Eagle Has Landed–As a Mountain Bike Destination, that Is

Typical scene around Eagle--a trailhead leading to yet more excellent singletrack! (photo: Jeff)

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks who liked to ride mountain bikes. One May, she decided to take a mountain biking trip, but didn’t know where to go, so she sought the counsel of her friends, the Bear family. Papa Bear told Goldilocks, “Go to Vail or Breckenridge, there are many excellent trails there!”

To which Mama Bear responded, “No Goldilocks, those places are high in altitude and still have snow and it may be tooooo cold. Go to Fruita instead, where there are endless miles of gorgeous desert singletrack.”

But Papa Bear said, “But Dear, Fruita is in the desert, and summer is almost upon us. You know how Goldilocks likes to sleep in! By the time she hits the trails, it will be tooooo hot!”

Colorful skies at the top of the Boneyard (photo: askoj)

Having heard enough, Baby Bear chimed in and said, “Don’t go to either of these places, Goldilocks. You should go between them, to Eagle. It will be juuuuuust right!” So, having enjoyed Baby Bear’s taste in porridge and mattresses, she decided to follow Baby Bear’s advice and go to Eagle. Here is what she found:

Overview

Eagle is a town of roughly 6,500 inhabitants adjacent to Interstate 70 west of Vail. At an altitude of 6,600ft, it is classic Colorado transitional west slope topography, occupying the seam between the plateaus to the west and the high Rocky Mountains to the east. The climate is relatively mild, but moisture here is scarce: the area receives less than 11 inches of precipitation per year.

There are actually two Eagles: the old and the new. Eagle’s population more than doubled between the 2000 and 2010 census, although growth slowed considerably with the recent economic turmoil.

Despite the “Tale of Two Cities” appearance and the rapid influx of newcomers, Eagle is a tight-knit community. The pace of life remains relaxed, and people are friendly regardless of which background they come from.

Eagle is largely a planned community, but that doesn’t imply a soulless vibe driven by homeowners association Nazis. The planning is focused on the preservation of open space both in and around the city and ensuring the benefits of economic growth are realized in ways everyone can enjoy. One of these benefits is the construction of pedestrian and cycling paths throughout the community, such that residents rarely need to get into a car to conduct business in town.

View of the valley and I-70 east toward Vail from the top of the Boneyard

Enough of the background already—what about the Mountain Biking?

Eagle has fully embraced mountain biking, both as a lifestyle and as a tourism draw. The Eagle County website has good quality maps free to all who log on.

While only 6,000 people, Eagle does have a quality bike shop, Mountain Pedaler. The network of non-motorized trails snaking through town, and the slow and courteous pace of motorists, allow cyclists to comfortably access any of Eagle’s great trail networks without the need to drive. While I-70 bounds Eagle to the north, the other three sides of town possess excellent singletrack.

Starting the descent on the East Eagle Trail

East of Town: The Boneyard

Eagle’s east side has a nice network of tails anchored by The Boneyard. Don’t let the name scare you, The Boneyard is gnar free—rather, it is an intermediate heaven. Rising 1,200ft above town, but all on a moderate grade, and with mostly broad, non-technical switchbacks, the Boneyard allows even a mildly fit and adventurous rider to access the high ridge, with its grand views of the Vail valley and I-70 below. The mostly north-facing slope is wooded, keeping riders somewhat sheltered until they burst out into the high sagebrush meadow at the top.

Once up top, the same Boneyard trail which provided that sweet, steady climb also makes for a great descent, but there are also two excellent loop options. Just across County Road 21 is the East Eagle Trail, alternately known to some as Redneck Ridge (name changed for political correctness?), which runs a fairly close parallel to the Boneyard on the way back down. However, East Eagle is somewhat less buff, and has a couple tight spots and some very loose dirt lower down. For a slightly more adventurous rider, it makes for an excellent descent, requiring a short bit of pavement to complete the loop.

