Crested Butte, Colorado.
All I need to do is speak the name, and mental images of towering, jagged mountain peaks, flowing singletrack, colorful wildflowers, and whispering aspens fill my head. I may be completely and utterly, 100% biased, but Crested Butte (CB) is my favorite place in the world.
When I received an email inviting me to drive on over to CB to cover the only stop of the Enduro World Series (EWS) in the United States, I said “Yes!” without hesitation. As you probably know, the EWS didn’t go as planned. Despite the tragedy, I still had a rad time spending four days in Crested Butte riding my mountain bike. I feel a little guilty about how much fun I had, but when you’re riding Crested Butte’s singletrack, it’s hard not to have a good time!
Here are the trails that I explored over my most recent four days of riding there. I’ve visited Crested Butte about a dozen times over the years, and while I can’t begin to expound on all of the singletrack that can be found in this region, after thinking about my weekend I realized that the trails I chose to ride provide a great overview of the wide range of mountain biking opportunities that CB provides.
Day 1: Trail 401
I first rode Trail 401 about four years ago, and after seeing a slew of photos from that trail hit Instagram early this summer, I was jonesing to get back and ride it again. The 401 came in at #2 in our “Most Scenic Trails in the Western USA” survey and if anything, I think it was ranked low.
I met up with Matt Kasprzyk of Dirt Rag, his girlfriend Mary, and Josh Patterson of Bike Radar to show them around. I was the only one who had ridden in Crested Butte before, and despite my supposed local knowledge, I parked in the wrong spot at first. But once we got parking sorted, we were on our way.
“After we finish this ride, I’m interested to hear what you think of this trail,” I told the guys. Before we were halfway through the singletrack “descent,” I already had their answer: yes, it’s absolutely beautiful, but the singletrack just isn’t that good.
Don’t get me wrong: I was stoked to ride the 401 again… but it may be another four years before I pedal back up Schofield Pass Road. While the scenery and the location just can’t be beat, despite its international fame, the 401, dubbed the “Trailriders Trail,” just isn’t that great of a ride. With about an 8-mile climb up a 4×4 road to access the singletrack, the ride back down is punctuated with one brutally-steep doubletrack climb. And even the singletrack that sidehills and descends the gorgeous upper section just doesn’t flow that well: with awkward turns that keep you from maintaining your momentum and weird waterbars and off camber grade reversals, it could definitely be way better.
Does that mean you shouldn’t ride this trail? Of course not! If you’ve never ridden it, the 401 is a must! But if you’ve ridden the 401 trail and you think you’ve experienced the best of Crested Butte mountain biking… well, you haven’t. The best is yet to come.
Day 2: Lily Lake / Splains Gulch
I began day two of the singletrack tour by meeting up with Dan Dacko of SR Suntour. After he wrapped up some official race business down in the tech area, we loaded up in the truck and drove up Kebler Pass Road to explore some terrain that I hadn’t previously ridden.
To put this in perspective, I’ve probably ridden in Crested Butte on 10-12 different occasions now—many of those trips totaling 3-5 days each. I’ve reached the point that I no longer know exactly how much time I’ve spent riding there–just that it’s been quite a lot. However, based on the copious records I’ve taken on my paper maps and, of course, using the Singletracks trail database, I know that there are, roughly, several hundred miles of singletrack that I still haven’t explored in the Crested Butte area. And the Lily Lake / Splains Gulch loop was one of them.
At only 7 miles in length if you ride it as a loop from Kebler Pass Road, this ride isn’t too intense, yet gets you out into an area that feels like utter wilderness. It virtually is, too: this squarish loop is bounded on one side by Kebler Pass Road and on the other by the West Elk Wilderness. In just a couple miles of climbing, you reach singletrack and the middle of nowhere quickly.
The singletrack on this ride seems to be almost entirely on an old road grade that’s since been reclaimed by nature. As a result, it does feel more like you’re riding on a dirt road than on a flowy singletrack. Across the top, with the alpine meadows and marshlands, we hardly noticed, but as we began our quick descent back down the mountainside, we lost all of our elevation on steep, waterbar-ridden doubletrack.
While it was great to explore some new terrain and experience this beautiful area, there are definitely better trails to ride in Crested Butte.
Day 2: Strand Hill
Strand Hill is a local classic, and is an excellent choice for a quick ride at relatively low elevation. With rain moving in right after we wrapped up Lily Lake / Splains Gulch, we drove over to the other side of the valley and avoided the storms all afternoon.
With one quick lap up Strand Hill and down the main descent, this 9-10-mile ride was a great wrap on the day! A fast, flowy singletrack descent, slaloming through beautiful aspens? That’s hard to beat!
Day 3: Doctor Park
During my ride on the 401, I was shredding with some friends who had never before experienced Crested Butte’s singletrack goodness. While the 401 is beautiful, it’s nowhere near the best trail in CB… and as a result, I was talking up the Doctor Park descent the entire time.
While I wouldn’t call Doctor Park the best loop-style ride in Crested Butte (that honor goes to Reno -> Flag -> Bear -> Deadman’s), I would say that, in my experience, it’s the best descent in the immediate area! After two full days of riding, and with a fourth coming up on Sunday, we decided to try to save our legs as much as possible and maximize the fun factor on Doctor Park by shuttling all the way to the top. Big shout out to Devon Balet for driving us—you’re the man!
At the top of the drop off for Doctor Park, we tacked on an extra loop up top on the Colorado Trail spur. While it only added a couple of miles around the top of the mountain, the epic views and sweet, sweet singletrack made it so worthwhile!
