Austin’s Guide to Biking in Colorado

Trigg Skoe

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by Austin Osborne 

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The chase of single track has left me living out of my truck multiple times and I would want it any other way. Mountain biking is an exhilarating activity that is accessible in many areas and provides trails for any skill level and has become a huge part of my life. Since 2013 I have been in Colorado searching for the thrill of the unknowing and conquering the useless. I study forestry at Colorado State University and plan to graduate in Spring 2020. Follow my adventures @Redbeardmtb on Instagram.

Colorado has some of the best mountain biking in the U.S., from alpine descents, desert single track, and the rocky front range. Fortunately, there is a trail for every skill level, and riding type within a short drive. Most of us know about the trails that encompass Horsetooth reservoir, and we’re lucky to have the diversity that it brings to mountain biking in Fort Collins. For those looking to venture out of Northern Colorado there are some amazing trails, that are also in spectacular places. It is hard to narrow down my favorite rides in Colorado, because I would need more fingers to count the number of trails I love, but here are a few.

The first one to come to mind is more local, but it’s some of the best riding on the front range. Hall Ranch is located about 45 minutes Southwest of Fort Collins near the town of Lyons. I recommend parking on the street outside the Stone Cup, it’s a neat little hippie coffee shop in Lyons: grab an espresso and get ready to roll. Ride North on highway 36 and make a left onto Apple Valley Rd., from there it is nice warm up to the start of Antelope trail. Antelope trail is a mostly mellow one mile climb with some rocks that are easily to navigate. At the top of this trail there is a bicycle work station and bench to relax on. From there go right, which will take you to Nelsons loop, this connector is an easy climb with a couple of water bars and few rock gardens to keep it interesting. The best thing about Nelsons loop is that there is more downhill than up. Its fast, flowy, and provides and awesome experience for every rider. This trail will take you back to the end of Antelope trail and from there you have a choice to make; either you take Antelope trail down or you head off to Bitterbrush and test your ability. Bitterbrush is two and half miles of gnarly, crazy, rocky downhill that puts the best riders to the test. Once you’ve completed Bitterbrush, you ride the bike lane on the highway back up to the coffee shop. The entire ride is roughly 12 to 15 miles depending on the route taken.

The second ride I wanted to talk about is easily my favorite in Colorado, and maybe in the U.S. If you’ve ever heard of Crested Butte, it’s known for high alpine wildflowers, festivals, and vibrant fall colors. The 401 trail is easily the most picturesque trail I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. The loop begins with an easy 5 mile climb up the Gothic road to Schofield Pass. At approximately mile 4 it is not uncommon to come across a snowfield across the road. A quick hike-a-bike will place you in view of Emerald Lake with a short distance remaining until the famed 401 single track begins. At the top of Schofield Pass, the 401 Trail veers right starting with a tough and consistent climb for 1.3 miles through dense trees. Near the top, the grades get easier, the trees open up, and the views behind you are astronomical. The climb isn’t really all that hard – nothing technical – but your lungs will keep reminding you are at 11,000 feet above sea level. Then the payoff begins. The unsurpassed 360 degree alpine views of the Elk mountains, followed by the first of the steady downhill. After descending a few hundred feet, the trail flows fast and gently downhill with stunning views in front of you and flowers all around in mid-summer. For much of the top part of the descent you’re hugging the hillside, with a steep drop to the right, which can mess with your equilibrium. There are a few very skinny sections that are easy but have very bad fall potential. Take your time and enjoy the scenery.

Lastly, I’d like to take you to the deserts of the western slope. Fruita, Colorado is a small town that was saved by the mountain biking industry. Every time I ride around Fruita, it never fails to meet mountain bikers from every corner of the U.S., and different parts of the world. Getting to the trailhead can be a little difficult for first timers as you weave through the town to make it to the North Fruita desert. Take Interstate 70 west to Fruita (exit 19). Turn north onto Cherry Street and take the first right onto Aspen Avenue. Go through the roundabout and continue on Aspen to Maple Street. Take a left on Maple Street and then travel north. The street will turn into 17.5 road. Take a right on N.3 Road and then a left on 18 Road. Travel approximately 7 miles on 18 Road to the trailhead. Camping is allowed is designated areas and please follow Leave No Trace principles. The 18 road trail system packs a punch for such a small amount of land used. There is a main parking area at the bottom of the trail system and some random spots along the road to the top. Ride the road up and choose one of many trails to bomb down. Both sides of the trail system provides something for everyone, from PBR on the east side that is a fast, fun trail that is full of built berms, small jumps, and fast narrow single track, to Zippity Do Da and Joe’s Ridge on the West side that traverses narrow ridge lines with steep terrain. 18 road is something special, get a group of friends together and make laps all day in the desert sun with cold beers at the bottom.

I hope this helps get some of you rad rams out to different parts of Colorado this summer to explore and experience the truly amazing mountain biking this state has to offer. If you have any questions or want to know more about mountain biking in Colorado, feel free to send me a message over Instagram. Cheers!