Explore the best high elevation mountain bike rides on the Colorado Trail and beyond

Nothing brings out the wildflowers in the high country of Southwest Colorado like a productive monsoon season. Wildflower season is upon us, as is the call of alpine singletrack meandering through the untouched beauty of Nature’s alpine floral arrangements. 

Colorado Trail Segments 25 to 27 between Silverton and Durango offer some of the best high elevation mountain bike rides in Southwest Colorado — and are perhaps some of the most beautiful segments of the Colorado Trail, especially if you like wildflowers. An extensive network of singletrack trails around this area offers endless possibilities for loops, shuttles and out-and-backs.

If you are short on time or simply want to maximize your visit to these parts, we’ve selected three popular shuttle rides (and one bonus ride!) that are must-dos in the Colorado high country.

Molas Pass to Cascade Creek, 23 miles

The first ride begins at Molas Pass on Highway 550 and covers 23 miles, passing Rolling Mountain and Engineer Mountain and ending at Cascade Creek, also on Highway 550. The route climbs to just over 12,000 feet and descends nearly 5,000 feet on the popular Engineer Mountain Trail. Begin on the Colorado Trail headed west and, after about 10 miles, hang a left on the Engineer Mountain Trail. Stick to it all the way to Cascade Creek just north of Purgatory Resort.

southwest colorado high elevation mountain biking blackhawk pass colorado trail
Blackhawk Pass on the Colorado Trail.Robert Stump

Bolam Pass to Hermosa Creek, 35 miles

This ride is a little more adventurous for the bike and for the shuttle. It starts at Bolam Pass and follows Colorado Trail Segment 26 over the ever-popular Blackhawk Pass to Corral Draw, down to Hermosa Creek Trail and then follows the creek to Lower Hermosa Campground just northwest of Hermosa. The shuttle to the top of Bolam Pass requires a high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Alternatively, one can park their two-wheel-drive vehicle at Hermosa Park behind Purgatory Resort, then pedal the rest of the way up Hermosa Park Road to the top of Bolam Pass, adding about 10 miles to the route.

The route reaches almost 12,000 feet at Blackhawk Pass and descends over 6,000 feet. The descents off Blackhawk Pass and down Corral Draw are awe-inspiring — both for quality of ride and quality of view. While the Corral Draw and Hermosa Creek trails are motorized singletrack, they ride like non-motorized trails. And odds are likely that you will not see a motorcycle, especially on Corral Draw.

If you are not up for dirt roads and 4-wheeling but want the same quality ride, head for the Rico side of the mountains…

southwest colorado high elevation mountain biking aspens salt creek trail
Aspen trees along the Salt Creek Trail.Robert Stump
Lizard Head Pass to Salt Creek, 31 miles

Beginning at Lizard Head Pass on Highway 145 between Rico and Telluride, follow the East Fork trail, well … east, to Bolam Pass. Catch the Colorado Trail there, heading southwest on Segment 26 over Blackhawk Pass, and continue onto Segment 27 to Salt Creek. Head west on Salt Creek for the most popular descent back to Highway 145 on the Rico side. This ride enjoys the same high point just under 12,000 feet on Blackhawk Pass and has over 5,000 feet of descending.  Also, this ride is entirely on non-motorized singletrack.

Bonus Round!

Do you have time for one more? Enjoy the lesser-known west side of Rico and the Dolores River Valley from Lizard Head Pass to Priest Gulch for over 25 miles of riding. Head west from Lizard Head Pass — this time on the Groundhog Stock Trail — then connect to the Upper Calico Trail via a (very) short jaunt on the Dunton and Eagle Peak roads. Stay on the Upper Calico Trail as it transitions to the Lower Calico Trail and ends at the Priest Gulch trailhead on Highway 145. This ride reaches just over 12,000 feet and descends about 6,000 feet. A heads up that the Calico Trail is motorized and does see more motorized traffic than, say, Corral Draw or Hermosa Creek.

Disclaimer: Monsoon Season Safety

Safety should always be your number one priority this time of year when traveling in the high country. Regarding monsoon season: it is usually short-lived and offers ample opportunity between storms. The most effective safety tip to avoid lightning is to start early since lightning storms and rain tend to show up in the afternoon. Watch the weather closely and plan accordingly, with a plan to find shelter if lightning becomes a threat. The rain near tree line is cold, so bring suitable rain gear and warm clothing!

ROBERT STUMP rides a mountain bike, a lot.