There are three rides in the South Park area that I wanted to check out. The ride that first caught my attention was the Sheep Creek Loop. This is a 13 mile lollipop not too far south of Fairplay. The second ride I had on my radar was the 18 mile Boreas Pass/Gold Dust Trail Loop. This is by far the most popular of the three rides since its just south of Breckenridge. The third ride I recently stumbled upon when looking up info on the first two rides. The Salt Creek-McQuaid Loop is a barely ridden 13 mile loop along the eastern edge of the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness.
Salt Creek-McQuaid Loop
I finally headed to the area August 30th. My plan was to ride the Salt Creek-McQuaid Loop. At 13 miles, the ride seemed a little short for my liking. The 13 mile loop has you riding a few miles on Forest Service roads before joining the Salt Creek Trail for 4 or so miles, then a few more miles of dirt road before finishing up on singletrack on the McQuaid Trail. My plan was to extend the ride. The ride can be extended by riding further on the Salt Creek Trail and using different Forest Service roads to reach McQuaid. I also considered continuing on dirt roads to combine the ride with the Sheep Creek Loop.
I began my ride about a 1/4 mile from the end of the McQuaid Trail on Salt Creek Road. Because it was suggested in a trip report, I chose to ride this loop clockwise. The ride followed Forest Service roads the first few miles until it reached the Salt Creek Trail. The roads climbed steadily to the trail. Initially the road traveled along meadows offering good views of East Buffalo Peak. About half way up the road I startled a coyote that was traveling along the road.
|East Buffalo peak and its lower sub peak
|Closeup of East Buffalo Peak
Despite modest elevation change, traveling along Salt Creek was slow. The tread was a mix of pine needles and roots that didn't roll too fast. Since everything was wet from the rain the night before, the roots were treacherous. They were excessively slick, almost as if they were icy. The rocky sections had the same slipperiness. The trail rolled between 10-11,000' climbing and descending small drainages.
|View across South Park with Antero Reservoir
and clouds below the distant Puma Hills
|Another look at the goshawk
|Goshawk deciding if it should attack me
during a fly by
|A nicer stretch of the Salt Creek singletrack
|Buffalo Peaks from the trail
|Faint tread along the Salt Creek Trail
|View from FSR 431
|Cruising through meadows
|Another look toward the Buffalo Peaks
|The McQuaid Trail was barely visible
as it traveled through the park
|Cruising through sparse woods
|Getting into the nicer singletrack
on the McQuaid Trail
|Nice singletrack on McQuaid
If you do decide to check out the area, I recommend visiting in the last half of September. The trees in the area are predominantly aspen. The area would be quite pretty during foliage season. I also recommend traveling clockwise. There are a couple hills that would be nearly impossible to climb traveling the other direction on the Salt Creek Trail. Traveling clockwise, pretty much everything would be rideable if not for the wet roots.
Boreas Pass-Gold Dust Trail Loop
I headed back up to South Park September 8th. This time I had my eyes on two rides. I was going to ride the Boreas Pass-Gold Dust Trail Loop, then when finished, head over to ride the Sheep Creek Loop. I was looking at roughly 31 miles of riding, a longish day, but well within my ability.
The Boreas Pass-Gold Dust Trail ride begins in the town of Como. Since I had two rides planned for the day, I was on my bike rolling at 730AM. The first part of the ride leaves Como and travels along the dirt Boreas Pass Road. The road was originally a railroad grade. Despite climbing 1500 feet or so to the Continental Divide at nearly 11,550', it never gets too steep, and is graded so that any car can travel on it with ease.
Como sits at nearly 10,000' in elevation. Because of this elevation, the mountains surrounding it are relatively high alpine peaks. Even though the Boreas Pass Road is a 9-10 mile dirt road climb, the big views of the surrounding mountains make the miles go by quickly. Because of the gentle grade, I was able to spin at a pretty good cadence most of the way up. The higher you climb the better the views, until cresting right at treeline on the Continental Divide with continuous alpine views.
|Immediate views on the Boreas Pass Road
|Another shot lower on the Boreas Pass Road
|Looking into South Park
|Getting closer to the pass
|The views are nearly continuous
|The moose in the aspens
|The high point of the ride
|I believe this is Red Peak
|The view north from the top of the pass into Summit County
|The Boreas Section House
|Outbuildings on the pass
|Interpretive sign with some history
|The start of the Gold Dust Trail
|Mt Silverheels from the top
of the Gold Dust Trail
|Continuing down Gold Dust
|Fun singletrack along the flume section
|The lower part of the flume section
|The view from Tarryall Creek
|Getting into the rocky stretch
|One of the rockiest sections
|Slowly leaving the rocks
|Awesome singletrack in the aspens
just before Como
At least the broken cable came at the end of the ride. Unfortunately, it put an end to my plan to head over to the Sheep Creek Loop. I attempted to get the cable replaced in Fairplay, but the multisport outdoor store in town didn't have a bike mechanic on duty.
