The day didn’t start as planned. My buddy Shaw met me at my house in CB South at 8am with the initial plan to ride Crystal Peak/400/Block and Tackle/Doubletop/Hunter Creek. I figured this was my best bet to rack up a ton of Trailquest miles. 45 minutes after we left my house Shaw came to the realization that he didn’t have a helmet. Since that particular ride is quite remote and has a reputation for being a little gnarly, we scrapped our plan and returned to my house to grab a spare helmet and reassess.
Plan B was to ride a large portion of the motorized singletrack on Dr. Park and finish with the famed descent into Taylor Canyon. Since we had already spent 1.5 hours on failed logistics we decided to shuttle this ride, knocking down the mileage from 40+ to a more manageable 19.7 miles.
The start of our ride was on Wheelbarrow Gulch Rd. where we left my truck. This road is about 5 miles past the standard turnoff for Dr. Park trail, and 3 miles past the Spring Creek Reservoir turnoff on Rocky Brook Rd. After a short section on the road we turned off onto Matchless Trail (#413) and began our singletrack for the day.
The climb here was very pleasant considering how some of the motorized singletrack in the area rides. It would have made for a very fast and flowy downhill as well. At the top of the climb we turned right onto Dr. Park Trail, also referred to as the Gunnison Spur (of the Colorado Trail). While the Colorado Trail Foundation no longer recognizes this spur, it is still signed with the Colorado Trail emblem throughout much of the ride.
The first part of our ride on this portion of trail was punctuated by several small, technical downhills and several small, technical uphills. It remained mostly below treeline with a northerly aspect so it hadn’t dried out quite as well as we had hoped from the previous four days of rain. It certainly wasn’t sloppy for most of the ride, but some of the moto ruts were unrideable. One unique feature of this ride was the limestone bedrock. In several places it formed little shelves that were a joy to launch off. In other places where the bedrock sections weren’t flat we found ourselves walking to avoid having our tires slip out from underneath us. That stuff is pretty slick if it’s at all wet or if you have a bit of mud in your treads so be careful if you choose this adventure.
After a short bit of trail we found ourselves back on Wheelbarrow Gulch Rd. and following the Gunnison Spur signs. The next section of trail to South Matchless was the longest between intersections and started with a rolling cross-country section and great views in a few places. A short steep climb followed after a couple miles, and then was immediately followed by a 403-esque descent of about 1.5 miles. Lots of ruts, loose rock, and some serious switchback degradation finally dropped us out to a stream crossing near the top of Ute Gulch.
From here the most serious of climbs took place. A short hike-a-bike out of the stream led to a gentle uphill to the intersection with South Matchless Trail, a UTV trail that is most certainly not built for anybody but motorized users. From this intersection my paper map said that it was a 1.1 mile climb (we had already climbed for about .6) and that it was straight up.
It didn’t lie. While some portions were rideable, they were short and came at the large price of hitting VO2 max in about 35 seconds flat. We hiked most of it, which honestly wasn’t too bad since the loose rocks we had encountered earlier in the ride were largely absent from this section. At the top we were rewarded with a stunning view from Mt. Owen in Irwin all the way across the Elks to the Sawatch range and Taylor Canyon.
From this summit the rest of the ride was phenomenal. 3 miles of mostly smooth downhill riding followed to the intersection of Dr. Park Bonus and #555. I had never ridden Bonus, but Shaw had and assured me that it was quality. I have to agree, and I don’t think I’ll ride Dr. Park again without adding on the Bonus. Dropping into the trail under the watchful eye of Fossil Ridge and Henry Mountain we cruised through the first mile of mostly downhill. The wildflowers were near peak and we must have seen 200 Mariposa Lilies on that first section alone. After a short, easyish grunt back up to the intersection with Dr. Park we were ready for the goods.
This is the portion of Dr. Park that most people are talking about when they say they’re going to ride Doctor’s. We dropped our seats for the 5 mile descent and let gravity take control. At this point we were so tired that we didn’t stop to take anymore pictures. If you want to know how this section rides, just search for it on Youtube.
I had only ridden Dr. Park proper one time and it was a misadventure to say the least. Headlamps, high-speed wipeouts in Jedi Trees, and a near heart attack from a herd of cows that I thought was a pack of mountain lions (yes, I know mountain lions are solitary creatures), were all part of the story last time. We walked most of the technical sections, including much of the final granite portion on that ride too.
This time I got some redemption, and managed to ride all but two features on the entire descent. We skidded back to the car 4.5 hours after we started and promptly loaded bikes for the 45 minute shuttle back to the top.
While I can’t say that this whole ride is a classic, there’s certainly some entertaining bits throughout all of it. Ending on the truly classic downhill of Dr. Park proper gives this ride an epic feel that might bring me back in a few years for another go. Another plus to this trail was it was empty. On a Saturday in July we saw 1 other person and that was on the main descent of Doctor Park less than a mile from the bottom. I don’t know a whole lot of other places that can offer that kind of solitude on a weekend during peak season.
All-in-all I don’t think I would have ever ridden the first part of this ride if it wasn’t for Trailquest and my need to get back into the top 10. The beauty of the game is that it drives the imagination and gives you a reason to ride things you never would have considered before.
As far as ratings go. From the start of our ride to the top of the South Matchless climb I would give it 2.5 stars since it is a beautiful little adventure. From the top of the South Matchless climb to the bottom deserves a solid 4.5 to 5 stars. Aside from the 1.7 mile climb at the beginning which was at an intermediate level, the rest of this ride is difficult or even expert riding. Bring food, water, and patience and enjoy a seldom pedaled section of trail.