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The western half of Colorado has more to offer in the way of mountain bike trails than just Grand Junction and Fruita. Further south, in and around Durango, there are several great networks of smooth flowing singletrack. For a long weekend in May there’s nothing better than heading south and exploring some new trails.

This year we made our first stop at Phil’s World in Cortez, Colorado. This gave us an excuse to travel down over Lizard Head Pass instead of the ever-terrifying Red Mountain Pass (aka the Million Dollar Highway). Unlike other bike areas, Phil’s World is on private land and there is a recommended donation of $3 per person. It’s worth it.

Head across the doubletrack from the parking lot to enter Phil’s World and begin your ride.

The trails here are meant to be ridden clockwise. Don’t deviate from this or you’ll probably end up in a head-on collision. The longest ride possible at Phil’s World is 28 miles. If you want to do that, just keep turning left at all signed intersections.

There is a lot of sweet, smooth, flowing single track to be had here.

Trails like “Elbow” are marked with a skull and crossbones and have some slightly technical spots.

Every major intersection includes a laminated map. When you are approaching intersections there are bright yellow “caution” signs. Each trail is marked with a great sign like this:

This is the cushiest bike park ever. Maps, wood-carved signs, and single track…

A note about the “Pass on Ribs” trail: At this intersection you can turn left and head up a trail called “Abajo” which will take you to “Ribs.” Ribs is like riding the Scream Machine at Six Flags over Georgia on your bike. The whoop-de-whoos will make you do this: omigosh omigosh omigosh don’t brake don’t brake don’t brake! Followed by: Whaaaaaahoooooooooo! Wheeee! Whooooooo!

Still, some sections are steep and could be intimidating for beginners and early intermediate riders. If this might be an issue for you or your fellow riders, then take the “Pass on Ribs” trail and save “Ribs” for next time.

Our last few trails of the day, “Abajo,” “Ribs,” and “Here for More” led us to awesome vistas.

Sleeping Ute mountain (on the right) watches over Cortez, Colorado

We bombed down the final hills and back to the car for an aprs bike libation. What a great way to start the weekend!

Heading towards the end of our ride at Phil’s World

We left Cortez and drove the 45 miles to Durango to camp at Junction Creek campground. We’ve stayed here before and really enjoy it in the early season. This was actually the first weekend (May 4) that they were open this year. The “D” loop is best for tents but some of the C and E loop sites have tent pads as well.

Saturday we headed south on Hwy 160 to the last trailhead of the Telegraph Trails in Durango. The “Salebarn” and “Big Canyon” trailheads are located on a frontage road behind the Home Depot. You’ll turn left at the red light right near Wal-Mart and once you turn you’ll see the Ford Dealership almost right in front of you. Bear right. You’ll head down a frontage road and you’ll see a dirt road leading straight up a hill ahead. Go up the hill and you’ll see the sign for Salebarn. I recommend starting here and ending at the Big Canyon trailhead which comes out just behind the Ford Dealership.

Sale Barn trailhead – part of the Telegraph Trail System in Durango, Colorado

Big Canyon trailhead behind the Ford Dealership. Exit here, bear left, and ride back down the frontage road to your car. This is a much better trail to bomb down than to go up.

Like the trails at Phil’s World, the Telegraph Trails are well-marked with maps. We like to go up Sale Barn to the Cowboy trail and ride it just past the junction with the Big Canyon trail. At the next “triangle” we turn right and head up to a double track.

It’s so crowded out here on Saturdays. 🙂

We ride this up, up, up until we eventually intersect with the Sidewinder trail. From here we bomb down Sidewinder and Big Canyon with almost no pedaling!

An example of the awesome maps offered at the Telegraph Trails.

Smooth singletrack on the Telegraph Trails

We left the Telegraph trails and headed straight down the frontage road towards town to the HomeSlice Pizza place located at the corner of College and 4th by the gas station. You need to go there. Really.

On the last day, we headed to the Horse Gulch side of the Telegraph Trails. Head south on 8th street and, just before the Sonic, turn left. There is a solar business here. If you get to the Sonic, just turn around and take the first right. You’ll see a gravel/dirt road and random parking ahead.

Ride up the double track for about 10 minutes. It’s not too much of a grind. You’ll come to the very obvious start of the Horse Gulch section of the Telegraph Trails.

Looking out towards the Horse Gulch area; just to the left are several benches and a map of the area.

The rides here are shorter than the other side, but you can do laps or make a loop as strenuous as you like. We like to head up the Telegraph trail until it intersects with the Meadows trail. We take this to Stacy’s Loop, ride Stacy’s to the first Cuchillo intersection and then ride up one side of Cuchillo and down the other. That takes between 1.5 and 2 hours. Stacy’s has some climbing, but it’s all ridable and fun! The switchbacks going up are smooth and well-banked.

If you’re looking for something even more strenuous, head up Mike’s trail. This climbs higher than Stacy’s and contains many many more switchbacks.

The Horse Gulch trails tend to stay lower in the valley than the Sale Barn trails.

The flowers are pretty. No vegetation was harmed in the taking of this photo.

If you really want an epic ride, you can ride the Telegraph trail up and over the ridge and drop down into the Big Canyon/Sale Barn area, ride there, cross BACK over the ridge and come down the Anasazi Decent. I’ve never done it, but I’m sure others have!

Of course, once you reach the trailhead again, you get to bomb back down the doubletrack to your car.

