Colorado’s best climb is spectacular. Just beware the columbines.

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The Snodgrass Mountain Trail
Colorado’s best climb is spectacular. Just beware the columbines.
By Rob Story

Many of the most famous Colorado biking towns are hemmed in by box canyons or by that great scenic wonder, Interstate 70. But not Crested Butte. It occupies a wide-open valley where the trails can roam hither and thither like a distracted Irish Setter. On Snodgrass Mountain, just outside town, the singletrack sometimes snakes itself
into an intricate maze. You catch peripheral glances of other riders zipping through aspen stands, the flashes of cyclist-tree-cyclist-tree teasing your retinas like a strobe.

I rode Crested Butte’s best trail ù the climb to the top of Snodgrass Mountain ù with my girlfriend on a July day. Grinding up the slope’s steep doubletrack through a meadow, we crossed a fence and finally crested the hill, where suddenly the slope opened up to a huge, horizon-to-sky panorama of mountains, forest, flowers, and cliffs. We stood
dumbstruck, breathless. (Or maybe that was just the altitude.) Around us, birds twittered an avian version of the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby.” There on the top of Snodgrass ù where the aspens grow as tall and straight and pale as BYU basketball players ù we rediscovered why we started mountain biking in the first place.

And that was before the downhill, the highlight of the ride. Drenched with sun, the mountain’s backside was awash in wildflowers. Chest-high, Berber-carpet dense, the blooms were as big as monkeys’ heads.


(M) mountain bike ride
(R) road ride
W water available
C camping available
F food available
I inn nearby
O other liquid refreshments
X no services

Lupines, columbines, and
delphiniums, they crowded the narrow singletrack, slapping at spandex and restricting our sight lines to the wake knifed open by the front wheel. At that point, all we could do was hang back on the saddle, and surf the billion petals like a wave.

Route: The trailhead is on Colorado 135, one mile past the end of the pavement outside Crested Butte. To complete the loop, double back from the summit and take the first singletrack on the right the rest of the way down. Distance: 15 miles. Contact: Alternative Sports, Crested Butte, 970-349-1320.

Williams Creek Trail (M)
Idaho Basque shepherd country. Didn’t know there were Idaho Basque shepherds? They probably felt the same way about mountain bikers once. Now the two coexist amiably, the sheep grazing in the meadows at the base of this high desert climb. Another bonus: The trail’s long singletrack descent through the aspens lining Williams Creek is astounding. W F O I

Distance: 18 mi. Elevation Gain: 2,180 ft.

Route: A loop trail starting at Sessions Lodge in the town of Obsidian and following Idaho 75 south to Fisher Creek Road then west down Williams Creek Trail

Contact: Formula Sports, Ketchum, 208-726-3194

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park (R)
One of the most justly celebrated scenic stretches of asphalt in America, this narrow road climbs at an average 6 percent grade past glacial lakes, waterfalls, herds of bighorn sheep, an occasional marmot (some of which are roadkill; there’s plenty of traffic here) and even, if rarely, a grizzly ù providing the adrenaline boost needed to reach the
summit at Logan Pass. W F C

Distance: 52 mi. Elevation Gain: 3,400 ft.

Route: Point-to-point from the West Glacier Park entrance to the St. Mary visitor center. Riders must summit by 11 A.M. or risk a Park Service ticket.

Contact: Pedal the Parks, 800-983-3263

Rock Creek Trail, Medicine Bow National Forest (M)
Breathtaking scenery ù if you’re not an acrophobe. This narrow, ledge-hugging trail winds along a granite canyon wall above a 250-foot talus slope. Far below, forests of lodgepole pines, spruces, and aspens spread out in green splendor. Appreciate their beauty in quick glances. Errant steering is ù how can we put this delicately? ù
inadvisable. C

Distance: 26 mi. Elevation Gain: 2,600 ft.

Route: Out-and-back from the Rock Creek Trail parking lot, two miles south of Arlington on Rock Creek Canyon Road

Contact: The Pedal House Bike Shop, Laramie, 307-742-5533

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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