Thursday, April 19, 2018

Buena Vista Mountain Biking

While I have often traveled to Buena Vista, Colorado for some fun in the mountains, it has always been to hike.  Buena Vista sits at the base of the Collegiate Peaks below 14ers Mt Princeton, Mt Yale and Mt Columbia.  To the east of town is the southern end of the Mosquito Range and the 13,000 foot Buffalo Peaks.

While Buena Vista has worked the past few years to develop trails near town in the Mosquito Range foothills with mountain bikers in mind, I never paid to much attention to the riding there.  The focus of the area seemed to be the Midland Trail.  The Midland is an old rail line that traveled through the area.  I had the impression that this was a rail trail and the majority of the riding in the area was dirt roads.  After living in the area a few years, I began hearing more about the riding in Buena Vista and it sounded like there might be real mountain biking opportunities.

In the beginning of April, I had an errand to run in Buena Vista.  Buena Vista (known locally as BV) is a pretty small town about an hour from my house.  If I need to travel to BV, I usually combine it with a hike in the area.  This time I decided to finally check out the riding in the area.  I headed to the area on the morning of April 5th.

To follow along with my ride description, click on the links for maps of the area: Midland Trail and Whipple Trail.

My goal was to ride as much of the mapped singletrack accessible from town to get a good feel for riding in the area.  All of the riding is on a mix of BLM and USFS land.  The land is part of the Fourmile Travel Management Area.  The riding has several distinct sections including the Whipple System, the Midland System, and the Fourmile section.

I began my ride at a public park along the Arkansas River on the eastern edge of BV.  From the parking lot, a bridge crosses the river and the Barbara Whipple trail begins.  After a short distance riding above the river, the Whipple trail begins climbing, steeply at times.  The Whipple Trail travels .8 miles and climbs more than 300 feet.  I don't know why, but I was under the impression the Whipple Trail was a lazy trail along the river.  The trail actually is fairly chunky and steep.  Not exactly the place for the first time rider.  The trail is somewhat wider than a singletrack and pretty much all rideable despite the technical sections. 

The view of Buena Vista early
on the Whipple Trail

On the Whipple Trail

Along the trail are a couple of kiosks and small shelters with history and information on the area.  There are nice views over the town.  Buena Vista translates to "good view" and the town name is very accurate.  The Collegiate Peaks are visible from the entire valley as they tower 6000' above.  The peaks are visible from many points along the trail as well.

Buena Vista with Mt Princeton beyond

At the end of the Whipple Trail I had a couple miles of easy riding ahead.  I followed dirt CR 304 for a couple miles to link up with the Midland Trail.  CR 304 is part of the former Midland Rail grade.  The road has very little slope to it and makes for fast riding until reaching the actual Midland Trail singletrack.

CR 304

At the end of CR 304, you reach multiple junctions.  First you pass a sign leading to singletrack to the right.  Almost immediately there is another junction with a parking lot and kiosk with a map.  The start of the Midland singletrack is not obvious here.  To the right leads downhill toward US 24.  The road that leads straight is signed as 376.A and heads toward the interior of the Fourmile area.  Follow 376.A a short distance and the Midland singletrack is soon reached at a signed junction.

The Midland Trail singletrack travels about 4.5 miles and is the longest continuous singletrack in the area.  It's also the centerpiece of the singletrack in this area.  The trail is a former rail line.  As such, I was expecting a glorified rail trail.  I was mistaken.  

Near the beginning of the Midland Trail

A diversion from the old rail bed

The sun illuminating the rocks along the trail

Traveling through cliffs

While it is obvious at times you are traveling an old rail grade, the area has grown in and is now a true singletrack.  At times you are traveling on a straight and smooth surface, but it doesn't last too long.  In numerous areas the trail traveled through rock that was blasted to allow passage of the track.  This adds to scenery of the trail.  The area is full of washes and gullies.  At one time these gullies were crossed by trestles.  The trestles are no longer there.  The trail now diverts from the original rail grade to bypass the gaps left by the removed trestles.  Where the trail leaves the old grade, it snakes its way on new singletrack.  At times the riding can get technical as it makes its way through the gullies.  These diversions were quite frequent and made the riding much more interesting and fun.  There are also numerous opportunities to catch the great views back to the Collegiate Peaks and Sawatch Range.

