Front Range MTB Trails

So it’s close to a year that I’ve lived here in Denver and I thought it was high time that I talked about something near and dear to me: mountain bike trails. The front range contains so much opportunity to ride, it was difficult to make everything and this list shows some of that. But part of why I wanted to get some of this down is to help describe how to look at some of these trails from someone used to other kinds of trails (aka, trails in Missouri!).

One thing that I loved in the front range is that the riding season is actually pretty long. This year was pretty dry but trails here usually dry quickly. This spring there’s been more snow and snow means some mud, but also snowpack/ice.

Denver/Golden

First up, Denver and Golden trails. Many of these trails are “close” enough to make loops out of a couple … or if you are crazy more than a couple. One loop (Zorro to Matthew Winters/Red Rocks to Lair to Mt Falcon) was 32+ miles and 5k+ ft in elevation gain. Another loop (Green Mountain, Zorro, Chimney, Apex) was 34+ miles and 5.8k+ ft in elevation gain.

Apex

A fun set of trails that I tried when I first moved here. One thing to note is that the trails are directional for mountain biking on certain days. Apex Trail makes for fun techy descent, or a tough up hill! Some of the trails around Apex suffer from water-bar-itis which is common in the front range. These are top notch trails with a good dose of climbing. Not a ton of mileage here, but it’s fun. Can also be linked with Chimney Gulch.

Tech: 6; Cardio: 5;

Bear Creek Lake

I haven’t ridden here much. It’s right near by to Green Mountain (where I spend a lot of time, especially thanks to the night riding) and would be easy to link up via the bike paths. But I haven’t. I did ride some of the trails on the northern end and there is a mountain bike race I’ll be there riding this summer. So we’ll see. It’s a beautiful park and one that you will see if you take to the bike paths as they pass through here.

Chimney Gulch

This trail is the dirt version of the Lookout Mountain climb. Located in Golden if you start from the base you climb all the way to the top of Lookout Mountain. You cross the road a couple times so you can see the roadies too. A bit of water-bar-itis here too. You can link Apex and Chimney Gulch as well. They connect via a small trail (or ride on the road) at the top and you can follow a bike path between then at the bottom.

Tech: 4; Cardio: 6;

Dakota Ridge

A rocky, crazy little ridge between Green Mountain and Matthew Winters. The Zorro Trail climbs up the east slope from Green Mountain (tops out near some “stairs”) and meets the main trail that runs north/south along the ridge. Expect rocks, rocks, rocks, some roots, and sand covered rocks. There is plenty of fun to have here, especially if you got longer travel or technical is your thing. I’ve used the Zorro trail, then the north end of the trail to connect with Matthew Winters or the road to go up to Apex/Chimney.

Tech: 8; Cardio: 4

Golden Gate Canyon/Mountain Lion Loop

This was a fantastic experience on several levels. Firstly, I got to go with some fast downhill guys and secondly I got to experience this trail. The climbs up are pretty much normal, but can also be steep and a bit technical near the top. And then the downhill. It’s steep. It’s rocky. It’ll put a smile on your face, when you’re not saying “oh crap”. At least from an XC rider’s perspective. This trail had me seriously thinking about a longer travel bike though. Only went there once but it was fun…

Tech: 8; Cardio: 6

Green Mountain (William F Hayden Park)

This is a fun, pretty simple set of trails with a crazy web address. There’s a map and some trail descriptions available, but generally there are two types of trails here: the trails around the mountain and the trails up the mountain. You won’t escape some climbs here. But you do earn some great views. The Summit Loop and Box o Rox trails are both very rocky, but not technical per se. The descent down Rooney Valley is fantastic and the view of Golden is one of my favorite views in the front range. Oh, and you can night ride here. Pretty much the only place I’m aware of right now for that. A decent loop here will push 12+ miles, but you can get more if you double back on parts.

