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.

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