Crested Butte and Gunnison Valley are recognized as one of the best places in the country to mountain bike – and for good reason. Deep in the Elk Mountains, the area’s trails offer breathtaking 360-degree views of aspen-covered slopes and fields of vibrant wildflowers, jagged rock formations and snow-capped peaks.
In the 1970s, the mining town turned ski resort became the incubator for the evolution of the klunker bike: gearless, balloon-tire bicycles that were Frankensteined for off-road exploration. The Visit to the crested Klunker Butte launched in 1976, with 15 cyclists pedaling from Crested Butte to Aspen on 12,700 feet Pearl Pass – the nation’s first mountain biking event – and on the third tour, cyclists from Marin County, California, where there had a simultaneous klunker move, joined for rowdy adventure. Within a decade, the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) was born, known as one of the oldest mountain bike clubs, if not the the oldest.
At that time, in the early 1980s, the co-founder of CBMBA Don Cook built an ultralight aircraft to survey game trails and terrain to build single-track trails. He was flying as close as 30 feet to the ground, scribbling details of the topography on a notepad using a Sharpie.
The groundwork of these pioneers eventually led to 750 miles of mountain bike trails in Gunnison County, the most extensive singletrack system in the nation. More recently, the CBMBA launched the Crested Butte Conservation Corps, a professional trail and stewardship team, to help build, maintain and defend sustainable trails in the region, in collaboration with landowners, land managers and community members. organizations such as Gunnison Trails and the Crested Butte Land Trust.
“These are the good old days for trails in terms of access, durability and sustainability – all of those things have improved tremendously over the past two decades,” says Jake Jones, executive director of the Crested Butte Land Trust, a non-profit organization that helps conserve and steward open lands for wildlife, ranching, scenic views and recreation. Whether you want to pedal to the trails from your doorstep, join the Adapted Sports Center for a mountain biking lesson, or tackling the Grand Traverse mountain bike race, there are all types of mountain biking adventures to be had in the area. Here are some tips for a fun visit.
lower and upper bottom loop, crested mound
“The setting in the Slate River Valley, alongside the Slate River and high quality wetlands, with Paradise Divide as a backdrop, is unparalleled. I don’t know if there are enough hyperbolic statements to describe how beautiful it is – the scenery is unparalleled and the trail is user friendly,” says Jones, adding that a new segment of trail was recently completed called the Coal Train, which connects the northern end of the loop to the Oh Be Joyful Campground. If you are staying overnight at Crested Butte or Mount Crested Butte, you can bike from your doorstep to the trailhead. If you need a lift back to Mount Crested Butte at the end of the ride, board the bus at the 4 Way stop.
Loop Lupine, crested mound
Climbed counterclockwise, “This trail offers more vertical relief than the lower loop trails, and there are climbs specifically designed for mountain bikes, so they’re relatively gentle and the descents are super fun. If I had to hike one trail for the rest of my life, I’d be happy to hike this one,” Jones says. Also, don’t be surprised if you see elk or other wildlife. “The Slate River Valley is still a wild place. If you see any wild animals, stop and soak them up. Let the wild animals pass. Be respectful and give them space.
Loop of the meander and the bottom of the meander, Mount Crested Butte
“Honestly, the slopes in the ski area are some of my favorites, and if the weather is uncertain, you can get away with it,” says Dave Meyer, president of Rock ‘n’ Roll Sports. From the base of the mountain, climb to the top via Up and Away, then descend to the back via Meander for a continuous, curving descent through elbow-grazing wildflowers and incredible views of the East River and Gothic Mountain . You can also lengthen the loop. “You can get out of town and up Tony’s, Upper Loop, Columbine, then Meander in a couple of hours. You can even make that loop longer by adding Snodgrass — it’s hard to beat,” says Meyer.
