Epic Ride: 26 miles and 5 trails in Crested Butte, Colorado

In July when the temps in Grand Junction get to be too sultry to bear, we head to Crested Butte for cooler days, wildflowers, and fun, flowing singletrack. This year, in an effort to change things up a bit, we planned to stay in a different campground than usual and to do an epic ride.

Oh-Be-Joyful is a campground (and creek) on Slate River Road just outside of downtown Crested Butte.  It’s a BLM campground and currently is free to camp in.  Consequently, you can’t make reservations, and it fills up quickly.  We are lucky to have a friend who lives in Crested Butte, so he drove out and got us a site on a Wednesday, when several were available.  We got even luckier when the guy at the camp next to us packed up and left around 5pm: it gave us some much needed space for our three tents and rain shelter!

The view of Oh-Be-Joyful creek from just beyond our campsite.

There are, of course, pluses and minuses to this campground vs the paid forest service campgrounds we’ve stayed at before. The sites at the FS campgrounds on the Taylor River road are much bigger, further apart from each other, and guests are usually quiet.  The BLM sites are smaller, close together, and, with no host to “shush” them, folks can get rowdy. Still, we were able to do several rides right from camp and that, along with a nice cool creek to soak in, was worth it.

On Thursday, we rode out of camp down to the pedestrian bridge that crosses Oh-Be-Joyful creek near Gunsight Pass.  We rode the Lower Loop almost all the way to town before taking a hard right and riding Upper Lower Loop back towards Gunsight Pass and our campground.  It was about 12 miles round trip and the perfect warm-up ride.

Looking back towards Peanut Lake on the Lower Loop.

On Friday, we loaded up with snacks, water, and sunscreen and headed out for our epic ride.  The first trail was Lower Loop, which we took into town.  We crossed Sixth Street and headed out down a cow pasture double track (the east end of Elk Avenue) to Tony’s Trail.  Tony’s is a well-built trail that leads up from town to Upper Loop and Upper Upper Loop. It’s short and definitely rideable by even beginners.

Lots of wildflowers on Tony’s Trail.

We turned left and picked up Upper Loop to head towards Crested Butte Mountain Resort.  Upper Loop is much more technical and even has a few hike-a-bike sections.  It ends with a fierce climb up to Hunter Hill Road.  We turned right, rode out to a cul-de-sac, and picked up a spur trail over to the ski resort.  From there, we meandered up a double track road and hopped on a downhill resort trail to bomb down into the base area.  It felt great to finally give my quads a break!

Climbing through aspens on Upper Loop.

We were maybe two hours into our ride at this point.  We left the ski resort and climbed up Gothic Road to the Snodgrass trailhead.  Snodgrass begins right where the pavement of Gothic Road ends, on the left.  You walk your bike over the steps and start climbing on the jeep road.  The climbing on Snodgrass is tough.  It’s painful.  It will make you dig down deep and pull energy and determination from places you didn’t know existed… or maybe that’s just me.

But the downhill?  Oh, it’s so sweet!  It’s dark and shady and twisty and wonderful.  And way, way too short!  Still, after miles of climbing and 2 miles of downhill, you’ll find yourself down at Washington Gulch road.  Hang a left, and after a few minutes enjoy a long cruising downhill back to Gothic Road.

Tight, twisting trail through aspen trees on Snodgrass.

Once you reach Gothic, turn right and then almost immediately right again into the Saddle Ranch subdivision.  Climb the drive, and at the end of the cul-de-sac you’ll see a sign for the Lupine Trail.  This trail is pretty easy to follow and is a very well-built addition to Crested Butte’s singletrack.  It doesn’t have many climbs, and the downhill back to Slate River road is really sweet: bermed switchbacks, some tight trees… it’s all there!

When you’re finally back on Slate River Road, take a right.  After a few minutes, at the crest of a very slight hill, you’ll see a piece of singletrack head off to the right.  You can take this if you want, or climb the road.  The singletrack just intersects with the road again a few minutes later.

One last piece of singletrack.

We got to this point and were completely drained.  We’d all gone through at least 2 liters (2.5 for me) of water and three snacks.  We pedaled slowly back up the road to the campground where I promptly grabbed a beer and headed for the creek.

In the end, we had ridden for five hours–I was ecstatic.  I didn’t know I could ride that far, or climb that much, in one day. What an awesome, and exhausting, ride!

Riding back up Slate River Road to camp

If you want to do this loop but you’re staying in town or at a campsite on the Taylor River Road, you can easily start the ride from town on Tony’s Loop and end by dropping down from Slate River road, at the sign for Gunsight Pass, to the Lower Loop trail.  This will take you right back to town.

For more information on the mountain biking in Crested Butte, check out mtbgreg1’s article titled “Mountain Biking Crested Butte, Colorado.”

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