Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley have over 750 miles of singletrack. Let that sink in for a moment. There are very few places in the world that have the trail network that we have, and that includes Moab, Whistler, and Pisgah.
Want to ride it? Here’s how to start planning.
Pick a Date
The first thing you need to do is pick a time to come. Mountain biking season here starts in late April and runs to mid-November. Each season has its perks and can offer a completely different riding experience.
For fantastic early and late season riding the number one place is Hartman Rocks, located just outside Gunnison. Typically Hartman Rocks will open in late April. Some years the first rides of the season come as early as late March. Since Gunnison is a little lower in elevation than Crested Butte and a little drier you can typically ride well into November. If you’re at Fruita in May and it’s 90 degrees you can make the easy trip to Gunnison for a similar riding style and friendlier temperatures.
Crested Butte mountain biking comes into play when the snow melts off. That typically starts at the end of May, and by the middle of June most of the trails have dried off enough to start riding the longer rides. Trail conditions and ride reports can be found at the Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association’s page.
July is definitely the busy season , but solitude, peace, and flow can be found if you pick the less popular trails. If you’re looking to come in July and the beginning of August it’s recommended to call ahead and book your rooms by mid-June since things fill up fast. July is also the height of wildflower season. If you want to ride through handlebar-high fields of flowers this is the time to come.
In August and September the flowers start to fade, and by the middle of September the valley is on fire with the brilliant yellows and oranges of the aspen groves. The cooler and drier weather enables longer rides.
Getting and Staying Here
The Gunnison Valley is an hour west of Salida, and an 1.5 hours east of Montrose. Aspen is just over the mountains from us, but even on a good day it takes at least 3 hours to drive that distance. Flying into Gunnison Regional Airport is the easiest way to get here, but if you’re flying into Denver or Colorado Springs it takes about 4 hours to reach Gunnison on one of the prettiest drives in the state.
Figuring out a place to stay is about as easy as it comes. Give a call to Gunnison-Crested Butte Reservations at (877) 213.5327 to book a place to stay in the valley and also to book airline tickets to and from.
If you’re looking to add the Gunnison Valley as one of your stops on a tour of Colorado, you probably want to know where we’re at. The Gunnison Valley is an hour west of Salida, and an 1.5 hours east of Montrose. Aspen is just over the mountains from us, but even on a good day it takes at least 3 hours to drive that distance. If you’re flying in to Denver or Colorado Springs it takes about 4 hours to reach Gunnison on one of the prettiest drives in the state
If roughing it is more your thing then check out our options for camping in the valley. On that page you can find sites for RVs, campers, and tents. You can also find information on everything from developed campgrounds with hookups to dispersed camping on public land throughout the valley.
One thing that is worth a mention is the new camping regulations for the Gothic/East River Corridor. Starting June 15, 2016 camping will be banned due to overuse of the area in previous years. This ban extends until August 15 each year, so if you come in late August or September you will find some excellent camping in the area. Just make sure to be a good steward of the land and dispose of waste properly, stay in already developed campsites, and don’t go four-wheeling off of the main road.
Where to Ride
This is the fun part. Everyone has an opinion on what a great mountain biking itinerary is, but the most important thing to consider is what you want to ride: technical downhill, flow trails, long cross country rides, high desert slickrock, or a little smattering of all of the above?
One of the most important things to take into account when you come here to ride is that all the rides are high elevation. Even riding in Gunnison, your baseline elevation is 7700 ft. above sea level, so take your time to start and ride easy to get acclimated before tackling the real big rides. Some great places to start are Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, the Evolution Bike Park at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, and the Snodgrass and Lupine trails in Crested Butte. Hartman’s is a little lower in elevation and doesn’t have the monster climbs that other trail networks in the valley have. The Evolution Bike Park is conveniently lift served with the option to grab a beer between or after rides. The Snodgrass and Lupine trails are all intermediate trails with the added bonus that you can take the free town bus all the way up to the trailhead and then ride downhill all the way back to town.
Once you’ve brought your blood-oxygen levels back up to par, it’s time to hit the classics and local favorites. A quick disclaimer on using Google to plan these rides: you will inevitably find the 401 trail at the top of all lists, and for good reason. It’s a spectacular ride with spectacular wildflowers and views, but because of this it can definitely get crowded.
Check out some of the other great rides in the area. My favorites are Teocalli Ridge and the Reno, Flag, Bear, Deadman’s loop. Teocalli Ridge at its shortest is 12 miles with a 2,000 ft climb and 2,000 ft descent. Most people ride this one out of town using Tony’s Trail and Upper Loop as connectors to Brush Creek Rd. This adds about 15 miles total to the ride. Reno, Flag, Bear, Deadman’s is a 20 mile ride featuring 3 moderate climbs, and 3 downhills so good you could write a book about them. This ride starts from the Deadman’s Gulch Trailhead in Cement Creek and ends with a screaming descent of 2 miles and 32 switchbacks.
Some other favorite rides in the valley include Doctor Park trail and The Dyke trail. The Doctor Park ride is located in between Spring Creek and the Taylor River. This trail will take you on above-treeline alpine adventure before plunging all the way back down to the North Bank Campground along the Taylor River. The Dyke trail is a must-do for anyone visiting during the September colors. This trail starts at Irwin, an old mining town, and weaves its way through the largest aspen grove in Colorado.
Looking for something further afield? Gunnison and Crested Butte are both great home bases to tackle sections of the famed Monarch Crest Trail and for bikepacking trips on the Colorado Trail. Most of the access to these areas are within an easy hour drive from the Gunnison Valley and offer some epic adventures and speedy downhills.
Probably the best and most handy tool you can have when planning your first bike trip to the Gunnison Valley is the cbgtrails.com app. To use it go to cbgtrails.com and download the maps over wi-fi. Once they’re on your phone you can access them anytime, even when you’re deep in the bush and away from cell service. They’ll even show you your exact location without cell reception. It’s free and very useful.
Our towns are trailheads, and almost everyone comes back at the end of the day to share stories and beer. Regardless of where you end up staying, the after-ride scene is hopping during the summer and fall. Check out the Brick Oven Pizzeria in Crested Butte for a spacious beer menu that is only rivaled by their spacious deck. In Gunnison, High Alpine Brewing has recently set up shop with a great selection of locally brewed ales on tap. If you’re riding in the Cement Creek area, it’s hard to beat Tully’s and their spacious bar for post-ride beer and pizza. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. Almost every bar and restaurant in town is friendly and open to mountain bikers so don’t be afraid to experiment.