Usually the words “Fossil Ridge” summon an image of alpine lakes and mountains located within a Wilderness boundary. Although the Fossil Ridge Wilderness is indeed located within this particular region of TrailQuest, ample opportunities for riding exist outside of the Wilderness boundaries within the Fossil Ridge Recreation Management Area. This region is home to many of my “new” favorite rides – ones that are now on my list to repeat every year.
In terms of TrailQuest, the Fossil Ridge region is geographically bound by the Taylor River to the north and by US Highway 50 to the south. Colorado Highway 135 cuts along this regions western edge and the eastern boundary is defined by Forest Service Road 765, or Cumberland Pass Road. Trails in this region are typically accessed via Harmel’s Resort, Ohio City, or Lost Canyon Road northeast of Gunnison.
The Fossil Ridge region is one of the most diverse regions for riding, complete with moist, high alpine terrain, scenic vistas and lakes, all the way down to dry, desert sage. The trails near Ohio City are typically open to motorized travel, but you will still see few people during your ride. The trails outside of Harmel’s are more often traveled by people with horses, but still remain uncrowded and largely unmarked.
The Fossil Ridge region stands out in my mind as being one of my more favorite areas for adventure rides. Many of the trails in good shape and fun to ride, yet visited by few. This region is home to adventure riding at its finest.
Total Distance: 19 miles
Elevation Gain: 4650 feet
This ride starts in a lush forest and then ascends to 13,214, the summit of Fairview Peak. The ride is a simple out-and-back, which offers stunning scenery and a fantastic technical mountain bike descent.
We started our ride outside of Gold Creek Campground, just north of Ohio City. We rode up FS 771 until it became the Gold Creek Trail. After ascending through a lush forest for about 1.6 miles, we turned right onto the Fairview Trail.
The Fairview Trail ascended for a bit and then began traversing around the southwest side of Fairview Peak where it repeatedly ascended and descended.
As we followed the trail ascended above treeline, it steepened significantly, and we found ourselves pushing our bikes for sections. The final push to reach Fairview’s southern ridge was rideable and we were rewarded with magnificent views!
After 2.8 miles on the Fairview Trail, we crested to the top of the ridge where we intersected a road where we turned left, following it up toward the obvious summit of Fairview Peak. After about a mile, the road steepened significantly and the trail became more single track. At this point, thunderstorms surrounded us, and we were unable to pursue our final 0.6 mile push to the summit. We will have to go back to get this one!
From all appearances, the last half mile to the summit would be largely hike-a-bike, but largely rideable on the descent for those experienced with technical riding.
We returned the same way we came, and the descent had some fantastic riding, especially in the forest!
2)West Fossil Ridge Loop
Total Distance: 19 miles
Elevation Gain: 3800 feet
This loop covers some remote trails with steep ascents, but the descent is absolutely top notch. Add that in with some high alpine views, and we’ve got a soon-to-be classic ride.
Our ride started at the intersection of Lost Canyon Road and One Mile Road – 586, northeast of Gunnison. Most cars will find One Mile Road too steep and narrow to warrant traveling on. After a little over a mile on the road, we turned right onto Beaver-McIntyre and followed the wide trail upward for 1.8 miles. We then descended McIntyre Gulch Trail about 2 miles until it intersected with Alder Creek Trail.
For those seeking the full TrailQuest mileage, you can follow Alder Creek trail 0.9 miles down to it’s beginning. The descent is a fun one through the sage and the trail is easy to climb back up. Otherwise, turn left onto Alder Creek. At first the climb is easy, but it steepens quickly, winding through a beautiful forest, reaching the Willow Creek Road after 2.2 miles.
Willow Creek Road is not much of a reprieve. Though we were able to ride the majority of the road, the steepness is such that the road is barely rideable, even with low gears. After a couple of miles, the road becomes more single track trail, eventually intersecting the Fossil Ridge Trail.
At the intersection, we enjoyed the panoramic alpine views and turned left onto Fossil Ridge. We continued to enjoy expansive views on the steep, loose descent.
Eventually, as the trail descended into the forest, we encountered more river stones on the trail. Much of this was still rideable and enjoyable with adequate momentum.
But the trail eventually became less technical and more flowy.
After a fun 5-mile descent, we turned right back onto McIntyre Trail and then onto One Mile Road to complete our lollipop loop!
3) East Fossil Ridge Loop
Total Distance: 20 miles
Elevation Gain: 4350 feet
The western part of the Fossil Ridge Trail offers the best high alpine scenery in the area. You can stare at peaks that hover a seemingly stone’s-throw away in the bordering Fossil Ridge Wilderness. A loop is created with the Bear Gulch, which wanders through a lush forest.
We began our ride a the start of Bear Gulch Trail off Gold Creek Road northwest of Pitkin. From there, we started riding up the easy Gold Creek Road about 4.75 miles to the Gold Creek Campground where we caught the start of the Fossil Ridge Trail.
We climbed up the Fossil Ridge Trail for about 1.5 miles before descending steeply into another drainage. After 2.7 miles, we encountered an intersection and turned right to climb upward for ¼ mile to Boulder Lake. While this section is not a required part to complete the loop, it is certainly worth the journey as the high alpine Boulder Lake is a beautiful one.
We enjoyed the quick descent from Boulder Lake back to the Fossil Ridge Trail. From there, the Fossil Ridge trail continues to largely ascend (with some quick descents in between) higher and higher. At times the ascent was steep and grueling. Other times it was a spin through alpine tundra.
The ride capped as we reached the near-top, about 4.7 miles from the start of the trail, where we could gaze into the Crystal Creek drainage and view nearby Henry and Square Top Mountains.
From there, we began a very technical descent, riding a little over a mile before intersecting with Willow Creek Trail. We turned left onto this trail, enjoying the single track for about 1.4 miles before it became the Willow Creek Road. The ATV road makes a fun descent as well. About a half mile past the Alder Creek trail on the right, we turned left onto the Bear Gulch Trail. This trail climbed through spectacular aspen and pine forests, with some fun descents in the mix.
Near the end, the Bear Gulch trail became increasingly difficult to ride due to large rocks and a steep descent. Because of this, we think that if we were to repeat this ride again, we would do it in a counter-clockwise direction rather than clockwise, choosing to hike up this portion of trail and enjoying a descent on Fossil Ridge near the end instead.