When it comes to biking, what’s gonzo to one rider may be nothing but sweet singletrack to another. Colorado has a staggering variety of trails that appeal to all skill levels, but the routes that demand total concentration and titanium-steely nerve — steep, switchback-y, technical, rocky, rooted out and rutted out — truly epitomize a rad Rocky Mountain ride. Here are our ten favorites, in alphabetical order.
10. Bergen Peak
Tight switchbacks and a long, slow, steady climb, in addition to some challenging steps and water bars, make getting to the top for the killer views from Bergen Peak a bit uncomfortable, but this Jeffco open-space trail pays off big-time at the end with a speedy drop back from the 10.3-mile lollipop-shaped sweatfest. In addition to the Bergen Peak Trail itself, there are a half-dozen other trails that can be linked to for more fast fun.
Get there: Take I-70 west to Exit 252 (Evergreen Parkway/Colorado 74) to Stagecoach Boulevard; turn right. Follow signs to the Bergen Peak trailhead.
9. Buffalo Creek
With 2,700 feet in elevation gain, the mostly gravel series of trails linked together to make the 21.5-mile loop at Buffalo Creek called the “Big Ride” combine for one grueling grind. The good news is that the trails are for the most part smooth and not particularly technical, and the climbs give way to screaming descents. Enjoy the tiny section of slickrock, too, and try to lift your head a few times to look at the stunning scenery.
Get there: Take U.S. 285 west to Pine Junction; turn left on Country Road 126. Drive 5.7 miles to Pine Valley Ranch and follow signs to the parking area.
8. Colorado Trail at Waterton Canyon
Long, long (and steep but steady) climbs and a lot of mileage make the combination of gravel road and singletrack at Waterton an ideal conditioning ride, with the bonus of frequent bighorn sheep and other wildlife sightings. Mostly smooth and mostly not technical, the 25.3-mile out-and-back rewards with eye-popping views of the South Platte River along the way and sweeping views from the top — but they come at a cost of 2,420 feet of elevation gain. After the easygoing first segment to Strontia Springs, the Colorado Trail takes you out of the canyon and onto a rockier section.
Get there: Take C-470 to the Wadsworth Boulevard exit. Head south for 4.1 miles on Colorado 121 and turn left into the Waterton Canyon parking lot.
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7. Columbine Trail
Waterfalls and wildlife offer picnic and photo ops during this climbing-heavy workout of a trail that runs along the creek through Cheyenne Canyon at Cheyenne Mountain Park and has seven-mile round-trip and 8.4-mile out-and-back options, depending on which of three trailheads you choose for your starting point. Expect stream crossings and, about a third of the way out, a series of very tight switchbacks, as well as a section with steep drop-offs on one side.
Get there: Take I-25 south to Exit 140 and take South Tejon Street to Cheyenne Boulevard. Follow signs for Cheyenne Canyon; the trailhead shares a parking lot with Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center.
6. Dome Rock
An eleven-mile loop, Dome Rock trail at Dome Rock State Park near Colorado Springs is packed with long, slow uphill slogs that alternate with fast descents and a couple of sections where route-finding skills will come in handy (check out the park map beforehand), along with a tolerance of creek crossings. There are also a few segments that get rutted out from runoff, especially early in the season. The best part of this trail, though, is the panoramic view at the top of the first big hill, which includes the Sangre de Cristos.
Get there: Take Colorado 67 to Divide. Drive 5.2 miles south on CO 67 to a fork; go right. At two miles, look for the Dome Rock sign, which leads to the parking area.
Keep reading for five more bike rides.
5. Hewlett Gulch
Steady and gentle (but steep) climbing gives you plenty of time during the ten-mile out-and-back Hewlett Gulch trail — which runs through Roosevelt National Forest west of Fort Collins — to check out the seemingly endless meadows crammed with wildflowers. Don’t be bummed out if you have to walk the steepest climb, which is strewn with rocks of all sizes; most riders do. The narrow canyon section is beautiful, but brace yourself for stream crossings.
Get there: Take Colorado 14 west 22 miles from Fort Collins to Poudre Park and look for public parking just off the highway.
4. Horsetooth Mountain Park
The many hike-a-bike segments sprinkled throughout the 29 miles’ worth of bike-able trails in Horsetooth — which sits just four miles west of Fort Collins — can be humbling, but know that you won’t be alone pushing your ride up the steep and rocky parts. The fun really comes courtesy of the downhills, which are just as steep and rocky: Get ready for a lot of scree and larger obstacles, and don’t be too distracted by the great views of Horsetooth Reservoir.
Get there: Take I-25 north to Exit 265 and head west on Harmony Road for seven miles, until it turns into County Road 38E. Drive west on CR 38E for four miles to the reservoir entrance and follow signs to trailheads.
3. Mule Creek
Mule Creek near Woodland Park is the perfect gonzo ride for beginners looking to transition to something tougher; it’s got gradual climbs and smooth descents, including a fast downhill at the end. Pass up the creek crossing — which will just muck up your brakes — at the beginning of the 11.4-mile out-and-back trail, and ride about a quarter of a mile farther up the road to drop into a drier section.
Get there: From Woodland Park, take Colorado 67 for 4.1 miles and turn left at Red Rocks Campground. Drive a half a mile and park at the signed trailhead.
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2. South Park Trail
An intense combination of exertion and skills-testing, the South Park Trail alternates between hard-packed dirt (most of the uphills) and rocky segments (most of the downhills) over the course of its 9.3-mile lollipop. You’ll come upon quite a few bikers walking portions such as Kirby Gulch and Bruno Gulch, but if you can hang on in the gnarly parts, the rest of your time on the bike will be sweet and smooth.
Get there: Take U.S. 285 past Grant to County Road 67; turn right (toward Guanella Pass). Drive 6.7 miles to Forest Road 119. Park at the Geneva Park Campground.
1. South St. Vrain/Sourdough
Once you make it past the first rocky and steep six miles of the 9.7-mile Sourdough Loop — there are some possible hike-a-bike portions — it’s smooth sailing the rest of the way on loose gravel and easy doubletrack. The trail follows along South St. Vrain Creek for several miles and winds through meadows and forest and past several ponds before it levels off for a long breather on a dirt road.
Get there: Take Colorado 72 through Nederland; after town, drive fourteen miles to County Road 96 (at the Boy Scout Camp sign) and cross the bridge to the trailhead.