The Needles area is a mix of beauty and brutality. There probably isn’t a single trail in this area that won’t lead to at least some mild cursing, hike-a-bike, and loose fall-line descents. The trade-off is some of the least ridden track in the valley where it’s likely you’ll see more elk than people on any given day. Go exploring in the Needles and we guarantee you’ll have a good story for the bar at the end of the day (if you make it out by the end of the day). Bring a headlamp, first aid kit, and your backcountry brain.
Razor Creek Rd. (FSR #487) to Right Hand (Trail #493) (Mileage: 12ish miles Elevation Gain: 1800’)
Probably the best bang for your buck in the Needles for a ride that doesn’t require a 6am start. It’s a bit lower and drier than a lot of rides in the Gunnison Valley and can be a good option in May when everything else is still muddy or snowy.
Park at the Needle Creek Reservoir and start your ride by grinding up the Razor Creek 4×4 road. After passing through the gap at the top and descending into the field below you’ll find a right hand turn to get on Right Hand Trail (#493).
Surprise! You need to climb again for about 1.5 miles. At the top of this climb you’ll be treated to a pretty fun, though short, descent on some wider ATV singletrack with several big water bars to hop off. After that, another climb. This one is the shortest, about a mile, and puts you at the top of the main course, the Right Hand descent proper. Watch out for the intersection between Barrett Creek (#494) and Right Hand a little more than halfway into this climb.
From the top this 3 mile descent starts out loose and steep in terrain that reminds us of the top of Eccher. Further down things buff out and the trail lets loose with fast, packed singletrack through a beautiful little drainage all the way back to the trailhead.
Long Branch (Trail #489) to Colorado Trail to Baldy Lake (Trail #491) (Mileage: 16ish miles Elevation Gain: 3200ish’)
Start at the end of the road past the former Long Branch Guard Station. This road is 2wd accessible to the Guard Station and 4×4 for the short distance past it. If you don’t feel like going the whole distance you can park here to add 1 mile total to your ride.
From the your vehicle, start climbing up Long Branch trail (#489). The first few miles are pretty mellow through a slightly inclined drainage following an old ranching road. Once you get towards the wooded upper section of the valley you’ll split onto singletrack that climbs steeply to the Colorado Trail. Total mileage for this portion of the climb is around 5 miles.
Turn right on the Colorado Trail and follow it along the ridge for another handful of miles to the intersection with Baldy Lake trail (#491). After a short descent there’s an option to duck off to the lake. There’s a great campsite here and the fishing is pretty good if you packed a rod for this mission.
From here it’s all downhill back to your vehicle. Baldy Lake trail is rutted and loose in many parts, but overall it’s a pretty fun downhill for expert riders. The final 3 miles is the icing on the cake as the trail gets slightly less steep and a little wider.
Note: Expect range cattle and cowpies on both Long Branch and Baldy Lake trails at any point during the summer.
The Needles is packed with singletrack mileage. The catch is the elevation and difficult trails. Riding any of the obvious looking loops on the map will yield some significant unique mileage, and the Long Branch/Baldy Lake loop mentioned above is all applicable singletrack.
Consider camping out or bikepacking to cover the most mileage. In an effort to knock out mileage in the Needles the MTB Home staff has verified good camping at all Needles trailheads including Marshall Pass, past the Long Branch Guard Station, and at Needle Creek Reservoir.
With all the hike-a-bike present in the Needles another good option is trail running or hiking. Average speeds over the course of the day in this area are probably the same for a trail runner and mountain biker.