Tech: 1; Cardio: 6

Lair o’ the Bear

A fun, popular trail in the Morrison area. One “secret” is to park at a small, off-the-road parking called Little Park. You get a small bit of extra trail and avoid the main lot. This trail is pretty classic. Some good climbing, barely any water bars, and some fun tech. You can also connect Lair and Mt Falcon via some roads on the top and Bear Creek Canyon. Typically people climb Mt Falcon and then connect that way. Just Lair can put you in the 13 mile/1800 ft range. This is likely my second most common place ride in the immediate area.

Tech: 3; Cardio: 5.

Matthew Winters/Red Rocks

This is fun, albeit busy, set of trails. There’s some good (and some really tough) technical sections and just some fun trail. The Morrison Slide trail is pretty technical on both sides, but a fun trail. I found some serious ice/snow pack here over the winter.

Tech: 4; Cardio: 4

Mt. Falcon

I’m still exploring this place, primarily because from the lot near Morrison it presents you with a long, long climb. The trails here have been fun and can’t wait to explore some of the ones on the top. And this is the King of Water Bars. The one other trail at the top that I got to ride was good fun.

Tech: 4; Cardio: 7 (from the bottom anyway)

South Table Mountain

On the way west to Golden there are two mesas called North and South Table Mountain. This one is a bit weird in that it’s mostly just double track and the parts that are singletrack aren’t the best built around in the world. But it’s dirt and it’s scenic. I’ve actually only done this on my cross bike. And the trail I picked to go up happened to end with a hike-a-bike up a rock face to get to the table. On top it’s mostly nice dirt with a couple rocky patches.

Boulder/Lyons

Betasso Preserve

Only been here once and missed out on the trails because it’s closed on Wednesday and Saturday. The trail from Boulder Canyon was fun, but very steep. Very common to ride from Boulder too. There’s a bike path that leads very close to the trail. There’s also a new road from Flagstaff Mountain called Chapman Drive that’s dirt and open to uphill bike traffic currently.

Flatirons Vista/Marshall Mesa

This is one of my favorites to sneak up to during the week in the summer. Not very technical at all, a bit rocky here or there but a fun “just biking” kind of loop. There’s even some gravel that can make a pretty long loop. The views of the flatirons are pretty awesome.

Hall Ranch

Also only been here once and need to get back. This is up in Lyons and the trails are great. A good bit of climbing but some excellent downhills. There’s one big rock garden area I haven’t been through yet.

Heil Valley Ranch

A favorite ride. Rocky and technical, but all approachable. Good climbing, excellent downhills and great views. This is up in Lyons and could be pretty easily linked with Hall Ranch (and commonly is). Rides here can net you 15-16 miles or 20-30 with an out and back (or loops).

Loose Ends

Things I missed but have heard about (and almost all good things!):

  • Centennial Cone
  • Sourdough Trails
  • Three Sisters
  • Walker Ranch
  • West Mag Trails (I don’t think these are open?)
  • White Ranch

A few beyond-the-front range trails I explored included Castle Rock, Kenosha Pass (Colorado Trail), Buffalo Creek (also part of the CT), and Breckenridge has some fun trails and so much climbing, Colorado Trail, Pueblo, Monarch Pass, … Winter Park is supposed to have some fun trails and some fun XC-bike-accessible gravity trails in the summer (there are several parks that may have plenty of options). Salida and Crested Butte have great riding by all accounts and then you get into the Grand Junction, Fruita, Durango, Moab side of things. And some of the 14er’s are even bike-able. So, piles of miles to be had…

On the race front you’ve got a series of races in Winter Park, the Rocky Mountain Endurance series, the Firecracker 50, Breck Epic (stage race), the CT race, a bit of short track in Golden and Boulder. There’s a set of non-race style endurance races via the Colorado Endurance Series. There’s likely some races in Colorado Springs… Steamboat has some races, Leadville has some winter/fat bike races, the mountain games have races and there are probably a ton I don’t know about yet…

And the road riding is fun too (if you want a break from trails…).

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