Antero Peak  is the highest in the photo

Mt Ouray and Chipeta Peak

I eventually reached the end of the Midland Trail singletrack at Shields Gulch Road (USFS Road 315).  Shields Gulch Road is a graded dirt road that heads toward the interior of the Fourmile area.  It travels about 2.3 miles from the end of the Midland Trail singletrack, climbing over 600 feet in the process.  It's somewhat of a grind.  Eventually I reached the end of Shields Gulch Road and the high point of the ride at 9351'.  Although no longer singletrack, the Midland Trail continues to the right, eventually ending near Trout Creek Pass.  The end of Shields Gulch Road intersects USFS Road 376, also known as the Lenhardy Cutoff and is signed.  This could make for an extended ride back to Buena Vista but is entirely on dirt road.

From the end of Shields Gulch Road I followed Road 376 a short distance before turning onto marked Road 376.A.  This road features a stupendous 700 foot descent over the next 2.5 miles.  The road is a relatively smooth dirt road with the occasional hump along the way.  You can get great speed with minimal braking on this descent and air on the humps.  

Near the top of 376.A


If the wonderful downhill isn't enough, the views from 376.A are amazing.  Since you are descending from over 9000 feet, you have a great vantage point of the valley below and in your face views of the Collegiate Peaks and the rest of the Sawatch Range to the south.  Interesting rock features in the Fourmile interior also make for interesting scenery.  Just make sure to pay attention to the road as well.

Mt Princeton beyond a rock outcropping

I think this is Mt Yale

Mt Columbia in the distance beyond
an interesting rock outcropping

After 2.5 miles, I left 376.A and returned to singletrack.  I descended onto Trail 1450A.  Take note that on the map it is also marked Bacon Bits in addition to 1450A.  All of the singletrack with the exception of the Midland Trail was only marked with the trail numbers on the signs.  Bacon Bits was a fairly easy descent leading back to the Midland Trail.

I was now on the first 1.7 miles of the Midland but riding in the opposite direction.  Riding in reverse, you are facing the Collegiate Peaks and rewarded with frequent views of the range.  Riding in reverse was like riding a new trail.

Mt Princeton

Shavano group on the left and Antero on the right

Near the end of the Midland, I turned onto another singletrack trail.  I was now riding Django, marked as Trail 6033 on the sign.  Django dropped more than 350' in the next mile and a half.  At times the riding was quite rocky and technical.  The flow was generally pretty good however.

Section of Django

At the end of Django, I crossed the dirt road and began riding Fistful of Dollars, Trail 6034 on the signs.  Despite gaining most of the elevation lost on Django, Fistful of Dollars flows nicely, even in the uphill direction.  The climbing is never steep and the trail is not nearly as technical as Django.  After 1.6 miles on Fistful of Dollars, I was back on CR 304.

CR 304, although gradual, is downhill in this direction.  The riding is fast and easy.  After two miles, I was back on singletrack.

View from CR 304

I turned onto the Broken Boyfriend Trail, Trail 6032 on the sign.  A short distance on this trail you will pass a junction, Broken Boyfriend is 6032A, the other trail (6032) is marked as closed to cyclists to avoid confusion. Broken Boyfriend is probably the most technical trail that I rode on this ride.  Much of the ride features numerous short ups and downs with chunky, technical rock features.  I was unable to clear several of these sections.  Short transitions from loose sand and rock kill your momentum that is necessary to clear some of the obstacles.  The trail is only 1.5 miles long.  There is nearly a half mile of descent at the end of the trail.  It's more of a technical descent, and not a bomber downhill.

Typical terrain on Broken Boyfriend

Rocks along Broken Boyfriend

Outcroppings above Broken Boyfriend

Nice view on the descent of Broken Boyfriend

I originally intended to wrap up my ride on the North Loop Trail.  I missed the turn off however.  I think the trail was past what appeared to be a fenced in antenna facility.  Since I missed the turn, I wrapped up the ride descending the Whipple Trail.  The Whipple Trail is somewhat of a rough descent.

By the time I wrapped up my ride, I covered over 24 miles.  Overall I enjoyed the area and it exceeded my expectations.  I think the area will always be overshadowed by other areas in Colorado, particularly Salida, 25 miles to the south, but it was still a worthwhile outing.  I would definitely recommend the area to local riders.  Despite it's base elevation of just under 8000', the area has a surprisingly long riding season.  If you're coming down from Summit County for some spring riding or looking for lower trails before the higher rides thaw, check out the trails in BV if you haven't.