If you’re tired of pizza (like that ever happens) check out Serious Texas BBQ and get the Serious Texas Taco. You’ll crave them for the rest of your life.

Durango has a great, fun, well-maintained trail system. The next time you’re in the area, head out and show those trails some love.

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# Comments

  • trek7k

    Great ride report! I’ll be in Durango for a week next month and I’m really stoked to ride Phil’s World.

    A couple years ago I rode the Telegraph trails from the Horse Gulch side and the trailhead seemed super sketchy. Fortunately I didn’t have to park a car there since I rode over from my hotel. 🙂

    I imagine it’s still way too early to ride the Colorado trail, especially the higher stuff. We rode a loop with the Dry Fork and Colorado trails in late May many years ago and it was in great shape at that time of year.

    Have you ever ridden Overend Park? That one’s definitely on my to-do list. Any other suggestions in the area?

  • maddslacker

    Man I really want to head down to this part of CO. It’s so big here you can spend years not getting to the rest of the state.

    @trek7k, we got very little snow this year, followed by a warm and early spring. I bet the high stuff is rideable now, for sure by the time you come out.

  • mtbikerchick

    @trek7k – The Horse Gulch trailhead/jeep road is in ok shape. I didn’t have any problems on it and once we got to the actual trail head everything was in great shape. Maybe they’ve done some maintenance since you were there last. The end portion of the Colorado Trail is open to mountain bikes; it has some switchbacks but the times I’ve hiked it I”ve seen lots of bikers. You can get to it (if you’re heading out of town towards Silverton) by turning left on 25th street. Just follow the road bearing left at the sign for the Colorado Trail. You can’t miss the trailhead as there’s a bathroom, large lot and plenty of people! Hermosa Creek, further up the road towards Silverton, is another option. It’s an out-and-back (I think) and is fairly long and technical, but I bet the views are amazing!

  • trek7k

    @mtbikerchick, I was actually referring to the burnouts in the parking lot. 🙂 The trailhead I used was tucked away behind some run down looking businesses and it’s really hidden from the road. Not sure what the guys I saw were up to but it wasn’t mountain biking. Glad I wasn’t leaving a car there.

  • lewisb

    @mtbikerchick headed to Durango this weekend, your post is perfect. I think Phil’s and Telegraph, anything else you recommend? We hit Fruita two weekends ago, so it will be nice to see what Durango has going on….soooo looking forward to this weekend. I’ll take any suggestions. see you out there!

    • mtbikerchick

      @trek7k- OH! THAT kind of sketchy…hahaha. I think it’s getting more use now so there are more athletic types around and less…sketchy types.
      @lewisb – see the suggestions I gave below about Hermosa Creek and the Colorado Trail. If you need a mellow day, or just a rest day, make sure you head up to Mesa Verde National Park. The Anasazi ruins are an amazing sight to behold!

  • mtbgreg1

    Wow this sounds awesome! Durango has been on my wishlist for a while. Was thinking about stopping by on my way back home from California. We’ll see…. 🙂

  • mtbikerchick

    @mtbgreg1 – I’m sure you’ll need to get out of the car and stretch your legs…next to Fruita and GJ, Durango might be the next perfect place 😉

  • Jampa56

    I plan on riding in Durango in 2 weeks. Aspen next week. Living and riding at 6oo feet elevation, I know that, as usual, I will be in over my head. but I don’t care.

  • norski

    Rode Dry Fork and The Colorado Trail today. It’s clear of snow and is in great shape! Several downfall have been cut out already so it’s clean riding up to the first high point on the Colorado Trail. There’s a tree across the trail a couple miles further on, but it’s easy to get around. On your way back to the trailhead, go past the Dry Fork trail junction and descend Hoffhein’s Connection. It’s smooth, solid and fast right now!

  • skibum

    Great Report! Phils is a treasure that is best when shared.

    Lewisb–if it’s hot, head for the high country and shaded rides (Hermosa as suggested by mtbikerchick is a good choice). If it’s not horribly hot, it’s not far from Durango down to the Alien Run trail just over the border in Aztec NM. If you like Phil’s, Sand Canyon is just on the other side of Cortez and provides a unique experience along with sweet singletrack.

  • jkacuba

    great post! I’ve been looking for a reason to finally make the drive up to Durango and you just gave me the perfect one! I’ll be checking out Phil’s World for sure this summer!
    @lewisb – to echo what skibum said: if it’s not too hot yet head over the border to the trails in Aztec and/or Farmington NM – there’s some sweet trails there but VERY limited shade.

  • mtbikerchick

    Phil’s World is so awesome, but it can be tricky to find…it’s right across from the fairgrounds near a guardrail. It’s just a road…when you turn on it you’ll see like 3 mailboxes – that’s it! Just keep going down the road and you’ll find it 🙂

  • tom_chester

    heading to cortez for the last week of june how hot does it get?guess Ill be riding early in the morning .just hope I dont have a 127 hours moment!

    • mtbikerchick

      @tom_chester – It can get pretty hot down that way. I’d definitely suggest biking in the a.m.! Spend the afternoon driving one of the scenic loops in Mesa Verde National Park. It’s gorgeous there!

    • trek7k

      Just rode Phil’s today at 2p and the temps were in the 90s. Pretty brutal in the sun but in the rare shady spots it’s bearable. Very dry and dusty, bring lotsa water!

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