Cruising Through Colorado
I first rode Crested Butte’s iconic 401 Trail in the early 1990s and rode it enough times since then to know its surprises. My dad, however, had only mountain biked a few times. Sure, the same guy who had ages ago taught me to ride a bike was now the guy I was guiding down this famous trail, but he had been a dirt bike trail rider for decades and was no stranger to this setting. I wasn’t worried.
Well, not too much, I thought, as we started whipping our wheels around the tight and treacherous runoff gully0crossings that periodically crease the massive slope. There’s hardly a better way to see the rugged parts of Colorado then from a mountain bike. Colorado is a state that has a vast and varied collection of terrain and climate zones. Among the plains, valleys, deserts, and mountains, are scenes so unique and breathtaking that you can wonder how you’ve lived so long and not known this kind of place can even exist. Surely, you wonder, you should have seen a photo of this in a magazine by now. And indeed, many of the great state’s idyllic scenes have been displayed in thousands upon thousands of published photos. But there is no replacing being there in person to see it, smell it, and experience it for yourself. And where cars can’t go, mountain bikes often can. Colorado is crisscrossed by a massive network of trails that range from casually pedestrian to insane and death-defying. Whatever level you are ready and longing for, there is a trail here for you.
And whether you’re a die-hard dirt rider or if you’re just looking for a jumping off point, a great place to start is at the many ski areas in the state that offer lift-served summer bike access to manicured and well-crafted trails that come in all shapes and sizes, complete with trail difficulty ratings, signage, and maps to help you navigate. Of course, there’s nothing like setting off on an adventure either, heading into the pristine national forest to get away from the crowds (be sure to stick to the legal-to-ride trails, as you cannot ride in wilderness designated areas). It’s there that you might find the Colorado you’ve been seeking. Loamy, pine needle covered rich soil in the shade canopy of giant trees makes for a cool and quiet trail setting that pairs perfectly with the hot afternoon sun. Or maybe your mountain bike dream moment is a long, twisting trail in the fall through the changing leaves of iconic aspen trees. For some, it’s the rocky, technical trails, in a steady afternoon drizzle that’s finished with a mud-covered grin.
Chances are that once you get into mountain biking, you’re going to start seeking more trails. And doing so will likely make you feel akin to a modern-day frontier explorer as you leave the sights and sounds of civilization (briefly) behind. After having cruised down the smooth upper side hill section of the 401 Trail, my dad and I had entered the increasingly technical section of trail below that does some swooping switchbacks toward the stream-cut floor of the high-mountain valley, when I heard a familiar oomph sound comprised of air exiting the lungs and fine dust entering the lower atmosphere. “I’m okay,” I heard my dad say apologetically as I turned my bike back around to investigate. While an occasional mid-ride dismount can be considered inevitable, some do better with them than others, and my dad has always seemed to be a pretty good sport considering he’s had a heaping share of them.
Taking a moment to rest in the shade, we grinned at each other, delighted by the thrill of speeding through high-alpine nature’s glory. It’s an addicting way to see the best our state has to offer, even if it occasionally comes with some dirt between the teeth.
FIND YOUR TRAIL
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. Search their site for recommended trails, photos, reviews, and more!
Download this great app and take the trails with you! Connect with other riders through classes, outings, and events. Their website is full of great resources, like how to ship a bike, what to pack for your adventure, and tips for riding in the dark!
American trails is a huge nationwide resource for finding trails. There are additional resources for classes, conventions, safety training, and education.
The Colorado Mountain Bike Association (COMBA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization whose mission is the development and preservation of great mountain biking experiences in Colorado. Their site is helpful and includes a “projects” tab that allows you to view new trails in the region and the status of the project.