Loose descent on the Pool/Ice Rink trail with the Eagle Valley in the background

The other descent is the Pool/Ice Rink Trail, so named because of where its lower terminus lies. This one will require close to two miles of pavement to complete the loop, but it’s well worth it. The scenery overlooking the valley to the southwest of town is fantastic, as is the singletrack.

This trail went through a recent reroute to add sustainability and avoid some sketchy spots. The good news is that new stretch of trail has great flow… the bad news is that the challenging root garden, sudden drops, and off camber rocks are no longer part of the ride. But Eagle was wise: if these trails are to carry the volume Eagle seeks, sustainability is a key issue.

Colorado high schoolers complete a lap on the Haymeadow Trail

South of Town: Haymeadow and Eagle Ranch

Part of Eagle’s bid to be a mountain bike destination is evidenced by the significant funds expended to develop the Haymeadow Trail. This six-mile loop was specifically designed to house the annual Colorado high school NICA championship mountain bike race. But the trail isn’t strictly built as a race venue; it was actually designed to be fun, and fun it is. There’s classic cross country riding, switchbacky climbs, a few techy bits to keep you on your toes, those awesome views if you dare look, and a grand finale descent with the biggest, smoothest berms you’re likely to ride anywhere. Adding to the joy of this loop is that it starts and ends at the Pool/Ice Rink, so if you’re looking to add a few entertaining miles to your Boneyard ride, here they are!

Pretty sweet for residential singletrack: Eagle Ranch trail system

The Eagle Ranch Trails are a good example of Eagle’s planning. They run through a residential development, but do so in a fairly natural way. The system has multiple access points, all of which will allow you to bob and weave though sagebrush country with a big grin on your face. The system is mostly singletrack, with a little old doubletrack incorporated. The singletrack is mostly novice-friendly, but with a couple intermediate spots thrown in. The southeast to northwest descent on the Mayer Gulch trail is particularly giggle-inducing.

The view before the descent on the World's Greatest (photo: Jeff)

West of Town: Hardscrabble Mountain

The name is apt. This isn’t the place for the weak or unskilled. While there’s nothing extreme here, those lacking in either fitness or technical ability will likely not enjoy themselves. The climb up to the broad plateau which tops the area may be reached by a number of trails, all of them challenging. The grade is relentless, and parts are quite steep.

The best route up is the Abrams Creek Trail. This climb rises quickly through the junipers on excellent singletrack before hitting the high meadow on old doubletrack. The way down? How about the “World’s Greatest” trail? There is definitely some exaggeration in that name, but World’s Greatest does indeed make for an excellent descent. It has a good deal of variety and will throw a little bit of everything at you, including loose rocks, embedded rocks, quick transitions, sudden small drops, and sharp turns. Upon bottoming out, there’s no way to get back to town without a sharp climb on loose tread, so don’t go here unless you know you’ve got the energy reserves to complete the loop. This is just the most popular route on Hardscrabble—there are over 50 miles of trail up there, so there’s a few days exploring to be had for the mountain biker visiting Eagle.

Berms and whoop-de-dos highlight The Maze between Eagle and Gypsum

Outlying Areas

Just to the west of Eagle is the town of Gypsum, which hosts The Maze, a favorite with the throttle twisters, but it adds an interesting bit of variety to Eagle biking options with its berms, jumps, and whoop-de-dos. Heading “up-valley” takes you to Edwards, Avon and Vail with all the trails they have to offer as well.

After a hard day of riding, you can make the 30-mile drive to Glenwood Springs and its world-famous Hot Springs Pool and Vapor Caves. The last half of the drive goes through magnificent Glenwood Canyon, which also houses possibly the coolest 1.5-mile hike (straight up) on the planet, Hanging Lake, which is well-worth adding on to, or in place of, a day of riding.

Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs--well worth a stop!

So the next time you’re looking for the perfect May Colorado destination that’s not too hot and not too cold, but juuuust right, head on over to Eagle!

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