Riding along the Monarch Crest trail, you are presented with many excellent options as trails diverge off the top of the pass to both the East and West. The Agate Creek Trail represents one of the “quickest” ways to get back to the bottom of the pass.
Agate is a remote feeling backcountry motorized single track trail that drops 9 miles off the West side of the Monarch Crest trail back towards Gunnison. Frequented predominantly by those mountain and dirt bikers who are looking for adventure, Agate is a great option for a rider looking for a challenge, and to leave the more popular and frequented Monarch Crest Trail behind. While Agate is ridden in both up and downhill direction by motorized users, it can only be recommended as a descent for mountain bikers.
There are two primary ways to ride Agate, either as a shuttled ride, or as a loop. Park a vehicle at the top of Monarch Pass, and leave one at the Agate Campground, and make quick work of this ride, or try it as a clockwise 35-mile 3,500ft climbing loop starting from the Agate Campground and riding north up CR 888, then ~9 miles up the Old Monarch Pass dirt road highway, and finally connecting to Monarch Crest via the Continental Divide Trail. Enterprising riders with only one vehicle can also leave it at the top of Monarch Pass, and once reaching Highway 50 stick a thumb out and hitch hike back to the top of the pass for a retrieval. Better work on your smile, as you may be muddy and tired looking!
Enjoy the amazing views afforded off the Continental Divide as you ride along the high alpine terrain of the Crest Trail, because as soon as you dive off the ridgeline you have been contouring up until reaching the Agate Creek Trailhead you won’t have any time to look anywhere but ahead, as the trail begins with a fast paced and very technically demanding section taking you quickly downhill. Rough and loose, the consequences of finding yourself offline during this first segment could mean a solid OTB. Once into tree line, a rider will find themselves in a continued fast fall line decent where your biggest decision will be to decide just how much, or how little to use your brakes. After quickly losing a lot of vert you will find yourself in Agate Creek Basin, and will enjoy a fast and flowing descent all the way to the bottom. Keep your course straight ahead and headed downhill. There are only a couple instances where trails fork into Agate Creek, and so this is a very easy ride from a navigation standpoint.
Toward the bottom of the trail the terrain will begin to constrict as you navigate the bottom of the Monarch Pass drainage. Look up and to your right to see the wreckage of vehicles which didn’t make it safely to the bottom. As the trail begins to flatten out at the bottom, look for a somewhat sneaky fork, and take the right option to head up to Highway 50. Keep a bit of energy in the tank, as this short, but punchy climb lets you know that even though you have been losing a lot of vertical relief, going downhill is hard work too, and you will likely be feeling pretty spent.
It’s advised to wait until the spring runoff has slowed down to bag Agate Creek. After the water levels have fallen the stream crossings are more manageable, and you’re going to be crossing it about 10 times on your way to the bottom. If you can’t wait that long (and we wouldn’t blame you), know that your feet are likely to be wet by the time you reach your final destination.
Trail Heads 2
- Agate Creek Trailhead
- Monarch Pass Summit