Riding Steamboat’s Crown Jewel: Rabbit Ears Continental Divide Shuttle

The first few shops we visited in Steamboat Springs recommended that we begin by riding Emerald Mountain, and then go from there. After taking their advice and riding Emerald, I was left wanting. And after looking at my newly-purchased map and other informational materials, I was a bit indignant: there was no way Emerald Mountain was the best that Steamboat has to offer!

After doing some more digging, and finding a shop employee that would give us real answers to our questions, we were finally able to get the beta on a true big-mountain Steamboat ride… and it turned out to be one of my best rides all summer!

Beautiful view from the Mountain View Trail.
Beautiful view from the Mountain View Trail.

General Route Overview

This ride is an epic shuttle beginning from Dumont Lake at the top of Rabbit Ears Pass on Highway 40. However, the one catch is that none of the shops or guiding companies in town have been able to get a permit to provide commercial shuttles to the top of the pass. So, you and your buddies will have to figure out a way to shuttle yourselves up to the top.

From the top of Rabbit Ears, the route I chose to take followed the Continental Divide Trail, also referred to as Wyoming Trail #1101 here, to the turn off toward the Fish Creek Falls trail. After a short pedal, I took another left onto the Mountain View Trail. I finished the descent using some of the trails located in and around Steamboat Ski Resort. Lastly, I picked up the paved Yampa River Bike Trail to deliver me back to my truck in the town of Steamboat.

While this is one of the more popular routes and the route I personally chose, there are a number of different options available. Instead of turning off of Fish Creek Falls onto the Mountain View Trail, you can follow Fish Creek Falls all the way down into the town of Steamboat. Reportedly, it’s a gnarly ride, and bringing a bike with a lot of suspension is a good idea!

Also, before turning off onto Fish Creek Falls, you could take a right to keep following the CDT along the divide. Reportedly, the section near Buffalo Pass is fantastic. If and when I return to Steamboat, that’s on my hit list!

If you were to head all the way to Buffalo Pass, you could ride the CDT as an out-and-back, or even loop back on Buffalo Pass road, and then pick up one of the descents mentioned above. Or, at Buffalo Pass, you could descend down the gravel road a ways toward Steamboat, pick up the soon-to-be-legalized Buffalo Pass Trails and descend those, and then finish by descending the Spring Creek Trail down into Steamboat.

Emerald Mountain? How’s Emerald mountain supposed to measure up to descending off the Continental Divide?

My Ride

For me, while it was a huge bummer that Max had separated his shoulder the day before while downhilling at Steamboat Ski Resort, I was able to score a ride up to the pass with Max and his brother Jesse as they began the long drive back to Georgia.

I began my ride from Dumont Lake by pedaling along the doubletracky Continental Divide Trail, which gave way to singletrack in just a few miles.

Wildflowers along the CDT
Wildflowers along the CDT

Having just ridden a portion of the CDT along the Monarch Crest a week previously, I was amazed at how different this section of the CDT felt. While the Monarch Crest runs along the top of a relatively sharp-edged mountain ridge, high above tree line, the tops of the mountains here were quite rounded and flat, and below tree line. Despite rolling along at 10,000 feet, I found myself pedaling through rolling high alpine meadows filled with gorgeous wildflowers, passing by pristine lakes resting at the top of the continent.

2013-08-09 09.45.10_1024x768

2013-08-09 09.53.21_1024x768

2013-08-09 09.16.07_1024x768

While the trail was relatively rolling through this section, it was by no means easy. The 10,000-foot elevation wreaking havoc with my lungs, punchy climbs, and interspersed technical sections definitely kept me on my toes.

2013-08-09 09.33.40_450x600

2013-08-09 09.33.49_1024x768   2013-08-09 10.12.22_1024x768

Eventually, the trail turned into a stand of pines and gained a bit of elevation as I approached the turn off toward Fish Creek Falls, and eventually, the Mountain View trail.

2013-08-09 10.22.01_1024x768

2013-08-09 10.54.51_1024x1365_450x600

After climbing a bit through the pines on the Mountain View Trail, the forest opened up, proving that this trail truly lives up to its name!

2013-08-09 11.37.01_1024x768 2013-08-09 11.39.37_1024x768

While the ride had been mostly rolling so far with short climbs and descents, when I reached the top of Mount Werner and the Steamboat Ski Resort boundary, I realized that I was about to lose a lot of elevation very quickly!

2013-08-09 11.56.10_1024x768 2013-08-09 11.58.00_1024x768 2013-08-09 11.58.02_1024x768

When descending through the resort, you need to be careful: according to the signs, only certain trails are legal without a lift ticket. According to the signage at the time, essentially all of the downhill-specific trails require a lift ticket to ride down… even if you don’t ride the lift up. While that seems a little absurd, there are plenty of great multi-directional, multi-use trails that descend down through the resort as well… some of them with plenty of rocks and gnar to keep things interesting!

2013-08-09 11.59.17_1024x768 2013-08-09 12.30.48_1024x768

After an epic 30+-mile ride at 10,000 feet of elevation with well over 2,000 feet of uphill pedaling (despite the shuttle), I stopped at Subway for a well-deserved footlong!

Emerald “Mountain?” Pssh… Emerald Mountain ain’t got nuthin’ on these trails!

More information