone, from family friendly cruisers to high-speed rips to extended techy rock-strewn sections. Brown’s two favorite trails are South Rim and Skyline to Raider Ridge. “But you really cant go wrong up there,” he adds. “It’s all good.”
Thanks to Rodale for the content. Photo credit Ben Gavelda.