Long Live Long Rides: Crested Butte Edition

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  • Crested Butte - Gunnison Valley, CO
Everyone puts 401 on their lists of “must-do” rides in CB, but it’s for a good reason.
Everyone puts 401 on their lists of “must-do” rides in CB, but it’s for a good reason. Pierce Martin
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Crested Butte (CB) and the Gunnison Valley have been a mecca for mountain biking for decades, and have close ties to the very earliest days of the sport. There is simply nothing like a long, hard day in the saddle to highlight all that is wonderful about riding flowing ribbons of singletrack stretching into the horizon. Well, maybe doing that long, hard day surrounded by snow-capped mountains, kaleidoscopic wildflowers, and lush green valleys, all underneath a cloudless cobalt sky. Here is a list of some of the best 20+ mile rides available in the area.

403 to 401

_Mileage: 29.8 miles (Including Snodgrass Trail) Climbing: 4,750 ft. _

Ok, Ok, EVERYONE puts 401 on their lists of "must-do" rides in CB, but it’s for a good reason. It really is spectacular. It’s got a bit of everything: big climb, bigger descent, tight singletrack across tundra, a glacier crossing, ripping through thick aspen groves, and jumping over roots. Adding the 4 miles of 403 increases the climbing and the difficulty, but it also ups the scenery, and of course, the descent.

There are a few ways to connect these trails, but if you're riding from town expect a huge day starting at the Snodgrass Trail, connecting to the 403, up Schofield Pass, then down the 401. Riders can make a shorte, 13.5-mile point-to-point, leaving one car at the start of the 403 on CR 811 (Washington Gulch) and a vehcile at the Judd Falls Trailhead out of the town of Gothic.

Doctor Park Loop

Mileage: 20.1 Climbing: 2,700 feet

Doctor Park is many locals’ favorite ride, and it is classic CB, with a huge climb, epic, sweeping views, and a world-class descent. After climbing for what seems like forever, the trail turns into some of the best singletrack anywhere. The 5.5-mile descent is sure to remind anyone why they ride bikes. Looking to score extra hardcore points? Do an out-n-back on Doctor Park #424. Riding it all the way to its end adds 35 miles/3,500 feet of elevation of hard, steep, fantastic singletrack.

This is also a great ride for bikers who want to track and log their adventures with the CBGTrails app, which includes the TrailQuest challenge. The CBGTrails app is an excellent (free!) resource (for Android and iOS) that gives terrain maps for over 750 miles of trails in the Crested Butte - Gunnison area. TrailQuest is a fun addition built into the app that tracks the unique miles you’ve ridden in the area and displays the results on a leaderboard. The really cool part? Track enough unique miles and you can win real-world prizes, ranging from stickers to bike jerseys.

Doctor Park has a huge climb, sweeping views, and a world-class descent.
Doctor Park has a huge climb, sweeping views, and a world-class descent. TRAILSOURCE.COM

Reno/Flag/Bear/Deadman's Gulch/Doctor Park

Mileage: 28-ish Climbing: 3,800 feet

The Reno/Flag/Bear combo is a standard must-do ride in CB, and adding Deadman’s brings the ride up to 18 miles. But, by adding the 6-mile descent on Doctor, not only are two classic CB rides ticked off in one day, but riders are treated to a nearly 30-mile ride, with over half of it descending an epic trail that is sure to be burned into the brain as an all-time favorite ride. Towards the end of the loop, when finishing Bear creek, go left on Deadman’s instead of right for the normal loop. Head left on the 744.2C connector trail to Doctor. Take the left for the loooong, sweet Doctor descent.

Hartman Rocks

Mileage: up to 70 Climbing: Varies

Down in nearby Gunnison, Hartman Rocks delivers over 70 miles of trails in a unique, high-desert setting. The area is a spiderweb of short trails, so it’s easy to custom-tailor the length of rides, all without touching tires to the same bit of trail twice. The bonus about Hartman is that due to its lower elevation, it’s rideable far earlier (April) than the stuff up in CB.

Snodgrass, Lupine, Lower Loop

Mileage: 22 Climbing: 2,200 feet

This classic combo is close to town, yet offers some of the best riding, wildflower-covered meadows, and glorious alpine scenery that CB is deservedly known for. From town, hit the rec path to Gothic Road. From Gothic, turn onto Snodgrass. Follow Snodgrass to Washington Gulch road. From there, ride back down to Gothic Road and turn right into the Saddle Ridge neighborhood to find the Lupine Trail. Lupine ends at Slate River Road, make a right. Follow Slate River for a mile, make a left at the fork. Follow the trail and use the pedestrian bridge to cross the river. Follow the doubletrack to the Upper Lower Loop then to Lower Loop and back to town.

Find your way heading back to town on Lower Loop Trail.
Find your way heading back to town on Lower Loop Trail. TRAILSOURCE.COM

Deer Creek Loop

Mileage: 29 Climbing: 3,800

Make no mistake, Deek Creek is a long day. But, while circumnavigating around Mt. Crested Butte, riders are treated to wildflowers in every color of the rainbow. Flowing, serpentine singletrack weaves through dense aspen groves, chilly creek crossings, and humbling, unparalleled vistas. The local mountain bike club, Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, re-routed the trail in spring 2017 so even if you’ve ridden it before, you owe it to yourself to try it again this summer. The relatively moderate elevation and south-facing orientation means it melts out earlier than the higher-up rides. If looking for extra credit, one could link up with the Snodgrass/Lupine/Lower Loop ride back into town.

Pearl Pass to Aspen

Mileage: 39 Climbing: 4,000

This is the ride that started it all. Back in 1977, the forefathers of the sport like Gary Fisher, Charles Kelly, Joe Breeze, and others rode their balloon-tired, single-speed klunkers over the 12,705-foot pass. Once a year in autumn, dozens of hardy folks line up in downtown CB to trace the route of this historic pilgrimage. It’s now become the longest running organized mountain bike ride in the world. It’s mostly rough Jeep roads, and the top is unrideable, where riders have to grind over soccer-ball-sized boulders at 12,000 feet. But the views are unmatched, there’s a 5,000-foot descent on the backside, and it’s a piece of history. If feeling really strong, stop for lunch in Aspen, then head back over the mountain via Taylor Pass for one of the most truly epic adventures that can happen on two wheels.

Spend a long day enjoying the views and biking Deer Creek Loop.
Spend a long day enjoying the views and biking Deer Creek Loop. Joshua Powe

So, there it is—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Spend any time with a bike and a map in Crested Butte, and it’s easy to see how user-friendly the area is. Downloading the free CBGTrails map app will greatly help keeping you on the trail. Routes link into one another to form a network of some of the best trails in the country. One could spend an entire summer here and ride new stuff every day. Without any exaggeration, ego, or hyperbole, it has to be said: the quality, variety, and beauty of the riding here is simply unlike any other place in the world. Have fun out there!

Originally written for Crested Butte & the Gunnison Valley | The Home of Mountain Biking.

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