Mountain Biking Durango, Colorado: Phil’s World and Telegraph Trails

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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.