Ride Report: Lower Loop, Crested Butte, CO

I’m not sure if you know this, but Crested Butte is a long way from the Front Range of Colorado. It took us hours of driving (with a few stops thrown in) to make it to Crested Butte and we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening running various errands in town, finding a …

I’m not sure if you know this, but Crested Butte is a long way from the Front Range of Colorado. It took us hours of driving (with a few stops thrown in) to make it to Crested Butte and we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening running various errands in town, finding a campsite, and setting up camp. We weren’t able to hit singletrack again until the next morning.

The Goblin at the campsite, just itching to get out and shred!

The next morning, the ladies were interested in hitting the singletrack too, so I picked out a nice, easy ride that would hopefully still be fun for all: The Lower Loop. This would be my sister-in-law’s first mountain bike ride ever, and my wife only rides once in a great while, so I wasn’t really sure how things would go. This ride did have several convenient bailout options in case they weren’t up to the challenge.

According to the map, the trails started on the opposite side of the Slate River from the access road. It was a pretty serious mountain river, so I was a little worried that our posse would get deterred from our singletrack goal before we ever actually saw it. Fortunately, when we reached the trailhead we saw a sturdy wooden bridge spanning the river that would keep us well above the snowmelt.


Getting ready to ride!

According tothe guidebook I was using, this route would be 9.9 miles long with only 475 feet of climbing. That’s flat – most rides in Georgia have more climbing than that! We decided to get most of the elevation out of the way early with a quick climb up the Gunsight Pass Road to the Upper Lower Loop trail. Despite the confusing names, we ended up on the right piece of singletrack.

Andrew on the Upper Lower Loop trail.

Finally, we were riding singletrack! Our camp was set up, we had 4 full days ahead of us with no more serious driving to do, and it was time to enjoy the trails that we had driven over 1,500 miles to ride! And these trails were so worth the effort, too. The dirt was perfectly tacky and the singletrack undulated along the side of the mountain like a gently flowing stream. It wasn’t gentle enough to completely turn the brain off, though: rocky sections would crop up unexpectedly, ensuring that we paid sufficient attention to where we were going. But of course, they just served to make things more interesting! I rocketed along this true singletrack roller coaster with utter reckless abandon!

Despite the great trail, I was a little distracted. I’m used to riding singletrack in the deep forests of North Georgia where scenic views are a rarity. My entire local trail system has maybe 2 or 3 spots that are worth a pause. Riding in Crested Butte was entirely different! Save for the occasional stand of aspen trees, the trail ran through lush, green mountain meadows. The entire valley around the sinuous blue strand of the Slate River was colored in various shades of green and ringing it in were gray rocky peaks towering majestically over us small creatures and our wheels. The scene was truly phenomenal!

I stopped for a minute to take in the grandeur and shoot a couple photos when I realized that I had dropped everyone long ago. But in a minute, Andrew came pedaling up.

Sometimes I think that as advanced mountain bikers we sometimes take our skills for granted. I know I forget how challenging even relatively smooth singletrack can be to a beginner. As I waited for everyone else to catch up, I reminded myself to dial it back a little bit and just enjoy the trail and the company!

Mount Crested Butte in the distance.

As we approached the junction with the Lower Lower Loop trail, I spotted an option with a berm running into a little jump.

Despite the fact that I was riding a hardtail 29er, I had to at least give it a shot:

I couldn’t get the kind of pop I wanted off of such a small lip with such big wheels, but it was fun to try!

When we reached the big junction near the Lower Lower Loop trail, we realized that we had a number of different options. We found a wide, graveled doubletrack leading to town as well as a narrower, rockier section of singletrack. Naturally, I chose the singletrack.

After another mile or so of riding, we reached Peanut Lake Road, which would have taken us straight into town, but again we spotted another singletrack option off to the right. After a little more pedaling we had almost reached the town of Crested Butte, and trails began to branch off in all directions!

Crested Butte has its own little singletrack trail system attached directly to the west side of town with most every branch of trail dumping out on a different street. We dropped right off of the singletrack into a neat little neighborhood. I turned around and asked my wife, “Can we please buy that house?” as I pointed to a home that was literally 5 feet away from the beginning of the trail. How awesome would it be to have singletrack literally out your front door? Well, many of these houses do, and even if you live on the other side of town, you’re still less than 5 minutes of pedaling from the beginning of a trail. How cool is that?

Since we had pedaled all the way there, we decided to take a couple of minutes to cruise through downtown and check out some of the sights. I don’t want to go into it in too much detail in this post, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen as many bicycles in one town as I saw in Crested Butte.

A couple of the more interesting bikes we found.

After cruising around for a little while, we decided to hit the trail back to the truck so we could get some lunch. The first section on the way back was a repeat of what we had just ridden, and the ladies decided to stick to the smoother, easier trail while we men busted down the singletrack.

As we reached the junction with the split off onto the Lower Lower Loop trail which we hadn’t ridden yet, I thought we would have to continue on doubletrack for a ways until I spotted a singletrack splitting off to the left. Andrew followed me and we rode down it for a ways, until I heard some yelling behind me. I turned around to see my wife yelling that we had gone the wrong way, despite the fact that I was pretty sure we were riding in the right direction. However, they revolted, and continued on down the doubletrack while Andrew and I headed up into the woods on the singletrack. Since we were all heading the same direction, I was pretty sure we could meet up quickly.

This amazing section of trail must not have been the a part of the main loop, as it was much narrower and a little more technical than anything we had ridden so far. The singletrack dove into a tight aspen grove, threading through narrow gaps in the trees. The dirt was wonderfully dark and tacky. Yes, dark is an understatement: this was absolutely gorgeous black dirt. Georgia has nothing approaching the blissful tackiness of the black dirt hidden amongst Colorado’s gray aspen trees!

After a little bit of climbing through the aspens, the trail popped out into an open field and turned back down towards the doubletrack, losing what elevation we’d gained in a wonderful rush of wildflowers and bermed turns. All too suddenly, it was over.

In a couple of minutes we were reunited with our wonderfully strong-headed women and we picked up the last section of singletrack. The remainder of the Lower Lower Loop trail was just as swoopy as the Upper Lower Loop, if not even more so, with fewer rocks to navigate. It was also much closer to the Slate River, offering up even more breathtaking scenery that kept our eyes off the trail where they should have been.

We were almost done with our ride when I led us the wrong direction up an unwanted detour on the “Boy Scout Trail,” which climbed steeply along the side of a waterfall. After having already ridden 10 miles at 9,000 feet , my sister in law had put in a respectable effort for her first mountain bike ride ever, and she was very ready to be done! When the trail got seriously steep I was pretty sure that this climb wasn’t a part of the plan, and with the help of the map and my GPS I guided us back down the mountain and out to our truck… the right way this time.

Our first ride in Crested Butte had been quite an adventure, and it was just the first of many!


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