The Cyclist’s Guide to Crested Butte and Gunnison
From high-alpine tracks to technical mountain traverses and gravel countryside roads, here’s where to ride in the Gunnison Valley.
There’s a reason Crested Butte consistently tops bike bucket lists. Set among the Elk Mountains—some of Colorado’s most iconic and picturesque—the town is surrounded by endless dirt and paved roads and some 750 miles of trails that range from rocky high-desert loops in Gunnison to pristine alpine epics. The best part: there’s something for every kind of rider. Here’s how to make the most of your first trip to the Gunnison Valley.
Sea of Sage to Luge
Best for: Family flow
This linkup in Hartman Rocks Recreation Area, roughly 30 minutes downvalley from Crested Butte, avoids the technical rock slabs found elsewhere at Hartman, boasts sweeping views and plenty of whoop-inducing flow, and is wide enough for hand cyclists. “If you get rained out in Crested Butte, Hartmans is usually riding really well,” says Dave Wiens, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Post-adventure, pitch a tent or park your rig among the granite formations at a designated campsite (50 are up for grabs). Or head into Gunnison, where you’ll find adventure-themed lodging like the Wanderlust Hostel or the Blue Mesa Camping Pods.
Best for: Grinding gravel
Ride Trails, Offset CarbonWant to offset your trip’s emissions? In the Gunnison Valley, it’s as easy as riding a bike. For every mile logged with the CBGTrails app, you’ll offset 22 pounds of carbon.
For a change of pace, an off-day shakeout, or a nontechnical adventure, spin the pavement and gravel to Ohio Pass. En route, soak up westward glimpses of The Castles, towering lava-rock spires left over from the West Elk Volcano eruption, and a stunning Ohio Creek Valley overlook. “You can also complete a great loop from Ohio to Kebler Pass,” says Wiens. No matter how you choose to tackle this ride, it ends with a descent into downtown Crested Butte, where Elk Avenue’s plentiful pubs and restaurants await with the ultimate payoff: cold drinks and great food.
Best for: Cruising from town
This idyllic mountain-bike lap can be scaled up or down depending on your appetite and features a bit of everything that makes CB such a great place to pedal—aspens galore, a lush river valley, and stunning mountain vistas. Maybe the best part is that it starts and ends right in town. “You can end on Elk Avenue and grab happy hour at the Brick or on any restaurant patio,” says Lauren Koelliker, development director at the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association.
Best for: Lift-served wildflower descents
While Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s more technical trails may garner more attention from the lift-served crowd, this undulating, winding trail offers a backcountry feel—complete with handlebar-deep wildflowers in summer—in an approachable package. It’s also the perfect warm-up lap should you choose to head back up the Red Lady Express or link up with nearby trails like Snodgrass. Want to skip the warm-up? Stay at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square to catch the first chair up—it’s only 200 yards away from the Red Lady lift.
Best for: Fun, cascading drops
Don’t let this loop’s relatively short, 7.5-mile length fool you—the steep climb up Strand Hill is challenging, and the payoff is occasionally technical. Along the way you’ll appreciate another payoff: views of snowcapped Teocalli Mountain. After your ride, set up camp in the Brush Creek area (where designated camping will be introduced by September 2021).
Best for: Two-lane speed and gentle dirt
Gravel cyclists can ramp up the revolutions on this nontechnical lasso from Crested Butte to Jacks Cabin Cutoff, alongside Taylor River, and into Almont. “It’s not pure gravel, so you can get by with a road bike. This is a great lollipop from either Crested Butte or Gunnison,” says Wiens. For a boost, swing by the historic town’s General Store or grab a plate at the Three Rivers Smokehouse. If you finish in Gunnison, “the live entertainment out of the I Bar Ranch is fantastic.”
Best for: A technical early-season outing
Often melted out and ready to ride early in the summer, this CB mainstay makes its way between Cement and Brush Creek through dark coniferous forest and across open, flowery meadows. As you ride, gander south across Cement Creek at the retired ski-run cuts of Pioneer Ski Area, where Comet—Colorado’s inaugural chairlift—was installed in 1939.
Best for: Seasoned bikepackers
Before following a track inspired by the sport’s earliest pioneers, stop by the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum to learn about Crested Butte’s klunker generation and the original ascent of 12,700-foot Pearl Pass. Then set out for what has to be one of the most scenic routes in the state—you’ll pass numerous 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks, peer down vast drainages, and gasp for air atop high passes. Tackle the traverse in as much time as you need or have time for, though it’s most commonly completed over two or three days.
Best for: Choose-your-own-adventure through slickrock obstacles
For a mix of fluid singletrack, technical steering, and rocky features, link up Rocky Ridge and Rattlesnake via Sea of Sage, then finish with Becks and Collarbone. “Rattlesnake is full of natural features: you create your own playground out of big rock rolls, challenging steep climbs, and technical descents. Or stick with easier cross-country options,” says Koelliker. After trail time, it’s hard to beat a refreshing dip in nearby Blue Mesa Reservoir—the Elk Creek Marina offers SUP and kayak rentals for an added adventure.
From technical desert trails at Hartman Rocks to epic high-alpine loops in Crested Butte, there’s always something new to ride in the Gunnison Valley’s 750-plus miles of singletrack. Come for the mountain biking; stay for the quintessential Colorado mountain towns. Your next adventure awaits in Gunnison–Crested Butte!