Most of the trails and roads are signed and correspond with the maps I have links to above.  The trails between the river and CR 304 are the exception in the Whipple System.  While the Whipple Trail is signed, I did not see signs for the trails off of it.  Most of the junctions are easy to see however.  As mentioned above the signage does not include the trail names, just the trail numbers. There are maps at the trailheads, but I recommend carrying a map for easier navigation.

One last thing of note is to watch for other users.  The Whipple System in particular is accessed from town and sees a fair amount of traffic, including a lot of walkers and hikers.  Be courteous and respectful of other users to prevent conflict between riders and hikers.

If you enjoyed this post, check out and "LIKE" Tomcat's Outdoor Adventures on Facebook where I post more frequently and add photos more often as well as revisit past adventures.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cañon City Mountain Biking: Oil Well Flats

I have written about the mountain biking in Cañon City in the past.  The area has taken big steps to expand the local mountain biking.  The two main groups that have been building trails and promoting the region are LAMBA (Lower Arkansas Mountain Bike Association) and FAR (Fremont Adventure Recreation).  The two groups have done a good job at making Cañon City a mountain bike destination.  In the several years I have lived in the area, they added many miles of trails, creating two new riding areas, South Cañon Trails and the Royal Gorge Trails and added to existing trail systems at Oil Well Flats and the Hogbacks.

Because of its dry and mild climate, Cañon City has one of the longest riding seasons in Colorado.  The trails are often rideable in the winter.  The area doesn't hold snow very long after a storm.  This makes it a great place to ride early and late in the season.  Each year, I ride at least one of the trail systems as one of my first real rides of the season.

This year, my first serious ride of the season was at the Oil Well Flats trail system, just north of Cañon City.  Oil Well Flats is probably the most challenging and most popular trail system in the Royal Gorge Region.  I have ridden here several times.  I even have a blog post from a few years ago (Oil Well Flats: Fun Desert Singletrack).  Since that ride, new trails have been added.  This post includes some of the updates.

Click: Oil Well Flats Map for reference to the trails in the ride description below.

On March 14th, I headed to Oil Well Flats, just a few miles north of Cañon City.  I always start to get the mountain biking bug around this time of year.  The forecast was calling for a high near 70F in Cañon City.  It was nearly 50F when I started riding around 9AM.

My ride began at the lower trailhead.  The trail Tectonic Shift begins from the trailhead.  Tectonic Shift snakes through a mixed pinyon and juniper forest for less than two miles before I turned onto Anticline.  Tectonic Shift offers a few rock features along the way, but is never harder than an intermediate trail.

Anticline continues snaking through the pinyon and juniper forest.  While still an intermediate trail, Anticline offers more technical rock features than Tectonic Shift as well as more climbing in this direction.  All the ledges are rideable.  You need to stay on your toes however, as some of the technical sections catch you by surprise on the many twists and turns on Anticline complicated by sandy tread.

View from Anticline

After 2.7 miles on Anticline, I continued on Unconformity.  Uncomformity travels into more technical terrain.  Heading in the uphill direction, this could be considered an advanced trail.  The trail leaves the forest and climbs into the remnants of a burn scar from 30 years ago.  The trail gains 500 feet over its 3 mile course.  There are a series of ledges that require technical moves, often with little transition.  On the uphill sections, even the best riders will have difficulty clearing some of the obstacles.  A ledgy climb will begin after a technical traverse.  Its difficult to maintain the necessary momentum to clear the ledges at times with sand, loose tread.  A few drops require quick turns over rough terrain adding to the challenge.

Cholla along the trail

The cliffs that Island in the Sky follows

Section of Unconformity

There are neat rock features in this area.  Random stand alone rocks are spaced out in the burn scar.  Because the clearing around the burn scar and higher elevations of Unconformity, there are some nice views in the area, including the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the southwest.  After reaching its apex, Unconformity drops through a sandy section, before running a short distance on a doubletrack.  When I first rode here, this was a true doubletrack.  Now it has grown over and is more like a section of singletrack.