I wrapped up my day covering over 18 miles. There was a lot packed into that 18 miles however. Great scenery, a long climb, a fantastic downhill, fun singletrack, just enough technical terrain to keep it interesting, and even a moose, this ride has a little bit of everything. This is definitely a ride I would revisit.
I managed to hit this ride just a couple weeks before the leaves were at peak color. There is no shortage of aspen trees on this loop and it would make an even more fantastic ride at peak fall color. The leaves were just starting to change when I rode it with small flashes of color.
Sheep Creek Loop
Bonus: Weston Pass Hill Climb
After a couple weeks passed and I made my way to South Park yet again to tackle the Sheep Creek Loop. As I made my way north I noticed vast swaths of yellow mixed in the forest. I was hitting the area just in time for the local peak of fall foliage.
The Sheep Creek Loop is not too far south of Fairplay off of the Weston Pass Road. Since the last 1/2 mile or so to the trailhead is on a rough road, I parked right at the forest service border, adding 1/2 mile on either end of the ride.
I learned about this ride last year. It seemed to be a local secret until the past few years. Several mountain bike websites now have info on this ride as well as a local riding guide. All of information on the ride sounded good and I was eager to check it out.
The official ride begins on the Sheep Creek Trail. I started with a fairly steep climb, a 1/2 mile lower, to avoid traveling the rough road in my car. Before I reached the trail, I was already impressed. From the start, this ride was fantastic. The forest was ablaze in yellow aspens.
|The start of my ride
|Views came quickly of the Buffalo Peaks
along the road and lots of color
|Looking into a sea of aspens
|This is all in the first half mile
|I would of been happy with the foliage just along the road
|One of the first meadows along the Sheep Creek Trail
|Crossing another meadow
|Into the yellow aspen tunnel
|The vegetation is very autumn-like
|The first meadow along Twelvemile Trail
|Yet another meadow along the creek
|A closeup of the leaves on the distant hillside
|A rockier section on the Twelvemile Trail
|A good view of the Mosquito Range
The next three miles of the Sheep Creek Trail are the best part of this ride. The trail initially starts following its namesake creek, traveling just a few few feet from the bank. After crossing the creek, the trail continues through the aspen forest. The trail leaves the forest for sage brush meadows. I then returned a mixed aspen forest with mixed with sage brush. The entire time the trail was generally downhill on awesome, flowy singletrack that you wish would never end.
|Following Sheep Creek
|Entering the sage meadow with the distant Buffalo Peaks
|A sea of aspens below the trail
|Transitioning from sage to aspens
|An odd mix of sage brush and aspens
|Looking toward the crest of the Mosquito Range
|It's like a new ride on the way back
|Descending toward Cave Creek in
a nice patchwork of colors
|Back in the yellow tunnel
|Transitioning from a meadow back into the aspens
The climb is a grind, especially since I already had at least 12 miles and over 1600 vertical feet of climbing on my legs for the day. Despite the slog, the scenery was good enough to keep my focused. The road follows closely to the upper reaches of the South Platte River headwaters. The river flows through an open meadow making way for good views to the higher alpine terrain. Just above the pass is 13,572' Weston Peak. Eventually the road broke out above treeline and I had continuous views of the alpine terrain around me. Higher on the road are the remains of several old cabins.
|High up on the Weston Pass Road
|Finally reached the pass
|The view on the descent
Colorado has no shortage of great places to mountain bike. The South Park area isn't exactly on the radar of most riders. The Gold Dust Trail may see a fair share of riders with its proximity to the outdoor playground of Summit County. From what I can tell Sheep Creek is just starting to see some growing interest. There were some previous tracks when I rode it and several mountain bike riders listed in the trailhead register. The Salt Creek-McQuaid area I'm guessing is rarely visited. I recommend checking out these trails. Gold Dust and Sheep Creek in particular are great rides. I think Salt Creek would have been better had it not been so wet. All three of these rides travel through forests that are heavy on aspen trees and would make great rides during the beginning of autumn as can be seen in the pictures above. I rode all three of these rides during midweek and never saw another person on the sections of singletrack. And for one more ride that overlooks South Park, check out the ride on the Colorado Trail from Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass (Click Mountain Biking the Colorado Trail: Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass)
|A very fall-like view
|Another shot through the yellow tunnel
|Another shot above Cave Creek