Best Trails for Winter Mountain Biking in Colorado

Winter riding in Colorado is a balancing act of temperatures, short days, snow and trail access. Rides after work require decent lights, and most of the popular trails close an hour after sunset. Temps can vary from below freezing to the 70’s, sometimes from one day to the next. Storms can dump two feet of snow in a 48 hour period, only for it to melt and dry out a week or two later. Many of the higher elevation trails are snowed in from November through May which further limits winter trail riding options. Combine all of these factors with the temptation to leave the bike and go skiing, and before you know it, a month will have gone by with no time spent in the saddle.

Here are some winter trail options for those of us who aren’t into snow biking.

Green Mountain

Green Mountain is pretty much the go-to trail for winter riding in the Denver area. With its southern exposure and lack of trees, it dries quickly and it is open until 11pm for night riding. There is ample parking at both the Rooney Rd and Alameda Pkwy trailheads.

I tend to use the Rooney Rd trailhead and ride counter-clockwise, with some backtracking to hit connector trails and add more mileage. My favorite way to come down is ‘Box o’ Rocks,’ and if you watch for it, there is a cut-off as you get back to the interstate that has some stuff to play around on. If you miss the turn coming down, look to your right just before the overpass. You can ride back up that short section from there.

Green Mountain photo by taiguy.

If you have energy and lights left, head across Rooney Rd. to Zorro Trail, which is a connector to the Dakota Ridge Trail and takes 10-15 minutes to climb.

Matthews Winters / Dakota Ridge

Just across the ridge, the Matthews Winters/Dakota Ridge area gets plenty of sun and is very rocky, which helps keep it dry. Start from Red Rocks Parking Lot #2 and head across the road to the Dakota Ridge trailhead. From the descent at the other end, head back across the same road and pick up Matthews Winters. Morrison Slide is an optional add-on, but either way you’ll end up back at your car. The Dakota Ridge section features some of the most technical riding in the Front Range area, whereas the Matthews Winters side, though still quite rocky, is much less intense.

These trails are not open at night.

Dakota Ridge photo by Grant Landsbach.

Ridgeline Open Space & Quarry Mesa

For some winter night riding other than Green Mountain, head a few minutes south to Castle Rock for Quarry Mesa or Ridgeline Open Space.

Ridgeline, as the name suggests, is rolling singletrack that follows a ridge on the west side of town. There are a couple of modest climbs and a few switchbacks, but the rest is fast, flowing singletrack. Access the trailhead from Coachline Rd and enjoy the views of the city lights from the top of the ridge.

Quarry Mesa is a short, lollipop-shaped trail. It’s all singletrack with some switchbacks leading up the side of the mesa and a loop around the top. Ride up, do the loop both ways, and come back down for a total of fivemiles. Like Ridgeline, there is nothing technical. (Note: Rhyolite Bike Park is not open at night, but the mesa trail is)

Both of these trails dry quickly and are open until 9pm. Day or night, they are great options for grabbing a few miles of wintertime dirt.

South Shore Lake Pueblo

Just two hours south of the Denver area, Pueblo is usually free of snow and has some amazing riding. The South Shore Lake Pueblo trail system has roughly 18 miles of interconnecting trails with everything from flowing singletrack to super technical rocks and ledges. I recently went there for the first time and it was incredible! A friend and I rode for over three hours and linked together 14 miles of trail and still didn’t see everything. The trail surface varies from gravel to hardpack as well as sections covered in broken shale and even some slickrock. Riders of any skill level will find plenty to do and trails can be looped together or ridden in opposite directions for even more variety. This trail network should definitely be on your winter to do list!

Parking at the main entrance will require a state parks pass, but if you drive about a mile further west, the “red gate” parking lot on the right-hand side of the road is free. From there you can access four of the major trails into the network.

Hopefully these suggestions will help keep you off your trainer this winter, and if anyone has other winter trail suggestions in Colorado, drop them in the comments!

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