Hartman Rocks Technical Loop, Hartman Rocks Recreation Area
- Upper Intermediate
- 11 miles
Hartman Rocks is a choose-your-own adventure playground for bikers with 40 miles of singletrack and 40 miles of road – made up of short segments that feature their own character. Mix and match as you go. “I love that you can modify your ride in a million different ways. Hartmans is the best place,” says Meyer, whose favorite trail sections include Top of the World and Rocky Ridge, which are included on the Hartman Rocks Technical Loop.
Puppy 20, Hartman Rocks Recreation Area
- Upper Intermediate
- 21 miles
If there is a downpour at Crested Butte, keep in mind that the trails in the valley may have a different shape. “When Hartman is wet and sticky, it’s fantastic and it drains faster and the decomposed granite dries faster,” says Dave Wiens, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. When choosing a route, “I have never reconstructed the same route twice in the same direction. However, if I’m looking for a longer ride, I’ll do a variation of the Growler course,” he says, like the Pup 20, which combines some of the smoothest and funniest beginner, intermediate and advanced segments into one collection of loops.
Label and impact
As a cyclist, remember to yield to hikers, horses and dirt bikes. For uphill cyclists, stop and lean to the side (but don’t ride off-road). When you get to a muddy section, roll or walk through the wet ground rather than around it. “We want to keep singletrack single,” Jones says and adds, “Remember Leave No Trace basics: wrap it up, wrap it up – there’s no one out there cleaning up after us or our pets. Notify people when you are going to pass Be friendly, respect other trail users, make people smile and say “hello”.
Use the toilet before leaving; human waste leads to environmental damage.
Learn more about trail etiquette through CBMBA.
Reports and Trail Closures
If a trail is muddy, it is best for its longevity not to take that route. Keep up to date with trail conditions and closures:
Local Mountain Bike Events
Mountain bike rental
- The mountaineerCrested Butte, 970-349-5210
- Big Al’s Bike HeavenCrested Mound, 970-349-0515
- Hill-to-ridge sportsMount Crested Butte, 970-349-7516
- Cycling Double ShotGunnison, 970-642-5411
- rock ‘n’ roll sportsGunnison, 970-641-9150
- Tomichi CyclesGunnison, 970-641-9069
- Replay of all sportsGunnison, 970-641-1893
Camping around the Gunnison Valley
All of the camping surrounding the town of Crested Butte has recently been turned into designated-only campsites, which are marked with a wooden post with a camp number and symbol, as well as a metal ring of fire. These designated campsites include locations on the Slate River, Washington Gulch, Brush Creek, Cement Creek, Kebler Pass (and Lake Irwin), and the Gothic Road drainages. Two vehicles are permitted per site, on a first-come, first-served basis with a maximum stay of 14 days. Campers must pack their trash and human and pet waste, and the property cannot be left unattended for more than 24 hours. Backing up the site is not allowed.
At the south end of the valley, the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area also includes 50 designated campsites. Learn more about designated campsites and view a camping map via the Ridged Butte Conservation Corps.
Beyond these designated camping areas, more than one million acres of National Forest are available for scattered camping. There is also a large collection of campgrounds with amenities such as picnic tables, RV hookups, water, restrooms and showers – some sites can even be reserved in advance. . Remember to visit the 10 campsites of Curecanti National Recreation Area southwest of Gunnison, the Gunnison KOA, Taylor Canyon Campfire Ranch and Crested Butte RV Resort.
Accommodation in Crested Butte
You have an array of choices. In the town of Crested Butte, consider staying at the Elk Mountain Lodge, built in 1919 as a miners’ hotel, which serves a nutritious breakfast buffet. For an exceptional reset, stay in a private cabin at Taylor River Pavilion with five-star dining and a therapeutic bath with saltwater pools, sauna and whirlpool. The best part? It’s halfway between Gunnison and Crested Butte.
Morgan Tilton is a freelance writer based in the Gunnison Valley
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Adventurist, to get outdoor news delivered straight to your inbox.