Fall has just about arrived in the American West and people are starting to think about snow again, but those of us who mountain bike are planning out our last few bike trips before everything gets buried in snow. Its still pretty hot in the desert, but things are just right in the high mountains and fall colors are starting to show. My picks for the end of August and beginning of September would be Monarch Crest trail (video I shot on my trip down there at the beginning of August) near Salida, Colorado. You need to either bring two cars or hire a shuttle to drive you to the top of Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet and then you get to descend all the way back to Poncha Springs, CO at about 7,500 feet above sea level for a huge descent and great views. There is some climbing at the beginning to reach the actual crest, but the views and the descent are well worth it. Once to the top, you have tons of options for getting down, ranging from shorter rides to 35 miles or more.
Crested Butte should be on every mountain biker’s list for the world famous 401 trail (if you’re really strong, loop Washington Gulch to trail 403 to 401 for 30+ miles of riding) and the many other amazing trails there- try Reno-Flag-Bear-Deadman’s gulch. Reno-Flag-Bear was my first really big mountain bike ride back in 2003 and it whipped my butt back then. I haven’t ridden the trail since, but I can’t wait to get back and try it. Also check out Doctor’s Park near CB. You can spend your down time checking out the cool town which is home to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. For shorter rides check out the Lower Loop (beginner friendly!), Upper Loop (Technical, lots of Aspens, options to make it longer or shorter), and Strand Hill (fun, fast, technical, tons of Aspens).
This time of year is great for biking around Breckenridge and Summit County in general too. Check out any part of the Colorado Trail for awesome riding, especially anything off of Tiger Rd. The big ride is to go from Kenosha Pass to Breckenridge on the CT. This trail will take you through lots and lots of Aspen trees in Park county, so keep an eye on fall colors in the high country, and bring a camera. This is another 30 plus mile ride with two to three big climbs and some really amazing and technical descents, depending on how long you stick to the Colorado trail (hint: skip the West Ridge section if your legs are cooked, but jump back on at the Tiger Dredge for some more quality single track with minimal climbing). Click HERE for video of the West Ridge descent. For a shorter ride, you really can’t beat the Peaks trail from Breckenridge to Frisco. You can do it as an out back on the trail, and out and back on the bike path, or just as a point to point using the free bus system. Awesome trail, techy climbing and downhills and some good views along the way. You can always shorten it up by taking the Gold Hill section of the Colorado trail too.
Summit County in fall:
As the desert begins to cool, and the mountains start to get too cold or see snow, people inevitably look west to Fruita and Moab. Fruita, Colorado only came to my attention as a mountain bike destination last year, but it quickly became one of my favorite places to ride. While you are there you have to check out the Kessel Run trail, hands down one of the most fun, flowly, cool trails I have ever ridden, and I have ridden a lot of trails. Also be sure to check out Mary’s and Horse thief bench, Chutes and Ladders and Joe’s Ridge. Fruita even has some good beginner friendly trails in the 18 Road area.
Moab is of course the Mecca of mountain biking in the American West. The Slickrock Trail holds a mythic place in mountain bike lore, and I think its worth riding for almost every mountain biker, but keep in mind that there are better trails in Moab. If you really want a long day in the saddle and serious technical challenge, pay the money for a shuttle and ride the “Whole Enchilada” trail. Start at 11,000 feet and descend all the way down to the Colorado river at 4,500 ish feet above sea level. You’ll experience everything from Aspen forests to slickrock and pass through several distinct biomes on the way down. Along the way you’ll ride single track and double track, face drops, rock gardens, sand and ledges. Part of the trail is the porcupine rim, which is worth riding on its own, although it is shorter and doesn’t deliver the same descending thrill as the Enchilada. In spring you can ride parts of the Enchilada as snow begins to melt off of the higher terrain. the Kokopelli down section is a great long ride in the spring at about 25 miles and starting at 8,000 some feet. Amasa Back is a great trail to check out too. As you start to climb, you’ll wonder what the heck everyone who says it is a great trail was thinking. Then as you come down you’ll be blown away by the fun. Expect some scary exposure and some challenging, large drops and ledges. For more beginner friendly options check out the Moab brand trails. The Magnificent 7 area has some awesome trails as well, although more challenging. Moab is an amazing place, but not the best for beginners. Don’t forget to check out Arches National Park while you are there (check out more pictures from my trip in January HERE and HERE).
Colorado Trail on Georgia Pass:
Now get out and RIDE!