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photo: nickesares

photo: nickesares

Colorado really needs no introduction to anyone who might utter the phrase, “I am a mountain biker.” The mountains in Colorado are some of the biggest and most majestic you’ll find anywhere, and the singletrack is similarly some of the most lust-worthy and enjoyable. But what makes Colorado so unique isn’t the huge mountains and isn’t the fact that it has great trails–you can find those factors in dozens of places around the globe. Rather, it’s the absolutely massive amount of singletrack riding available in this state.

I personally didn’t grasp the scope of the mountain bike opportunities in Colorado until I moved here. Now almost four years into my Colorado citizenship, I only now know how little I actually know.

Coming from out of state and figuring out how to best utilize a week of vacation to ride the very best trails in Colorado is a fool’s errand. You’d have more fun just picking one of a dozen epic destinations and just hanging out and riding around that one town for an entire week… or month. Yet still, still I get asked for a list of the best Colorado bike trails all the time.

Trying to limit the vast expanse of Colorado trails to just five selections is unquestionably a fool’s errand. Yet I’ve done my best, both utilizing highly-rated recommendations from our database and also eliminating trail systems that may be highly-rated, but for poor reasons. While this list can be debated ad infinitum, here are 5 must-ride mountain bike trails in Colorado.

Buffalo Creek (Pine)

Photo: Michael Paul

Photo: Michael Paul

When I first started using Singletracks back in 2008, Buffalo Creek was ranked as the number one trail in the world. After riding it, I decided it was way overrated. And while Buffalo Creek still isn’t the number one trail in any category, this trail system has not stayed the same over the last 9 years. It has changed dramatically, and for the better.

One of the first major changes was the addition of Blackjack and Raspberry Ridge, offering true double-black-diamond riding in a trail system formerly known only for XC trails. More classic singletrack was also added, with the upgrades culminating in the addition of some top-notch flow in the form of the Little Scraggy trail (completed fall 2016).

How many miles of trail are out at Buffalo Creek now? It’s difficult to say, but the answer is “a lot.” Factor in the now-significant diversity, easy access to the massive population on the Colorado Front Range, a campground nestled within the trail system, and a much lengthier riding season than the high alpine trails on this list, and Buff Creek deserves its reputation as a favorite.

“Flowy and speedy! Wow I still dream about this place, it’s just simply amazing. So many fast trails connected so that you can make your own day however you want. On many occasions I was pushing my bike to its limit by flying my back tire around the banked corners sticking it just in time to not send me flying off. Also the people who maintain it are amazing. Definitely worth spending more than one day on if you have the time.” -mtndew24

Colorado Trail: Silverton to Durango (Durango)

Photo: Bob Ward

Photo: Bob Ward

The Colorado Trail in its entirety is ranked as the #1 mountain bike trail in the world by Singletracks members. But listing this as such has proved problematic for riders coming from out of state or even out of country to “ride the Colorado trail.” Because aside from some hardy bikepackers, very few people actually have the fitness, time, or commitment to ride the entire 500-mile trail from end-to-end. Instead, it’s best to choose a smaller section to start with.

If you want to start with a bikepack that’s easier to manage than the entire trail, it’s tough to beat the Silverton to Durango section. Epic mountain views, stunning singletrack, no wilderness bypasses–this route is what singletrack dreams are made of! Specific sections included in this short bikepack are Molass Pass to Bolam Pass, Bolam Pass to Hotel Draw, and Kennebec Pass to Junction Creek, which can all be completed as day rides.

To get a taste of what this route would be like as a bikepack, be sure to check out this excellent video:

“A fantastic “epic”! My wife and I rode this with some great friends who are Durango locals. We started near the intersection of 160 and Co Rd 124 and schlogged the dirt road climb. I think we ended up covering about 37 miles in total. The best description would be a combination of “Epic Ride,” “Great Scenery,” “Sweet Singletrack,” and “Tough Climbs.” Next time, I’m taking my video cameras!” -Review of the Kennebec Pass segment by Evil Patrick

Doctor Park (Crested Butte)

Photo: Erik Proano

Photo: Erik Proano

The epic mountain bike destination of Crested Butte is best-known for one trail: The 401. However, as mountain bikers have better learned over the years what makes for a fun mountain bike trail, it has become clear that 401 is not all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve been pleased to see the 401 trail fall in our database rankings, with Doctor Park rightfully claiming a place as one of the best trails in the state.

While 401 has gorgeous views on lockdown, Doctor Park also offers some great long-distance views up top but couples those views with an absolutely rip-roaring descent down classic singletrack. It doesn’t get much better than this!

“Terrific trail! Road climb isn’t bad, shuttle can cut some time off but not necessary. When in doubt at a junction, turn right, most are marked. For the bonus trail stay left at the “spur” sign; access great views. The descent is killer! Smooth, flowy singletrack with fun little pump berms to air off. Be aware of downed timber in the descent as they can be common and you will be hauling ass! 5 stars based off the descent and variety of ecosystems you travel through. Climb has a few steep cranks and little shade until you reach forest. Last mile is very steep, technical descent; rated this advanced based off that. Do it!” -ktdelves

Lunch Loops (Grand Junction)

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Lunch Loops was a gaping hole in my personal resume for many years, a hole which I finally filled this spring. Man, was I missing out!

