There’s a reason Crested Butte keeps topping the bike bucket list. Nestled in the middle of the Elk Mountains – some of Colorado’s most famous and picturesque – is surrounded by endless field and tarmac roads and roughly 750 miles of hiking trails that range from rocky high desert loops in Gunnison to pristine alpine epics. The best thing about it: There is something for every type of driver. How to make the most of your first trip to Gunnison Valley.
Sea of sage to Luge
Best for: Family flow
This compound in the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area, about 30 minutes down the valley from Crested Butte, avoids the technical rock slabs found elsewhere at Hartman, offers expansive views and lots of panting currents, and is wide enough for hand cyclists. “When it rains in Crested Butte, Hartmans usually drives really well,” says Dave Wiens, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. After the adventure, pitch a tent or park your gear among the granite formations at a designated campsite (50 to be won). Or go to Gunnison, where you will find adventurous accommodations like the Wanderlust Hostel or the Blue Mesa Camping Pods.
Best for: Grinding gravel
Ride trails, offset carbon
Would you like to offset the emissions from your trip? In the Gunnison Valley, it’s as easy as riding a bike. For every mile logged with the CBGTrails app, you offset 22 pounds of CO2.
For a change of pace, an off-day shakeout, or a non-tech adventure, twist the sidewalk and gravel to Ohio Pass. Along the way, enjoy views west of The Castles, towering lava rocks left over from the West Elk volcano eruption, and sweeping views of the Ohio Creek Valley. “You can also complete a great loop from Ohio to the Kebler Pass,” says Wiens. Whichever way you choose this ride, it ends with a descent into downtown Crested Butte, where the numerous pubs and restaurants of Elk Avenue await with the ultimate reward: cold drinks and great food.
Lower and upper lower loops
Best for: Cruise out of town
This idyllic mountain bike loop can be scaled up or down depending on your appetite and offers a bit of everything that makes CB a great place to pedal – aspens galore, a lush river valley, and breathtaking mountain views. Perhaps the best part about it is that it starts and ends right in town. “You can stop on Elk Avenue and enjoy happy hour at the Brick or on any restaurant terrace,” says Lauren Koelliker, development director at the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association.
Best for: Lift-served wildflower runs
While the more technical trails of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort draw more attention from lifters, this hilly, winding trail offers a backcountry feel – with handlebar-deep wildflowers in the summer – in one accessible package. It’s also the perfect warm-up lap when you’re back up the Red Lady Express or want to connect to nearby trails like Snodgrass. Would you like to skip the warm-up? Stay at the Lodge in Mountaineer Square to catch your first chair – it’s just 200 yards from the Red Lady Lift.
Best for: Funny cascading drops
Don’t let the relatively short length of this loop of 12 km fool you – the steep climb up Strand Hill is challenging and the reward is on occasion technical. On the way you will appreciate another reward: the view of the snow-capped Teocalli Mountain. After your drive, set up camp in the Brush Creek area (where designated camping will be introduced through September 2021).
Crested Butte to the Almont Triangle
Best for: Two-lane speed and gentle dirt
Gravel cyclists can speed up the revolutions on this non-technical lasso from Crested Butte via Jack’s Cabin Cutoff along the Taylor River to Almont. “It’s not pure gravel, so you can get by with a racing bike. This is a great lollipop from Crested Butte or Gunnison, ”says Wiens. Visit the historic city’s general store or grab a plate at the Three Rivers Smokehouse. When you’re done in Gunnison, “the live entertainment at the I Bar Ranch is fantastic.”
Best for: A technical excursion into the preseason
This CB mainstay is often melted and ready to go in early summer. It leads between Cement and Brush Creek through dark coniferous forests and over open, flowery meadows. As you ride, stroll south across Cement Creek to the disused ski slopes of the Pioneer Ski Area, where Comet – Colorado’s first chairlift – was installed in 1939.
Best for: Experienced bike packers
Before following any route inspired by the sport’s earliest pioneers, visit the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum to learn about the Crested Butte clunker generation and the original ascent of the 3,700 foot Pearl Pass. Then set out on one of the state’s most scenic routes – you’ll pass numerous 13,000 and 14,000 foot peaks, peer into huge drains, and gasp for air on high passes. Attack the crossing in as much time as you need or have time, although most of the time it will be completed in two or three days.
Rocky Ridge to the rattlesnake
Best for: Choose your own adventure through slickrock obstacles
Connect Rocky Ridge and Rattlesnake via Sea of Sage for a mix of fluid singletrack, technical steering, and rocky features, then finish off with Becks and Collarbone. “Rattlesnake is full of natural features: you build your own playground from large rolls of rock, challenging steep climbs and technical descents. Or stick with the simpler cross-country options, ”says Koelliker. After the trail, it’s hard to take a dip in the nearby Blue Mesa Reservoir – Elk Creek Marina offers SUP and kayak rentals for that extra adventure.
From technical desert trails at Hartman Rocks to epic high alpine loops in Crested Butte, there’s always something new to ride on the more than 750 miles of single trails in the Gunnison Valley. Come to mountain biking; Stay for the typical Colorado mountain towns. Your next adventure awaits in Gunnison – Crested Butte!