Shoulder season, stick season, off-season: Whatever you call it, that window of time between the golden glory of fall and the deep pow of winter can be a glum period in Telluride.
Enough snow has fallen to make most local trails unridable, but there’s not enough of a base for safe turns, and the chairlifts are still weeks away from running. A deep chill runs through the air, the days are quickly becoming short and color drains from the mountains as the last of the leaves fall. The weather tells you it’s time to store your bike for the winter, but you aren’t ready to pack it up just yet.
Fortunately, Telluride is surrounded on all sides by an antidote to the fall blues: the desert. There, the sun still has potency, the days aren’t too hot, the singletrack is all-time, and canyons and cottonwoods provide plenty of color. Here, five great MTB spots around Telluride perfect for dirt lovers who don’t want to be marooned in the mountains during stick season. All are within three hours of driving—ideal for weekend or even day trips.
1. Moab, Utah
Moab is arguably the most famous bike destination in the Rocky Mountain West, and for good reasons: otherworldly beauty, tire-gripping slickrock, challenging technical riding, crazy exposure, and downhill trails that seem to go on for days. With its mix of canyons, fins, and snow-topped mountains, there is simply no place like it. And fall temps equal paradise in redrock country. Accommodations in this tourist town run the gamut, and there are enough rides to keep you pedaling for days.
Miles from Telluride: 132
Where to Camp: Ken’s Lake, Sand Flats, Moonflower, Big Bend.
Post-ride Grub: Love Muffin, Eklecticafe, Milt’s
What to Ride: Bar M or Klondike Bluffs trails for beginners; Hymasa, Captain Ahab, The Whole Enchilada, Magnificent 7 or Slickrock for moderate to expert riders
2. Fruita, Colorado
Fruita is home to miles of heavenly singletrack, fantastic BLM and state park campsites, and a killer pizza place: all the makings for a perfect fall bike getaway. This small town near Grand Junction has blossomed from a sleepy agricultural outpost to a mountain bike mecca in the last decade thanks to trail-building efforts spearheaded by local bike shops and riders like Jen Zeuner and Anne Keller, who own the outstanding Hot Tomato pizzeria downtown. It helps that Fruita is surrounded by acres of Western Colorado high desert ideal for singletrack—steep bookcliffs, rolling sage lands, and slickrock rims that overlook the Colorado River.
Miles from Telluride: 137
Post-ride Grub: The Hot Tomato, El Tapatio
What to Ride: Zippety Do Dah, Chutes and Ladders, Kessel Run and Joe’s Ridge at 18 Road, Mary’s, Horsethief and Steve’s at the Kokopelli Loops
3. Cortez, Colorado
Two words: Phil’s World. This 29-mile network of desert singletrack was built by and for mountain bikers, and it shows. It’s well-mapped, intuitively designed, and even when the parking lot is packed with vehicles, the one-directional riding makes for trails that feel empty. Also, it’s fun as hell, with features that range from ledgy climbs and fast curves through juniper scrub to the famous swoops of the Rib Cage. Phil’s offers several loops of varying lengths and levels, so you can tailor your ride to what you feel like, from a three-hour bruiser to quick laps on the Rib Cage. And it’s close enough to Telluride to make it an easy day trip.
Miles from Telluride: 88
Post-ride Grub: The Farm Bistro, La Casita, Thai Cortez
What to Ride: Riders looking for a long day should link up Lemon Head, Abajo, Ledges, and Stinky Springs loops before ending on Rib Cage. For all others, you can’t go wrong—it’s all fun.
4. Grand Junction, Colorado
With its big-box stores and sweltering summer heat, Grand Junction gets a bit of a bad reputation. But guess what? It’s home to awesome mountain biking. So the next time you head to Junction, be sure to bring your bike. Tabeguache, also known as the Lunch Loops area and located right on the edge of downtown, is home to a huge variety of riding—from a pump track to the ultra-technical Holy Cross. Go a little farther from town and get rewarded with systems of challenging desert riding that entail rocky drops, big cross-country pushes and loops that will leave you good and spent.
Miles from Telluride: 126
Post-ride Grub: Bin 707, Cafe Sol, Main Street Cafe
What to Ride: The Gunny Loop, Holy Cross, Twist & Shout, Butterknife, The Ribbon
5. Dolores, Colorado
It may be small and unassuming, but Dolores is a wonderful place for a fall bike getaway. A few miles northeast of town is Boggy Draw, a network of trails and loops that roll dreamily through large ponderosa pines and scrub oak forests with views of the La Platas and McPhee Reservoir. It’s easy to moderate riding that is great for beginners and families, but can also be made arduous if that’s what you are after. With campsites right down the dirt road from the trailhead, it’s an easy place to spend a couple days.
Miles from Telluride: 65
Post-ride Grub: Dolores River Brewery, Dolores Food Market (for great deli items, snacks, and pies)
What to Ride: Mavericks, Italian Canyon, and Boggy Draw Loops for beginner or intermediate riders; Bean Canyon for intermediate to expert riders.