Editor’s Note: Jordan Carr and co-author and photographer Leilani Bruntz are currently traveling the country spreading the gospel of mountain biking as the Subaru-IMBA Trail Care Crew. Along the way they get to explore some of the country’s best riding locales, and then share them with you in this reoccurring Mtbr Trail Report series. Follow Carr and Bruntz’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram, and let us know in the comments section below if you have additional beta about these great riding destinations. And be sure to check out their write-ups on Oakridge, Oregon, and Phoenix, Arizona.
Situated in central Colorado, Chaffee County is home to big mountains and bustling small towns. The area has a thriving tourist economy, with activities ranging from fly-fishing and peak bagging to whitewater rafting and mountain biking. It’s a true outdoor enthusiast’s playground.
At the southeastern end of the county is Salida, a town buzzing with activity in winter and summer. Sitting just below the Collegiate Peaks and on the banks of the Arkansas River, Salida has emerged as a must-hit Colorado MTB destination. Local trail organization Salida Mountain Trails has been hard at work developing relationships, lassoing community support, and building great trails that are easy to access from town. From the world-renowned Monarch Crest Trail to the continually evolving network on S-Mountain right above town, it’s a great place to ride with a variety of possible experiences and a vibrant cycling community.
Monarch Crest Trail
Touted by many as one of the best trails in the country, this is a must-do Colorado ride, highlighted by more than 6,000 feet of descending in 35 miles. Stunning Rocky Mountain views combine with flowy and technical singletrack that traverses along the continental divide.
The ride typically starts with a shuttle to the top of Monarch Pass on US Highway 50. Once at the 11,312-foot summit, you traverse the ridge, climbing and descending toward the south. There are a few bailout options, but the classic includes Marshall Pass to Silver Creek to the Rainbow Trail.
Absolute Bikes master mechanic Scot Banks shows us the goods on the North Backbone trail off of S-Mountain. White peaks and storms provide amazing ambiance west of town. Photo courtesy Jordan Carr/Leilani Bruntz (click to enlarge)
Shorter options include the technical and fast Fooses and Greens Creek trails, which drop off the Continental Divide toward Salida. Another option is the Agate Creek Trail, a rocky rip down the Agate Creek drainage that dumps you out on the west side of Monarch Pass near Sargents, this is a great loop option when combined with the 10 mile gravel road climb up Old Monarch Pass, which eliminates shuttle logistics. If you haven’t done the full Monarch Crest though, start there. It’s an all-timer. Expect to spend 4-6 hours completing this ride. Though you lose far more elevation than you gain, the riding is challenging and the air is thin.
Situated just east of downtown Salida on the other side of the river, S-Mountain (aka the Arkansas Hills Trail System) provides easy trail access. This continually improving network has a wide variety of options, from buff bench-cut trail to technical rocky singletrack. No matter which you choose, though, the views from S-Mountain are astounding. Greenery abounds along the Arkansas River, the snow covered Collegiate Peaks tower above the valley.
This stacked loop trail system provides an intertwined choose-your-own-adventure ride experience. In the mood to climb? Check out Cottonwood Trail, a great loop from town that starts with a gradual gravel road climb followed by a ripping fun descent back into the S-Mountain Trail network. If you’re looking for an easy cruise close to town, combine Backbone, Lil’ Rattler and Frontside.
Indeed, there are plenty of options for all ability levels on S-Mountain, making it a great family trail network. For more info, check out the S-Mountain Trail Map.