Crested Butte is the home of mountain biking. Instead of bicycle tech that was developed in places like Marin, Crested Buttians built trails. Most of this singletrack literally drops you off on the streets of town. It’s also common for people to ride straight from the trail to downtown, regardless of how much gravel grinding that might entail. That’s why you’ll see so many bikes overflowing the racks in towns at the best apres bars.
While there are some bigger rides farther out, there is something about being able to ride right out of town without loading bikes in and out of cars. Below are some favorite rides that start and end right in the Crested Butte National Historic District.
If you aren’t staying in town, the 4-way stop parking lot is a great central place to start your ride. All mileage and elevation gains are estimated from the 4-way lot.
Lupines and Lower Loop (Mileage: 14 miles Elevation Gain: 1200’)
The South facing slopes of the Lupine trail system typically are some of the first trails to melt out and then start blooming with wildflowers. From town ride up the road towards Mt. Crested Butte. Before the Washington Gulch road, there is a left onto Saddle Ridge Ranch, this private road winds just up the hill to the Lupine trailhead. The gradual singletrack climb leads to some super fun downhill switchbacks. Then onto the doubletrack road to Lupine 2. At the intersection of Lupine 2, there is an option to extend your ride further to Gunsight Connector. Lupine 2 drops into some great switchbacks and dumps you back onto Slate River Road.
I prefer to extend my ride by continuing on to Gunsight Connector and then the Lower Loop trails. Gunsight Connector has a longer descent than Lupine 2 with swoopy switchbacks through an aspen grove. This eventually drops you onto Slate River Road and Gunsight Pass Road. From there, you can choose between the Upper Lower Loop and Lower Loop trails back to town. Upper Lower will be slightly higher elevation and, while still an easy trail, a little more technical than Lower Loop. These trails parallel each other and the Slate River on the way back to the Northwest corner of town.
Snodgrass (Mileage: 13 miles Elevation Gain: 1300’ )
The Snodgrass trail is picked up in Mt. Crested Butte where Highway 135 turns to dirt. From town, the rec path takes you all the way up to Mt. Crested Butte and to the trailhead. Snodgrass sits between Mount Crested Butte and Gothic Mountains. From the trailhead, there is a steady climb of just over 1000 vertical feet. From the top, views back at the ski area can’t be beat. The trail then begins a fun decent through wildflowers and aspen trees. The ride ends on Washington Gulch Road and a nice downhill back into town. For an extended singletrack experience, it is easy to connect into the Lupine system before getting back to town.
Green Lake and Baxter Gulch (Mileage: 13.5 Elevation Gain: 2500’)
Green Lake trail is one of the closest trails to the town of Crested Butte. Access is directly behind the Big Mine Ice Arena at the end of Belleview Ave. Be prepared for a long and arduous uphill battle. Starting at 8890’ in town, winding switchbacks with a consistent pitch take you up to 10600’ over about 3.5 miles.
Historically, Green Lake has been an out and back trail. Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association has been working hard to break Baxter Gulch through to Carbon trail. The last mile should be put in this summer. Right near the top of Green Lake trail, take a left onto Carbon trail. This technical section will lead you over to the newly built Baxter Gulch trail. The trail runs along the northern flank of Whetstone Mountain and eventually crosses the creek. From there, it cuts across the face of Gibson’s Ridge and back to the town of Crested Butte. While it seems natural to me to ride up Green Lake and down Baxter Gulch, this has developed into a point of contention between our staff. What we do know is that this is a must try new trail going online summer 2018. We will just have to see what riding direction is best.
Upper Loops (Mileage: 12.5 miles Elevation Gain: 1340’)
The Upper Loop system is made up of 5 main trails; the Upper Loop, Tony’s, Whetstone Vista, Bridges, and Upper Upper. All of the trails skirt the bottom of Mount Crested Butte, “Mother Rock.” Starting from the top of Hunter Hill Road in Mt. Crested Butte, Upper Loop dumps into a rock garden and then works its way to more flowy trail. The first turn off is Tony’s trail which switchbacks directly down to the town of Crested Butte. If you continue on through the Skyland Boulders, the next turn will be the Divine trail, a short drop back into the Skyland neighborhood. Beyond the Divine trail, the Upper Loop turns into the aptly named Bridges. The Bridges section has a number of wooden bridges that cross the many drainages coming off of the mountain. The next intersection is Whetstone Vista and Upper Upper. To the right, Whetstone Vista drops through some relatively easy rock gardens and switchbacks down to Brush Creek Road. For the more adventurous, Upper Upper has a technical rocky climb and then a flowy steep descent through a flowery field and down to Brush Creek Road. Insider’s tip, if you haven’t had enough at the end of Upper Upper, you can easily head down the road and hit some of the Strand Hill trail area. Please note that due to crossing of private land, there are no dogs allowed on Tony’s trail and dogs must be leashed on Whetstone Vista.
401 and 403 (Mileage: 33 miles Elevation Gain: 4500’)
A local’s right of passage is to ride the “804,” a combination of the 401 and 403 from the town of Crested Butte. The 403 trail is best ridden from the Washington Gulch side to the East River drainage. The trail runs over the saddle on the North side of Gothic Mountain. At the top of Washington Gulch road, the trail starts out as double track then a singletrack climb through high meadows. The trail then drops precipitously through a technical section and back down to the East River Valley.
Once onto the road, begin the climb up Schofield Pass towards the start of the 401 trail. The road has a steady grade up and beyond Emerald Lake. You pick up the singletrack at the top of the pass. The trail continues to climb for the first couple of miles. At the top, stop for some incredible views of the Elk Mountains. From there, the trails winds down through handle bar high wildflowers. Views down the East River Valley towards Mount Crested Butte are unbeatable. There is a reason this trail is world renowned. Once back towards the valley floor there is a spot at Rustler Gulch to drop back onto the road. Don’t do it! The last section of trail has some up and down through forest just above the town of Gothic and the climb can be a sucker punch. It’s worth it though. This last part of the descent is probably the most fun singletrack on 401 and you get to ride near some stunning beaver ponds. If you haven’t shuttled, then there is the long road ride up to Mt. Crested Butte and then back to the town of Crested Butte.
From a TrailQuest perspective, these trails are some of the closest to civilization. The lowest hanging fruit is certainly the Lower Loop trail area. Due in large part to their proximity to town, these trails tend to be some of the higher traffic trails. Might be best to save these for a time outside of the peak summer traffic in July. Snodgrass trail runs on private land and needs to be ridden before mid-August when there is a seasonal closure for grazing.
If you’re looking to maximize the Lupine and Lower Loop mileage consider two rides. Do one big loop as described on Lupine 1 and Gunsight Connector, and then pick a Lower Loop trail to come back on. The next day do Snodgrass and then Lupine 1 to Lupine 2. Ride out Slate River Rd. and come back on whatever Lower Loop trail you didn’t do the day before.
If you decide to ride the Carbon Trail to connect in with Baxter Gulch or Green Lake trail make sure you bring your backcountry gear. This ride is close to town, but it’s so remote it’s been considered for Wilderness designation before.
Trail Heads 8
- Cliff Creek
- Judd Falls
- Lower Loop Trailhead
- Peanut Lake Road Lower Trailhead
- Snodgrass in Washington Gulch
- Snodgrass on Gothic Road
- Splain's Gulch
- Visitor Center
- Budd Trail
- GB Loop
- Lower Lower Loop
- Upper Lower Loop
- Woods Walk