The Cycle Life

Crested Butte Is the Country's Best Mountain Bike Destination

Sure, Sedona and Moab are great. But this little Colorado town comes out on top for two big reasons: it's packed with epic, fun-to-ride trails and it's built around people who absolutely love bikes.

Crested Butte Is the Country's Best Mountain Bike Destination

Views like these are part of the reason why Crested Butte is the country's best mountain bike destination. Photo: Mike Curiak

I spend a lot of time testing bikes across the globe, so people often ask for specific gear and trail suggestions. What’s the hottest new road or mountain bike? Where’s my favorite place to ride?

I usually hate answering. Bikes have gotten so good that it’s difficult to find a bad one—picking is about riding style and nuance. As for top destinations, I’ve ridden in a dozen states and almost as many countries this year, and I’ve yet to come home without doing at least one ride that blew me away.

But after another trip to Crested Butte late this summer, I realized that if I were forced to choose only one place to ride for the rest of my life, this would be it. Mile for mile, trail for trail, the riding in this little town in central Colorado is second to none.

A few years back, I was asked to research and write a piece about the ten best trails in the country. I solicited votes from friends and industry colleagues. And while there was usually a clear winner in all the major U.S. riding hubs—the Whole Enchilada in Moab, Hangover in Sedona, South Boundary in Taos—when it came to the votes for Crested Butte, people raved about at least half a dozen trails as the best in town.

This jibed with my experience. A few years ago, on my first trip to CB (as locals call it), I rode every day over a four-day weekend, and at the end of each day I’d exclaim that I’d just ridden the best trail of my life. First there was Doctor Park, a 20-mile loop that starts with an easygoing climb along the babbling Spring Creek, moves to a burly two-track ascent to just under 11,000 feet, and climaxes with a five-mile descent that ranges from fast and flat-out to technical and built with features. It was so good, I did it twice. Next up was Teocali Ridge, another lung-crushing climb on pocked jeep road and singletrack to the high alpine before a nearly seven-mile rollercoaster ride back to the valley. The local trail advocacy group rebuilt this descent a couple of years ago with a rocky, root-choked top stretch followed by a series of bermed corners that are so ridiculously tacky that you can’t help but laugh each time you carve one.

These are two of the finest trails you’ll ever ride, and they aren’t even Crested Butte’s most famous. That title is reserved for the 403 and the 401. The combination of those two, with the addition of Snodgrass and the climb up Washington Gulch, makes for what is arguably the most epic loop of singletrack riding anywhere. Snodgrass is fast and flowing. Washington Gulch is a dirt road up a narrowing alpine valley. The 403 is steep and loose and plunges through the forest to the East River. And, after some more climbing, the 401 cuts through high-altitude meadows that look like something out of Heidi.

In subsequent trips I’ve continued to find trails as good as those above: Deer Creek, Deadman’s Gulch, Cement Creek, Scarp Ridge, the Dyke Trail. The list goes on and on. And that doesn’t even start to touch all the outrageous desert riding, such as Hartman Rocks, just 35 minutes down the road in Gunnison. According to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association, there’s over 750 miles of single track between CB and the Gunnison Valley. There’s lift-access park riding on the ski hill, too. And just recently, I saw the town’s latest promo for winter riding, with the city working toward 102 miles of groomed riding for the upcoming season. (CB even hosts its own, self-proclaimed Fat Bike World Championships.)

As good as the riding is—loamy dirt that grips like Velcro, lots of options with rocks and tech, huge meadows full of head-high wildflowers—what really makes the place stand out is the quaint, bike-friendly feel of town. People ride everywhere on cruisers and the coffee shops and brew houses are stuffed with folks in sweaty ride gear and pads. Once, while sitting at breakfast at a crunchy little diner called Izzy’s, I got to watch Aaron Gwin’s winning run at Fort William when three guys next to me pulled out their laptop and fired up live coverage of the World Cup. It feels like everyone here rides, and even if they don’t, they appreciate those who do.

I was back in Crested Butte in September for a wedding, and the groom, a close friend, hosted a ride the morning of the ceremony. Seven of us climbed up to Green Lake, which packs a ton of cool rock features and lactic-burn steeps into 4.5 miles. We had a snack and a nice sit at the alpine tarn, where glassy water reflected aspens glowing like fire on the hillside. Then came the high-speed chase to the bottom, kicking off logs and small rises, sending up rooster tails of dust at every turn, and holding on for dear life on scary steep straights.

Once again, at the bottom, it felt like the best ride ever.

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