The Colorado Trail is famous in mountain biking circles. Some people say it’s the greatest adventure they’ve ever undertaken. Often ridden as a bikepacking route for its full 500-mile length from Littleton to Durango, the average elevation of 10,000 feet and sometimes steep climbs and descents have earned the Colorado Trail a special place in the catalog of IMBA Epic rides. Completing the whole trail normally takes between 8 and 18 days, which puts it out of reach for many. And, honestly, either bikepacking, or arranging for your own private self-support vehicle and driver to shuttle gear between camps is not everyone’s cup of tea.
One way to experience this famous trail, without the lengthy time commitment, or the labor and hassle of a self-supported trip, is to ride just the southern section from Silverton to Durango — one of the most challenging sections — as part of a 5-day guided tour package. You simply show up at a hotel in Durango with your personal gear, and leave the rest to your outfitter.
Of course, you’ll still need to ride, which will require advanced technical skills and some serious physical fitness to handle the extreme altitude and steep, rocky climbs. It will probably be the most thrilling/punishing mountain bike adventure of your life. But meeting those challenges, and experiencing this extreme environment — in the relative comfort of a guided tour — will be worth all the effort.
Rim Tours, based out of Moab, Utah, has been providing multi-day mountain bike trips since 1985, probably making it the country’s original mountain bike outfitter. We’ve been hosting The Durango – Colorado Trail Singletrack tour in particular since 1991, so we’ve seen just about every contingency that can come up on such an extreme adventure. Our guides are some of the most experienced in the industry, and we even rent bikes for those who need them. Our current fleet features 2018 Santa Cruz models, including several high-end carbon bikes to choose from.
The Colorado Trail — Silverton to Durango
This section of the Colorado Trail is one of my personal favorites. It keeps riders above 10,000 feet for most of the route, traverses multiple passes and ridgelines at 12,000-feet or higher, and then offers an epic 5,000-foot descent on the final day. But it’s not for everyone. The thin air at those altitudes scares away most people. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the persistent threat of afternoon thunderstorms. But in my book, the experience of riding a mountain bike for days above tree line in the Rockies makes it all worthwhile.
There is nothing quite like basking in the fields of wildflowers that we encounter below Blackhawk Pass. We also have run into herds of elk, or the occasional white-tailed ptarmigan high in the talus. And another, unexpected highlight is the camaraderie experienced when we come across other intrepid travelers who are often at the end of a many-weeks-long backpack or bikepack trip from Denver to Durango.
Because many of our guests are starting the trip immediately after departing their sea-level hometown, we add a day of warm-up riding on the Hermosa Creek Trail for everyone to adjust to the mountain altitudes. After this classic and must-do ride, we shuttle to Little Molas Lake at 11,000 feet and awake pre-dawn to get an early start on our first day of riding the actual Colorado Trail. Traveling 21 miles to Celebration Lake takes us over two high passes, so we need an extra early start to avoid thunderstorms on the second pass.
Day three of the tour travels around Hermosa Peak and up over Black Hawk Pass with the option to hike Black Hawk Mountain. The descent from the pass is world-class as we drop to a ridge that overlooks the Hermosa Creek drainage. With plenty of miles still to go, we end the day camping near Orphan Butte, with gorgeous views from both sides of the ridge.
Day four finds us largely above tree line, riding up and over Indian Trail Ridge, famous for its technically challenging stair steps and rocky singletrack. Having attained the summit, we can look back and survey all the high points we’ve crossed over the past few days. From this magnificent view we drop into Cumberland Basin, over Cumberland Pass, and literally slide down the Slide Rock scree field to our final camp with stunning views of the San Juan Mountains around us.
Our final day brings a well-earned reward for our efforts breathing in oxygen-deprived air and forcing our legs to keep spinning up and up and up. Though we drop over 5,000 feet in the course of the day, it’s not actually all downhill. The coup de gras of our 5-day tour features a 1,000-foot climb in the middle of the day, but that only means more descending as we sail into the Junction Creek trailhead for a quick dip in the creek to wash off the dust, with beers all around to celebrate our accomplishment.
As I said in the beginning, this tour is one of my personal favorites, so you may detect a certain bias in my description.
Those interested in learning more about this tour should visit the Durango – Colorado Trail Singletrack page on rimtours.com, where we have a detailed photo-gallery from previous tours, plus a short, fun video produced by one of our private tour guests. The cost of the tour includes everything except your bike and camping gear, and we have both of those available for rent, as well, for those who need it.
Our guides meet you in downtown Durango on the first morning of your adventure, providing all transportation and tour support for you, your bike, and all your gear. They also serve as highly acclaimed backcountry gourmet chefs, bike mechanics (with a full array of tools and gear for daily bike tune-ups), and storytellers, offering a detailed natural history interpretation of the sights. They even offer expert tips on how to improve riding skills. You truly get to ride your bike and leave all the rest to us.
Rim Tours has a sterling reputation with our guests, maintaining a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor with hundreds of reviews (where we earned the 2017 Certificate of Excellence) and we are similarly rated on Google and Facebook.
BOY HOWDY! I am quite the panicy peter (pun VERY intended) but this trail scared my willies so much I came down that hill with Williams. Best ride of my short but amazing life with my friends. Thanks for the memories boys! We will always have the mountain…..SYKE….I mean…mountain bike ;). You had to be there.