Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mountain Biking the Colorado Trail: Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass

Most of the Colorado Trail is open to mountain bikes.  One of the more popular sections of for mountain bikers is Segment 6, which begins at the 10.000 foot summit of Kenosha Pass and continues to Breckenridge.  The first 12 miles of Segment 6 travels from Kenosha Pass to 11,585 foot Georgia Pass.

Asters along the Colorado Trail
This stretch of trail has a good reputation among mountain bikers and I wanted to ride the area to see if it lived up to its reputation.   Despite a better forecast on Sunday, I decided to take my chances and headed to Kenosha Pass early Monday morning, August 10th.  Since the area is rather popular and a fairly short jaunt from the metro Denver area, I figured it would be better to avoid the weekend.

On the drive up to Kenosha Pass, the weather wasn't looking ideal.  My entire drive travels along the mountains and most of the summits were socked in the clouds with only patches of sunshine.  The spot forecast had more than 50% chance of storms after noon.  I left home fairly early however and thought I had a good chance of finishing my ride before the weather moved in.

I left the Kenosha Pass trailhead around 830AM.  My route followed the Colorado Trail (CT) right from the trailhead.  Right out of the gate the riding runs on singletrack through an aspen forest.  The trail is generally rooty, but never too challenging.  The first 6 miles, the trail rolls with a mix of ups and downs. The scenery alternates between forest and meadow.  Most of the terrain is at least moderately technical with plenty of roots and a few rockier sections.  The sections through the meadows are fast and flowy.  The ride starts at 10,000' at the pass drops to its low point on the edge of South Park at 9854'.  The open areas through the meadows offer good scenery across South Park and ahead to the climbing toward the Continental Divide.  On a clearer day, I'm sure there are more mountains visible across South Park but on this day the visibility was somewhat obscured.

South Park below with clouds obscuring the mountains
Early on the Colorado Trail
"Self Portrait"
Trail dipping into upper reaches of South Park
Entering a meadow

Rock outcropping above the trail
After  6 miles the trail descends and crosses a bridge over Jefferson Creek.  This starts the next leg of the ride.  Shortly after crossing the creek, I passed the junction for the West Jefferson Trail, the trail that I would descend from Georgia Pass.  I passed by the West Jefferson Trail and continued on the Colorado Trail.  The CT turned and began its climb toward Georgia Pass.  The trail became more technical with more rocks and roots.  The climbing was never too steep, but the rocks and roots with the climbing make you give a solid effort.  After the steepest climbing, the trail leveled out and traversed along the side of the mountain with much more gradual climbing.  The trail was also less technical at this point.

Bridge over Jefferson Creek
Nice trail in the coniferous forest
Nearing treeline
A glimpse of Mt Guyot
The easier climbing continued all the way to treeline.  By this time the clouds lifted some from the summits and the visibility improved.  Mt Guyot is the dominant landmark above treeline, towering to the west just above Georgia Pass with Glacier Peak on the other side of the pass.  The line of summits that make up the Continental Divide stretch out on either side of Georgia Pass.  Shortly after riding above treeline, I passed the another trail junction which marks the upper end of the West Jefferson Trail, my descent.  Rather than descending though, I continued the short distance to the Continental Divide and the crest of Georgia Pass right around 11,600'.  The last bit of riding to the pass is gradual through the grassy tundra.

Riding a ribbon through the tundra
Peaks of the Continental Divide
Mt Guyot looming ahead
The skies were cloudy and somewhat hazy so I didn't have far reaching views from the pass.  The views were still fairly good, especially of the peaks in the immediate area.  From the top of the pass, the trail CT continues another 21 miles passing the back of Keystone Resort before reaching the Breckenridge area.

View from the pass with ominous clouds
Mt Guyot
The Colorado Trail continuing toward Breckenridge
Guyot and its neighbor
Looking across the tundra from the pass
After enjoying the views for a few minutes and sharing my map with some hikers, I headed back downhill toward the West Jefferson Trail.  The West Jefferson Trail descends back toward Jefferson Creek and is an alternative to returning on the Colorado Trail.  The West Jefferson Trail is less traveled than the CT and allows riders to avoid uphill traffic on the CT.

Leaving the pass
Lots of tundra above treeline
The West Jefferson Trail descends from the CT through a meadow on a tiny sliver of singletrack.  It was clear that this trail is less traveled.  On the upper reaches of the trail, it passed just below some lingering patches of snow.  Traveling downhill, it didn't take too long to drop back below treeline.  Once below treeline the trail descended quickly through a section of a half a dozen or so sharp switchbacks.  Below the switchbacks, the trail had better flow before a series of creek crossings.  After the final crossing of Jefferson Creek, the trail widened to doubletrack and was quite rocky in spots before reaching  Jefferson Creek Campground.  The trail passes briefly through the campground before rejoining the Colorado Trail a short distance later near the bridge over Jefferson Creek.

Start of the West Jefferson Trail
The view from the top of the trail
Small pond just below the trail
A look back toward the beginning
of the West Jefferson Trail
The last bit of riding above treeline
Log bridge over a water crossing
Nice cruising on the
West Jefferson Trail
Riding just a few feet from the creek
Rough stretch near the end of
the West Jefferson Trail
From the bridge, I retraced the CT for the last 6 miles to the trailhead.  Just after passing the bridge it started to thunder.  I was a little concerned since I had about an hour of riding remaining.  Fortunately it thundered only a few times before the storm moved on.

After the bridge, the trail climbed a fair amount.  The climbing isn't terribly steep, but the trail was rooty and rocky at this point.  After 20 or so miles, I was beginning to feel it, especially since I tried to pick up my pace with the recent thunder.  The final stretch of climbing from the rides low point passed through a meadow and was less technical but seemed to go on for several miles before finally ending.  I often find the long, gradual climbs wear me down more than the steep, short grunts.

The trail climbs and follows the grassy ride in the distance
Once the climbing ended I had a fairly easy ride that was mostly downhill to Kenosha Pass.  During the last mile and a half, there was quite a bit of thunder.  I wasn't too worried though since I was making quick time heading generally downhill and the thunder seemed to be coming from the other side of Kenosha Pass and moving away from me.  I made it back to Kenosha Pass after riding 3.5 hours and covering 24 miles.  The ride was a good workout gaining and descending close to 3500' of elevation.

A final look back at the mountains
This was a fun ride with nice scenery.  Although there are some technical spots, the obstacles are never overwhelming.  Considering the fair amount of elevation gain, the climbing to the Continental Divide is never too difficult.  Using the West Jefferson Trail to descend allows for a nice loop and offers a little solitude.  Although this ride gets a fair amount of traffic from both bikers and hikers, it's worth checking out for riders from the Front Range and the mountains.  If possible, I recommend riding during the week to avoid the busy weekends.


  1. Really I was stunned. When I saw your post especially your given photos. I like them.

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