The high elevation of Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley is a blessing, and a curse. We have relatively cool summers, beautiful mountain vistas, and Colorado’s best wildflowers. We also have a lot of vertical relief, making for epic mountain bike descents. But, that elevation also makes it challenging to visit from sea level and ride at your best. There’s no getting around the fact that our air is less dense and that adds an extra degree of challenge to our rides.
If you are coming up from low elevation and want to make the most of your trip, we recommend spending at least your first day riding in one of these trail networks to ease into our high altitude and still make the most of your vacation.
The benefit of riding a chairlift your first day at altitude cannot be overstated. Evolution Bike Park in Mt. Crested Butte offers 30+ miles of progressive, lift-served cross country and downhill singletrack, all accessible from the Red Lady Express lift.
However, even if the lifts didn’t take care of most of the climbing for you, this dense network would still make this list because the trails themselves are designed so well. The trails, for the most part, are wide, machine-built trails. Features get more advanced from mellow berms on the green trails, to smaller jumps on the blues, to tabletops and bigger man-made and natural features on the black diamonds. Better still, there’s cell service on most of the trails, the climbs are set up to be at rideable pitches, bike patrol is around if you do need them, and there are a handful of great places to grab lunch. With lessons for both adults and kids, a day at Evolution is a great way to kick off your summer mountain bike trip to Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley.
Evolution Bike Park is scheduled to open for the season in early June, 2019.
While not a bike park, Hartman Rocks is Gunnison’s answer to Evolution. This multi-use haven managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the City of Gunnison, and Gunnison County offers over 40 miles of singletrack intermeshed with miles of dirt roads. Although home to some of the Valley’s most technical trails, it’s also got some of the easiest. It’s a cross country rider’s ideal playground, hardly ever climbing more than a few hundred feet in a single go. It’s also in Gunnison, about 1,000 feet lower in elevation than Mt. Crested Butte. While the weather can be warmer down there, it’s also a good place to check out if the forecast in the North Valley calls for afternoon thunderstorms. They still happen down in Gunnison, but they’re far less frequent.
Lower Loop and the Lupines
This trail network, situated between Mt. Crested Butte and downtown CB, offers a variety of degrees of difficulty and exertion. The Lupine trails (especially 1 and 2) tend to open fairly early in the season, due to their southern exposure. They’re also known for stunning displays of their namesake flowers, which typically peak in the last half of June (follow us on Facebook or Instagram for updates on trail openings and flower blooms). If you haven’t experienced a ride through a purple cloud of lupine yet, you’re missing out. Check out some of our favorite ways to link up these trails in a post from a few years ago.
Other Tips for Maximizing Your Riding Vacation
Should You Ship or Rent?
With nonstop flights from both Denver and Houston (check here for details on the flight schedules), flying to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) is one of the easiest ways to get here in the summer months, especially if you’re coming from out of state. If you’re flying, consider shipping your bike ahead of time or renting when you get here. Services like bikeflights.com make it easy and affordable to get your bike here to the Gunnison Valley. Our local shops all offer demo-level mountain bikes so that’s a good option, too. Recreational riders will find really affordable rentals, too.
Consider hiring a local guide service for a day or two, or sign up for a full guided mountain bike trip. If you find that you like riding chairs at the Bike Park, but still want to get a day or two in the backcountry, hiring one of our local guide services is a good in-between step. They can sometimes shuttle you up the road climbs making some of the classic routes less daunting. They also take care of other logistics and offer tips to improve your skills. Or, if you just want to plug into a standard mountain bike trip, some of the guides offer that, too. Check out their websites for more on their offerings:
We’ve heard tell that it takes an extra 300 calories per day for every 3,000 feet you go up in elevation just to power your body through a day. We are not nutritionists and can’t speak to the truth of that statistic, but we do know from experience that we often finish our full-day rides here with an out-of-control appetite. It’s hard work riding up here, and it takes a lot of food and a lot of water to support a big day in the backcountry. Some general tips:
- Drink plenty of water.
- If you imbibe, take it easy on the alcohol for the first day or two while you adjust and make sure you get plenty of water.
- Our towns offer a great variety of terrific food, so no matter your favorite food, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find an excellent example of whatever you fancy.