This expansive trail system offers 40-some miles of singletrack ranging from beginner (not much of it) to expert (a whole lot of it). In fact, many of the trails that I rode at Lunch Loops, such as the Ribbon, Free Lunch, and Holy Cross, were brutally-technical. Free Lunch in particular may just be the most technical mountain bike trail I’ve ridden outside of a ski resort! While some out-of-towners and visitors to the Grand Valley may erroneously opt to ride other trail systems, Lunch Loops is the creme de la creme.

“It doesn’t get much better than this trail system. Park at the Monument Road trailhead and you will have some technical/strenuous climbs that results in some spectacular descending trails. Park at the Little Rock Road Trail head and access a bunch of other trails (The Ribbon, Pre-Nup) which can be accessed from a long and muscle burning climb from down below. This trail system offers something for nearly every level of rider. Beginners hit the Kids Meal loop of subtle climbs and small rock gardens. Unfortunately, this is where the gap is. It is a long skip and a jump from Kids Meal to the next level of riding in the trails. Many consist of tight singletracks that offer a rather frightening penalty of error. However, if you have crested the hill of mediocrity in your technical riding abilities, you will be able to have fun on this trail system for years! If you are in the Junction area, this is a must for avid cyclists. Many will argue between this, Kokopelli Trail System and the 18 Road Trails, but in my opinion the Lunch Loops provide some of the most spectacular riding in the area…” -cmack819

Monarch Crest (Salida)

Rider: Marcel Slootheer. Photo: Greg Heil

Rider: Marcel Slootheer. Photo: Greg Heil

The Monarch Crest is perennially ranked as one of the best–if not the best–trails in the state of Colorado, the nation, and even the world. Technically, the classic Monarch Crest route consists of several different trails linked together (including Silver Creek and the Rainbow Trail) to create an epic 35-mile shuttle route, with million-mile views along the Continental Divide coupled with high speed, gnarly descending down into the valley below.

But what makes the Crest such a perennial favorite is that, despite there being one classic route, there are four other singletrack descents that arguably offer even gnarlier and more entertaining descending: Fooses Creek, Green’s Creek, Starvation Creek, and Agate Creek. Part of the appeal of these other trails is the variety to choose from, which is what keeps many riders coming back year after year.

“This is a fantastic trail. There’s something special about riding on the Continental Divide; it feels like you’re riding on top of the world. Of course, you get to follow this up with a raging descent that is a ton of fun. Make sure you bring plenty of food and water so you can take your sweet time and truly enjoy this trail. Still, make sure you get below the tree line before the afternoon thunderstorms. Also, don’t forget to spend some time in Salida. It is a town of only 5000, but it has 3 awesome bike shops. I could definitely live there.” -Richard Hespen

To help avoid some of the foolishness of this top 5 errand, here are a number of key runner-up trails, if you have more time:

Trestle Bike Park (Winter Park): Touted as the best lift-served bike park in the state.

Colorado Trail: Kenosha Pass to Breckenridge (Fairplay/Breckenridge): Another classic Colorado Trail segment, this could easily make the top 5. Also rideable as an out-and-back from Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass.

Trail 401 (Crested Butte): Well-worth riding for the views alone!

18 Road / North Fruita Desert (Fruita): While ranked fourth overall in the Singletracks database, I find this trail system to be largely overrated. Great for beginners and families, underwhelming for most others.

Kokopelli Area Trails (Loma): Home to the venerable Horsethief Bench.

Phil’s World (Cortez): A renowned desert playground in Southwest Colorado.

Dakota Ridge (Denver): One of the most technical and visually-stunning trails on the Front Range.

Captain Jack’s (Colorado Springs): A classic in every sense of the word!

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# Comments

  • John Fisch

    Fools errand indeed! That said, this is as good an attempt as is possible to condense this state into 5 musts. Well done. I personally love the choice of Lunch Loops vice Koko or 18 road.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks John!

  • BSAphex

    Thanks for the tips, Greg. This article is perfect timing for my first trip to CO. Hoping to hit Crested Butte, Salida and possibly Breckenridge this August. Would the 401 be a good trail for someone who’s fitness and technical abilities aren’t what they used to be? I keep hearing the views are amazing. I’m sure my wife would appreciate that aspect. I just know her confidence isn’t what it used to be when things get too steep or technical.

    • Greg Heil

      IMO 401 isn’t technical aside from a few drainages that you’ll want to walk. However it’s still pretty aerobically challenging, especially trying to pedal the singletrack from the top of schofield pass to the high point.

  • mongwolf

    Thanks Greg. In Colorado alone there are “so many trails and so little time.” I absolutely love the Ouray to Durango region. I NEED to ride Silverton to Durango someday. The sooner the better. But I think I still need to become stronger on the bike before I attempt it. My first goal is to get strong enough to do Kenosha to Breck confidently.

    • Greg Heil

      Haha yes indeed–a lifetime of exploring to be done!

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