The descent down Doctor Park was, as usual, stupid-fast, technical, flowy, challenging, delightful—everything you could ever want wrapped up into one epic rip! With just about 7 miles of pure descending, I’m not exaggerating when I call this the best descent in Crested Butte.
Day 4: Lupine -> Gunsight Pass Connector -> Upper Lower Loop
We began this loop from downtown Crested Butte, and while I wish it had been under better circumstances, I couldn’t help but enjoy this ride! I had ridden Lupine and Upper Lower Loop before—both fantastic trails—but until recently, there hadn’t been a good way to loop the two trails together without some significant gravel pedaling on Slate River Road. As of this year, that’s all changed.
After climbing up to Lupine and rolling across the mountainside, we took a doubletrack that continued our traverse, eventually narrowing into singletrack-ish. But then, we reached the goods: the brand-new Gunsight Pass Connector Trail.
While only a couple miles long, the Gunsight Pass Connector is one of the flowiest, swoopiest, loamiest trails I’ve ever ridden! Dropping down through a thick grove of aspens, the dirt is dark, black, loamy goodness! This singletrack was just completed this summer, and the trail tread was super rideable, but still being worked in. As we shralped down the mountain, my High Roller IIs continuously excavated the loam, spitting perfectly-tacky black dirt against my shins! I know that this was a product of how new the trail tread is (it’ll get worked into a harder surface soon), but the experience was surreal!
Eventually, this sinuous trail dropped out onto Slate River Road just across the bridge from the upper end of the Lower Loop and Upper Lower Loop. We crossed, and took Upper Lower all the way back into town—a classic ride, and the perfect finish to this loop from downtown.
Similar to Trail 401 and Lily Lake / Splains Gulch discussed above, the Gunsight Pass Connector Trail showed me that if you think you have Crested Butte pegged, you don’t. The 401 Trail and Doctor Park showed me that the best trails in CB aren’t necessarily the most famous. Lily Lake / Splains Gulch showed me that there’s always something off the beaten path that you haven’t explored. And the Gunsight Pass Connector showed me that not only are there historic trails that you haven’t ridden, but there’s always a brand-new strip of dirt going in somewhere in the nearby mountains that only a handful of riders have ever experienced.
The trail system in Crested Butte is vast, it’s varied, and it’s epicly good. After another 4-day stint in CB, this is still my favorite place to ride mountain bikes—EVER.
While it’d be impossible for me to detail every classic Crested Butte ride in one article, two additional spots deserve a nod of the head.
As I mentioned above, probably the best loop ride that you can do in Crested Butte is Reno -> Flag -> Bear -> Deadman’s. At 20 miles in length with about 4,500 feet of climbing (and descending), it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you can brave the mileage and the climbing, you’ll be rewarded with superb singletrack, fast, flowy descents, chunky switchbacks, and epic views. You can’t miss this ride.
Finally, Evolution Bike Park at Crested Butte Mountain Resort is always a great time. Give your legs a break from climbing and ride the lifts to the top—it’s worth it! Especially if you’re staying on-mountain, a day in the park is a must. I planned to spend some time shredding DH laps during the last day of this trip, but sometimes plans have to change.
I usually camp when visiting Crested Butte, due to the wide variety of campgrounds to choose from and how dang beautiful this region is. But this time around, we stayed up on the mountain at the Grand Lodge. The lodge features “oversized hotel rooms” with excellent in-room amenities and free wifi, and despite staying conveniently on-mountain, just a few pedal strokes from the spinning chairlifts, king rooms begin at about $159 per night.
We already had a few favorite spots to eat in Crested Butte—The Secret Stash for pizza; Pitas in Paradise for gyros, burgers, and other unique offerings at very reasonable prices; and the Gas Cafe for delicious breakfast and lunch on the cheap. But on this trip, my wife and I tried out a few new spots that we absolutely loved!
First up is Montanya Distillers, a local establishment that specializes in rum. While mixed drinks are the main course, you can also fill your belly with something besides booze thanks to their absolutely delicious small plates.
Finally, we truly enjoyed Elk Ave Prime steak house, which offers high-end steaks and burgers, and a discounted and abbreviated menu at the bar/community table, if you’re looking to save a few dollars. Also, if you’re into wine, Elk Ave Prime offers a mind-boggling wine list to choose from. The beer selection isn’t as varied, but there are still a few good choices.
Your Turn: Have you ever ridden in Crested Butte? If so, what’s your favorite trail?
I’d love to ride there, but what would the best connection for out-of-state travelers?
Hi riderman, what do you mean by best connection? Do you mean best way to actually get to CB? If you’re flying into Denver, by far the best way would be to rent a car. You could possibly connect via air to Gunnison and then get a shuttle up to Crested Butte and then pedal from town, if you want to avoid a car rental.
That’s what I meant. Thank you. To get to Denver would be the easiest and least expensive way, then to get a rental car. I’ll be also interested in bike rental. Do you know any particular bike shops that you could recommend for that? Either in CB or maybe on the way there driving from Denver.
Hey riderman, I’m sure there are shops in CB that rent high quality bikes. Big Al’s is a well-respected shop, but I’m not personally familiar with their rental fleet–or even if they have one. I’d recommend that you give them a call.
However, one shop I can vouch for both for service and quality of their rental fleet is Absolute Bikes here in Salida, CO. Salida is on your way from Denver to CB, assuming you take Monarch Pass and not Cottonwood Pass.
Potentially planing a trip out there the end of this month. Where are your favorite places to camp. We’ll be in a Subaru Outback (lifted with all terrain tires – can go most anywhere) with a roof top tent. Thanks for any suggestions!!