by Whitney James
If you’ve ever been to Crested Butte, chances are you know it’s a world-class destination for mountain biking. The secret is most definitely out.
As soon as the snow melts every spring, hoards of non-locals wearing baggies swarm the Gunnison Valley. Toyotas loaded down with coolers of beer and bikes on the tailgate take turns at Crested Butte’s 4-way-stop. Cassette-greased calves are seen walking down Elk Avenue at all hours of the day. The gas station is overrun with bikers buying all the gel packs in sight and terrorizing the single-stall bathroom. If you’ve been lucky enough to experience this mayhem for yourself, you know it all boils down to one thing–big fun in everyone’s favorite biking town.
No matter how experienced you are on two wheels, you simply cannot miss the Gunnison Valley. Here’s your guide to mountain biking the area’s best trails this summer and beyond.
Dusty, flowy, and fun, the 7.3-mile Snodgrass trail is a great primer for a weekend on the bike. You’ll park near the outhouse on skis on Gothic Road, right before the road turns to dirt. Climb up and over the fence and get your pump on–the trail is relatively steep at the start but soon turns to a swoopy traverse of the hillside of aptly named Snodgrass Mountain. Views of downtown and Mount Crested Butte will make it hard to focus on the trail, but keep your eyes peeled! This singletrack goes both ways and is popular with local hikers, runners, and bikers alike. Go early to avoid the crowds and enjoy the end of the trail towards Washington Gulch that twists through one of Crested Butte’s most beautiful aspen groves. Keep in mind that this trail is private property and is generally closed in July and August.
2. UPPER UPPER
If you’re ready for more of a challenge, Upper Upper provides. This 2.6-mile trail is another two-way singletrack traverse, but this time across the base of Mount Crested Butte. (Don’t worry, by the time you pedal back to your car you’re in for a longer ride.) You’ll hardly have a chance to enjoy any views, though, as the rockier terrain makes for a more technically demanding ride. Since this trail is lower in altitude than many of the others in the area, it’s a locals-favorite spot for a fall ride. Aspen leaves pave a golden pathway as you climb and grind in the shadow of everyone’s favorite mountain and photo-ops are so common you’ll want to leave one foot unclipped. After descending the steep switchbacks that deliver you onto Brush Creek Road, take the New Deli Trail along Highway 135 back to your Tacoma.
3. STRAND HILL
A newfound favorite for the author, Strand Hill is something of a hidden gem. After grinding 800 feet up Strand Hill road, this 4.5-mile trail turns into singletrack and sneaks it’s way through the hillsides southeast of town with brake-burning descents over roots and (mostly tame) dirt. Typically ridden one way, you can really let loose as the aspens and wildflowers go whipping by in your peripheral. We dare you not to let out a few whoops on the way down! Just watch out for the water crossing at the very end, which definitely caught me off guard and ended with an epic splash.
It’s impossible to publish a mountain biking guide in the state of Colorado without including the 401. This world-class ride is a national favorite. Cut, somewhat precariously at times, into the side of several breathtaking mountains, it flows, bumps, goes straight back up hill again, and then whips through a forest before spitting you out wanting to do it all over again. Earn your descent by parking at the Judd Falls turnoff on Gothic Road then ride up Gothic Road to Schofield Pass. There the work really begins as you push and wheeze up switchbacks (at over 10,000 feet, no less) before summiting. The descent is relatively easy, save for one slippery waterfall crossing, so look alive as you fly down the narrow single track through yellow mule’s ears, towering monument plants, and of course, aspens galore.
5. DOCTOR’S PARK
If you’re ready to bite off something a little more substantial, try Doctor’s Park. This 20-mile epic takes you through the backcountry of Gunnison National Forest in an area that feels like it has yet to be discovered. You’ll pedal up an easy going eight-mile climb on a dirt road before taking your socks off to cross Spring Creek, and then the real challenge begins. (All in all you’ve got over 2,700 feet of climbing on this ride.) Get situated in your lowest gear and don’t forget to start enjoying the hard-earned views! Eventually you’ll reach the edge of a thick pine forest. Smash a snack at the trail sign here and then buckle in for a thrilling descent complete with roots, rocks, and a section at the very end that’s reminiscent of riding in Fruita. We bet no matter how long this epic takes you, you’ll want to jump in the Taylor River when the trail spits you out on the riverbank at the end.
6. HARTMAN ROCKS
Hartman Rocks is perfect for the rider who wishes he or she were just a little further west. With over 40 miles of singletrack trails (and over 8,000 acres of public land in all) just outside of Gunnison, Hartman Rocks is a recreation area to be reckoned with. The best part is that these trails offer technical sections that the alpine region tends to lack. Crawl over slickrock, navigate drops, or just cruise along flowy sections that would put a smile on anyone’s face.