Best Mountain Biking Destinations in Colorado

For a state cleaved in two by the Rocky Mountains, there’s a wealth of diverse terrain on hand for mountain bikers looking for their next ride. The Rockies definitely aren’t just for skiers and hikers. Either option, though, depending on the time of year can be taken advantage of if you’re looking for a day off on your bikation.

Colorado, along with California and Moab, Utah, played a seminal role in mountain biking’s storied beginnings. It was an avid cycling community in Crested Butte and Marin, California, who, back in the 1970s, took it upon themselves to tinker with clunkers and road bikes to find better alternatives to “forearm suspension” as they rode over mountain and off-road terrain. The rest is history.

Singletrack mountain biking in Colorado
Classic Colorado, views for days

Where to begin? In western Colorado, there’s desert terrain and singletrack in Fruita. There’s even trails for riding in the state’s eastern plains. San Luis Valley? Plenty to ride. It’s the heart of the state, specifically the territory of the Front Range and the Central Rockies, that boasts the majority of the Centennial State’s staggering +8000 miles of tracks (Crested Butte alone is home to +750 of those miles). There’s tracks in the alpine, tracks in the valleys, tracks for days and days catering to every skill level.

The community statewide is strong, and getting stronger. The resorts, looking to accommodate off-season recreators, have upped their game as well, creating miles and miles of track for the skiless months. Snowmass, Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Vail, and many others have taken great care and measures to craft thrilling trails for everyone. Perhaps even more enticing for those looking to ride a resort, there’s a chance to utilize existing lift infrastructure to get the most out of barreling down thousands of feet in the mountains. There’s no shame in getting a vertical boost – want a quick downhill ride before work to get your adrenaline going? Take a lift!

Lifts aside, for lots of trails, gaining vertical the hard way is a rite of passage for any mountain biker in Colorado – native or not. To mix my sporting metaphors, you gotta earn your turns to get to the goods. Either way, at the end of one ride, or a day of riding, the beer and pizza will taste great.

Colorado

Crested Butte

Crested Butte in the winter is “the last great Colorado ski town”, but for the rest of the seasons think of it as the town where the pavement ends and mountain biking begins. In this town of 2,500, there’s an estimated 3,500 bikes and seven bike shops. They like their bikes.

The story goes that Crested Butte’s streets were so pothole-ridden that locals had no alternative to get around on bicycles with ‘regular’ tires so they took it upon themselves to tinker with cruisers, road bikes and motorcycles and create a ride that could handle the town’s uneven streets. The locals succeeded and ever since have used these Frankenbikes, now mountain bikes, to ride the trails in and around Crested Butte.

crested butte mountain biking
Photo by TRAILSOURCE.COM / CC BY 2.0

In 1976, a bunch of these Frankenbike-riding locals decided to ride their noble steeds over Pearl Pass and visit their neighbors in Aspen. When the media got word of the ride and published a story about it, other like-minded bike tinkerers in Marin, California, caught wind and decided to join their buddies in Colorado for the ride the following year.

The Pearl Pass Tour, as it’s called, is alive and well today. So, if you’re in Crested Butte in September, sign up and keep the good times rolling on the tour’s next iteration. Clunkers are the preferred method of travel, thank you very much.

Crested Butte is also home to the country’s first mountain biking club, the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, est. 1983, and it’s dedicated to keeping the town’s trails and bike-culture alive and well. A lot of local ski guides stay on through the season because the terrain offers plenty of objectives year round.

The beauty of the terrain here is what sets it apart from other mountain biking destinations: wildflower covered valleys lead into thick groves of aspens before climbing up, out and into the alpine where there’s a thousand foot or two descent of sheer handlebar gripping madness – all good stuff. One other thing to check out if you want a day to refine your skills is the Evolution Bike Park at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, there’s plenty there to keep you on your toes.


Guiding Services and Shops


Check Out These Trails

 

401

Considered by many to be one of the finest rides Colorado has the offer, the 401 loop offers up some of the best in alpine mountain biking. It’s just over 14 miles at a high enough altitude to give you pause. The views of the Elk Range, with miles of aspen groves and clear alpine lakes make it a seasonal favorite. There’s over 2,200’ of ascent, but the downhill through wildflower fields make every foot in elevation gain worth it. While some say there are better trails in the area, all agree that this is a must ride for everyone. At least once.

 

Doctor Park

This trail is a local favorite and must-ride if in the area. This ride can also be shuttled if you’re looking to shave off about 1,500’ of elevation gain and about eight miles of a slog up a dirt road. No judgement if you choose to omit the first part, because many agree the ride itself truly begins as the trail begins its descent – approximately seven miles of it. The singletrack on the descent is smooth with plenty of technical areas and rocks, getting rockier and looser the further down you go, but it’s when the trails gets smooth that the fun really begins: almost three miles of seven in the descent are mind blowing, flowy and second to none.

 

Reno/Flag/Bear/Deadman’s Gulch

Ok. So not a single trail, but a stunning combination of four will do just fine. What this combo offers are three uphill ascents for a total elevation gain of 3,326’, three rewarding descents with about thirty hold-on-to-your-handlebar switchback on the last. The ride boasts terrain in deep timber, open meadows and a couple of creeks, all in quiet Crested Butte serenity.


Zach Dischner [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Zach Dischner [<a href=CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons" />

Easy on the eyes,...