Large rocks along the trail

The Sangres in the distance

Climbing near the high point of Unconformity

Looking down into the old burn

Mountains to the east of Oil Well Flats

The end of Unconformity brings you to Island in the Sky.  Island in the sky is probably the most interesting trail at Oil Well Flats.  The trail starts out with a climb up a ridge.  The trail tops out on a point on the ridge.  From here the views are far reaching.  Cañon City can be seen just a few miles to the south.  The Wet Mountains are beyond Cañon City.  There is a good look a long stretch of the Sangres in the distance.

Cows are common road blocks on BLM land

The northern part of Cañon City and the Sangres

The riding becomes more interesting at this point.  The trail descends into continually more rocky terrain.  The descent brings you to the top of a long exposed cliff with a 200 foot drop off.  The trail rides within a few feet of the edge at times.  The trail travels over the rock and is quite rough.  The views from the cliff allow you to overlook much of the interior of Oil Well Flats.  After leaving the cliff top, the trail descents over a mix of technical terrain before ending at Fire Canyon.  I'd consider Island in the Sky an advanced trail.

Clifftop ride on Island in the Sky

Looking back along the cliff

Another look along the cliff

The Sangres in the distance

A short jaunt up Fire Canyon brings you back to the end of Unconformity.  From here I retraced my route on Unconformity.  Heading in the opposite direction, Unconformity features a lot more downhill.  The downhill momentum generally makes it easier to clear most of the rocky terrain.  After leaving the burn scar and heading back into the pinyon/juniper forest, the downhill ride is much flowier.

Headed down Unconformity through the burn scar

Trailside rock

The cliffs of Island in the Sky in the distance

I continued retracing my course, now riding Anticline in the opposite direction.  Anticline features much more downhill in reverse and is a fast, flowy ride much of the time with an occasional short climb in the mix.  Anticline is a blast in this direction.

Riding through Pinyon and Juniper scrub forest

At the end of Anticline, I was back on Tectonic Shift.  Tectonic Shift is more undulating than Anticline in this direction.  On one corner, I found myself at the top of a rock ramp.  I must of had too much speed and took the corner wide and my front tire skidded a little on the sandy trail.  My front tire hit a small rock that was firmly planted in the ground.  This caused my front tire to turn abruptly and dumping me hard on the rock ramp.  It happen extremely quickly and I didn't see it coming so I'm not 100% sure how it happened but this seems most likely.  I had some blood on my shin and a sore elbow but nothing serious.  I was surprised that my bike had no damage since the aluminum frame made quite the clang as it hit the rock.

A smooth stretch of Tectonic Shift

Rather than wrap up my ride, I turned onto Fracture just before the trailhead.  I don't think I had ever ridden Fracture and wanted to check it out.  By this point I was close to 20 miles into my ride, but I still had some energy to spare.  Fracture is a fairly easy trail over mostly smooth tread.  It climbs 300 feet in its 1.8 mile course but never seems steep.  The climbing was punctuated with several quick descents to break up the continuous climbing.  Fracture ends near the bottom of Unconformity.

A quarter mile or so on Unconformity brought me to the top of Tectonic Shift.  I haven't ridden this section of trail since my first time at Oil Well Flats.  Tectonic Shift, from its high point, travels 2.3 miles back to the trailhead.  The upper portion features a fast downhill that often travels through fields on fairly easy terrain.  In less than a mile, it reaches the section I already rode twice, once in each direction.  The last 1.5 miles or so were uneventful and I had no problems with the rock ramp where I spilled earlier.

Nearby mountains to the west

By the time I reached the trailhead, I had ridden 23 miles.  Since this was my first real mountain bike ride of the season, I could feel the miles.  In general, the riding at Oil Well Flats is "pedally" and never too fast so you earn your distance.  My first time riding at Oil Well Flats, I remember the area being loaded with cactus.  While there is still cactus, it seems like it has been brought under control.  I don't know if this is from trail maintenance working to eliminate or it has been trampled by years of traffic.

Oil Well Flats is the most interesting and technical trail system in the Cañon City area.  I recommend checking it out.  As a whole, it's probably not the most beginner friendly riding area, especially on the trails furthest from the lower trailhead.  For riders in the Front Range or High Country, Oil Well Flats is worth the trip for early and late season riding.  Cañon City is always quite hot in the summer, so I would avoid it in the summer.

If you enjoyed this post or photos, check out and "LIKE"  Tomcat's Outdoor Adventures on Facebook where I post more frequently and revisit past adventures.