The Perfect Week-Long Colorado Mountain Biking Road Trip

Recently someone asked me what trails in Colorado I would recommend if they had a week in the late summer to see/ride as much as they possibly could. This is a difficult question, because it depends on what type of trails you want to ride, what you want to experience, and to some degree your fitness and skill level. There are are hundreds of trails in the Centennial State, with true mountain biking-specific destinations such as Steamboat Springs or Durango, where you could spend more than a week and still not sample every trail. It was difficult to give a recommendation with so many to choose from, but I carefully suggested, starting from Denver DIA, to consider a loop that spanned the central part of the state.

There are seemingly endless miles of singletrack in Colorado, including this one: Uncle Nazty in Salida. Rider: Mike H.
There are seemingly endless miles of singletrack in Colorado, including this one: Uncle Nazty in Salida. Rider: Mike H.

Day 1

From DIA take I-70W to US 285 and drive about 2.5 hours to Salida, a relatively hidden gem in the heart of Colorado. I would hire a shuttle to the Monarch Crest Trail (MCT) in order to descend the Green’s Creek cutoff. Snow is often present on the MCT until July, and afternoon thunderstorms make early morning starts mandatory. If you can’t do this trail, there are scores of others around Salida that will be open. By taking Green’s Creek, you will avoid the full Epic 33-mile MCT and only climb about 800ft over 7 miles (at 11,000 feet), but then descend nine miles with -2,500 vertical feet! This white-knuckle, scenic trail  starts above timberline and is steep and rocky like a downhill run, then transitions into more gentle aspen groves before crossing several creeks, with a short pedal back to your vehicle. Park along Hwy 50. Accommodations are inexpensive in the quaint town of Salida, and there are camping options galore near Methodist Mountain. Be sure to check out Amica’s for some tasty local microbrew.

The views at 11,000ft on the MCT are unbeatable
The views at 11,000ft on the MCT are unbeatable

Day 2

To experience more of Colorado’s awesomeness in summer, I would make the 90-mile journey west along US 50/135 to Crested Butte, and start with a morning ride on the iconic Trail 401. If you are lucky, wildflowers will be peaking, which will make the long 2,700ft climb up to Schofield Pass that much more worth it, as tall flowers and skunk cabbage slap you in the legs. I recommend knee pads. Primitive camping is free along Gothic Road, and if you have enough energy left in the afternoon, hit the Snodgrass trail for a relatively easy spin while looking over at Mount Crested Butte and the resort.

A thousand photos would fail to capture the picturesque landscape you will encounter on Trail 401
A thousand photos would fail to capture the picturesque landscape you will encounter on Trail 401

Day 3

Save your legs, because the next trail I recommend, Doctor’s Park, starts with a brutally-long 2,900ft climb to access quite possibly one of North America’s best descents. Shuttle this if you can; the climb will take hours. The descent starts at 10,300 feet and ends at 8,000 feet, a high velocity ride that is reminiscent of the Scout speeders on the moon of Endor. This trail has a little of everything: fast rocky switchbacks, incredible speed through undulating aspen forests, and a technical finish over decomposing granite boulder fields. You will remember this trail for the rest of your life, but you’ll have plenty of time to think about it, because you need to get in your car and drive 150 miles along Hwy 50 to Grand Junction/Fruita.

After hours of climbing to 10,300 feet, enjoy the scenery high in the Rockies before rocketing down Doctors Park
After hours of climbing to 10,300 feet, enjoy the scenery high in the Rockies before rocketing down Doctors Park

Day 4

There are skeptics that will warn you to avoid the Western Slope in the summer because of the heat, but I respectfully disagree. This area is one of the premier riding destinations in the country, and is a must-do on my recommended “loop o’ fun.” Just be smart about when you ride, and take extra water. I would recommend starting at 18 Road in the morning and hit Zippity Do Dah, PBR, and MoJoe. Give your legs a break and head to the popular Hot Tomato in Fruita for pizza and beer, then shuffle main street with some cold coffee and check out bike shops. In the late afternoon, head a few minutes west on I-70 to the Loma exit and ride Mary’s loop/Horsethief, and add on the masochistic Moore Fun if you have the juice.

Prepare for air if you hit MoJoe flat out. Rider: jkldouglas
Prepare for air if you hit MoJoe flat out. Rider: jkldouglas

Day 5

Ride Grand Junction. Period. Fruita trails often get the most notoriety, but chances are the trails in Grand Junction are better than any trail you’ve ridden before this trip. I would recommend starting with the Ribbon in the morning.  Pay a local shop to shuttle you up Little Park Road and point you in the right direction, because you will start off by riding down a slab of granite for half an hour at speeds close to 40mph near the edge of 300ft cliffs. Choose your lines carefully, and remember that there is a lot of climbing before this ride spits you out on Monument Rd at the Lunch Loops parking area. Grab some chow at the tasty Dream Cafe in downtown Grand Junction, then return to this parking lot in the afternoon for more punishment and fun.

The Ribbon is full of surprises and scenery. Photo: miniskibum
The Ribbon is full of surprises and scenery. Photo: miniskibum

The Lunch Loops area, known as Tabeguache, is a network of trails ranging from easy to insane. If you enjoy technical riding, I recommend climbing Pet a Kes and riding Holy Cross, then linking Lemon Squeezer, Pucker Up, or Free Lunch. This will put you and your bike to the test with big drops, gap jumps, and technical rollers. If you want something more mellow, do Miramonte Rim and coast down Andy’s loop back to the lot.

A typical snapshot of Holy Cross, with loads and loads of technical features. Photo: John Fisch
A typical snapshot of Holy Cross, which has loads and loads of technical features to test even expert riders. Photo: John Fisch

Now, that’s five hard days of riding, and hopefully you built a day or two of rest into your itinerary as well, with enough photos to keep your true Facebook friends jealous for at least a couple of days. But, maybe you are a monster. Perhaps this was just a warm up for you. If so, there are plenty of trails to explore along the I-70 corridor as you make your way back to DIA, contemplating how you want to quit your job and relocate to Colorado. Trails en route to Denver that are worth investigating include the Boy Scout Trail in Glenwood Springs, the Pool/Ice Rink trail in Eagle, and the popular Apex trail in Golden (where Yeti tests bikes). There are dozens of other trails, but you can’t do them all in just one week.

Hopefully if you visit Colorado you will have the opportunity to experience these trails and more. As I mentioned, there are other destination cities along the Front Range, Western Slope, and in the the heart of the Rockies which would also be a great place to spend a week on a mountain bike. Pick your poison, and repeat as often as you can. Above all, keep the rubber side down, have fun, make memories, and practice proper trail etiquette. Happy trails!

Your turn: what are your favorite trails in Colorado? Do you have a favorite destination spot? 

Kenosha Pass is another trail that is easy to access along this suggested loop, along US285 just east of Como.
Kenosha Pass is another trail that is easy to access along this suggested loop, along US285 just west of Bailey.

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