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Colorado

Breckenridge

Known primarily as a ski town, just south of I-70 on US 9 from more its bold-faced neighbors, Breckenridge sits at a lofty 9,600’ with a population of just under 5,000. The resort has opened its lifts and grounds for some great mountain biking opportunities, in addition to some of the more well known trails that are scattered in and around town. The season here gets started around mid July, and it offers tons of great shorter rides of all ability levels if you want to get quick taste of what the area has to offer.

Breckenridge mountain biking trails
Breckenridge is pretty hard to top for views.

Another thing that’s not to be missed while mountain biking here is the Wellington Bike Park. This is a free entry area that has a Strider track for kids, three flow trails and a skills area where you can work on your jumps. You can get all of this without even leaving town. Speaking of town, Breckenridge is a designated Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community, deemed such by the League of American Bicyclists – this is a testament to the area’s facilities and dedication to supporting the two-wheeled community – fat-tired or not.


Bike Shops


Check Out These Trails

 

Peaks Trail

This is a Colorado classic and favorite of both locals and visitors alike. This route can be ridden as a there-and-back as the trail goes from Breckenridge to Frisco and can be ridden return. Traveling from Breckenridge to Frisco sets you up for some fairly moderate climbing, nothing too much, until you plateau and hit the +1,000’ for your ascent. If you ride this trail both ways, make sure you’re rested up before the journey, as it’s pretty much all up hill. Make sure to keep an eye out for hikers when you get close to either town, as the trails are shared! If the return-trip climb isn’t appealing, you can always ride back on the paved Blue River Bikeway to get back to Breckenridge.

 

Colorado Trail: Kenosha Pass to Breckenridge

Technically this 32 mile segment of the 547 mile IMBA EPIC Colorado Trail begins in Kenosha and ends in Breckenridge. This ride is all single track, spent at higher elevations, so plan accordingly and bring extra water and food. Starting from Kenosha, you’ll begin with a decent climb to an aspen clearing and views of the Como Valley. After your first descent down, an even greater climb awaits, bringing you to 12,000’. It’s definitely brutal and energy sapping, but worth every foot gained as the views once you’ll get once you’ve broken treeline are incredible. While the greatest elevation may be behind you at this point, there’s three more ascents to conquer before you hit the Gold Hill trailhead just north of Breckenridge on Highway 9.

 

Baker’s Tank Loop via Boreas Pass Road

Though this is more of a beginner’s trail, it’s still worth riding for the rewarding singletrack downhill on offer at the end. The ride starts on Boreas Pass road, which you’ll have to share with other vehicles. But once you hit Baker’s Tank, after the Pass, you’ll get some steep and challenging terrain to climb before heading down through a beautiful pine forest. After that you shoot back out upon the paved section of Boreas Pass road.


Miner's Creek, Br...

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Colorado

Colorado Springs

On Colorado’s Front Range, only a little over an hour from Denver, Colorado Springs is coming into its own as a hotspot for mountain biking, and it’s easy to see why. Located within the city is Palmer Park, an enormous recreation area 750 acres big with 25 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and the odd horse. The park has plenty to offer locals and visitors and is home to the 24 Hours of Colorado Springs race.

The city’s desert climate and lower elevation at 6,035’ make for a longer season when other favorite mountain biking trails are snowed out. Also within city limits is the US Air Force Academy which has revered trail of its own, the Falcon Trail, and the gorgeous Garden of the Gods.

More riding in colorado springs mountain biking
Catching some air in Colorado Springs

If you venture outside city limits, you’ll be rewarded with views of Pikes Peak, a 14er that you’re more than welcome ride, though we suggest tackling it via shuttle. Too much of an ascent… There’s also Red Rock Canyon Open Space that has good terrain and trails on offer. The area and its surroundings really have the best of both worlds: world class desert options within city limits and alpine terrain and all that accompanies it only a short trek away.

Keep in mind that whenever and wherever you’re riding in Colorado Springs that a lot of the trails are multi-use, so expect to find hikers and horses and mind your trail etiquette! This city is growing and it’s mountain biking options will keep getting better and better as it comes into its own as a destination for mountain bikers from all over the states.


Guides and Shops


Check Out These Trails

 

Elk Park

While riding from the summit of Pikes Peak via Barr Trail is an option, getting there and back can be difficult with hikers and trail conditions alike. The Elk Park trail is a solid alternative to Barr and its contingencies. Elk Park doesn’t include Pikes’ 14,115’ summit, but rather the starting point is a “modest” 11,835’. Depending on how you plan your day, you can utilize existing roads and trails and extend your ride downwards and incorporate the famous, and much loved Captain Jack’s. Regardless, Elk Creek has plenty of technical challenges on hand, along with creeks, views, gravel and some smooth, smooth dirt.

 

Falcon Trail – United States Air Force Academy

Bring a photo ID for this one! It’s located on the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy. Falcon Trail is a ride of intermediate difficulty, but it stands out as a Colorado Springs favorite because it is simply so much fun. Just about all singletrack, the Falcon Trail is best ridden clockwise to avoid any trouble. Starting at an elevation of 6,752’ you’ll find plenty of uphill on great singletrack, with one larger climb gaining +600’ in elevation. There is also one smaller technical section that can now be sidestepped, called “The Easy Way”, but we strongly recommend taking on the whole trail for its flowy downhills through great prairie land and wooded terrain.

 

Palmer Park Loop

This list wouldn’t be complete without a loop in Palmer Park. While you’re here, remember that there’s horses, runner, kids and hikers here too, so be mindful of your speed and others. This ride isn’t technical, but it’s here because it showcases the city’s talent of incorporating all kinds of public activities with public land. In an urban setting. This is a 12 mile loop that takes in all the park has to offer and it’s worth every pedal.


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