The western part of Western Colorado, that is to say the area along the Utah border and in the Uncompahgre Valley, is a whole different animal from the lush alpine forests of Crested Butte et al. With the intense summer heat gone, #October is a great time to visit these areas, particularly as winter, or at least the beginnings of it, will likely have arrived at higher altitudes.
The high mountain desert gives riders something different to tackle and, arguably, better scenery - the red rock canyons of old western movies chief among them. With trails stretching pretty much the length of the state, there is something for everyone. And for the most part, you will have mile-upon-mile of trail to yourself.
RIO BLANCO COUNTY
It’s fair to say that Rio Blanco County and the general area north of I-70 doesn’t get
as much attention as other parts of the state. But there is a lot to do and some good mountain biking to be had.
The Phillip and Dorcas Jensen Park trail system is packed with features and smooth, well-built mountain bike trails. Accessible from downtown Meeker, the Meeker Flow Trail section of the system is a specifically-built downhill trail for intermediate riders. It may be just half a mile long, but it is a fun and fast trail that incorporates wooden features like drops, walls and table-top jumps. The Meadow Loop and Pinion Trail offer low gradients and fast, fun riding through heavy cedar tree canopy, while the upper part of the China Wall Trail goes up and over the butte behind Meeker and down the other side - a big climb that is rewarded with spectacular views.
#Autumn is a great time to ride here thanks to the relatively moist weather that keeps the trails tacky and compact; lower temperatures make longer trails more tolerable without the need to bring gallons of water.
The local recreation department and the BLM have been working together to build additional trails and expand the network to entice riders to the area. Called the Meeker Trail System 2018 expansion project, it will hopefully be competed by the end of the season. Keep an eye on Meeker as an up-and-coming MTB destination West of 105.
NORWOOD, NUCLA, NATURITA, URAVAN, PARADOX, GATEWAY
The area known to mountain bikers as the West End is large, extending from Norwood in San Miguel county all the way to #Gateway in #MesaCounty and includes the towns of Nucla, Naturita and Paradox.
The area has hundreds of miles of old doubletrack and offers something for every kind of rider. Perhaps the most well-known single track trail in the area is the Y-11 Trail near the old townsite of Uravan. An intermediate to advanced trail thanks to some technical parts, there is at least one instance where the trail comes perilously close to the edge of the canyon. At 4.2 miles it isn’t too long, but you can always turn around and ride back.
For those specifically seeking the autumn foliage, Thunder Trails, a 20-mile trail with an almost 1,000-foot ascent near Norwood, is a great choice. It is 100 percent single track and takes riders through ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, and aspens.
If you’re after a challenge, the Paradox Trail might be just what you’re looking for. Nearly 120 miles long, the trail, which was a collective effort between several groups, lies entirely on doubletrack surfaces and has at least five “hike-a-bike” sections that demand a dismount. With amazing views of cliffs and the La Sal Mountains to the west and the San Juans
to the southeast, this is a spectacular ride.
A great resource for this region is the West End Trails Alliance (westendtrails.org). They offer all kinds of advice and tips and they also publish their own maps, which is handy because many of the trails in the West End are unmarked.
There are hundreds of miles of trails in and around #Montrose County, and while there aren’t too many that are accessible from downtown Montrose, there is one. The Montrose Big Loop features over 1,000 vertical feet of downhill singletrack over 10 miles in its 30-mile loop. With great views and a route that lands you back in town and not far from a brewery, this is not a bad way to spend a Sunday.
Sidewinder Trail starts close to #Delta and winds it way south, parallel to Highway 50, towards Montrose but finishes close to the spiritual home of Colorado corn, Olathe. The trail is much more of a technical challenge than the Big Loop as it has almost 20 miles of desert singletrack and plenty of slickrock sections to keep riders on their toes. Access is great, too, which means you can get on and off the trail in several places.
Perhaps the best-known trail in Montrose is the Whole Uncolada Trail. A nod to Moab’s Whole Enchilada Trail, the 3,000-foot decent overall means this ride can be finished by a good rider in around two hours. There are a few small climbs and a small hike. This trail is particularly good in autumn thanks to the upper end of the trail passing through a grove of aspen trees that will be doing their annual color change as they quake in the breeze.
LOMA, FRUITA, GRAND JUNCTION
This area of Colorado is very well-known to mountain bikers, and this time of the year is the best time to visit.
The Kokopelli Loops area offers about 40 miles of trails in a compact, easily navigable network. Among those forty miles, however, is everything from fast and flowy trails that are not particularly technical to several areas that are the opposite - outrageously so. The 4.6-mile Moore Fun Trail is the most technical and the most physically demanding. Just mix and match based on your ability.
The most family-friendly area is 18 Road. It has a good range and makes it suitable for all skill levels with nothing that would be considered too challenging for an experienced rider. The easily-navigable network allows for multiple laps to get beginners used to trail riding.
The most technical trails in the area can be found at the Lunch Loops. Just outside #GrandJunction and on the way to the incredible Colorado National Monument, there are still plenty of trails for beginners and intermediate riders, but for those who want a real challenge, the 2.7-mile Holy Cross Trail might be for you. The technical ride has been known to catch even experienced riders by surprise and leave them feeling exhausted. For another technical ride, the Palisade Rim Trail, just over twenty miles away in Colorado ‘s wine country, Palisade, is 8.5 miles of mostly single track that offers amazing views, and, as the name suggests, takes you close to edge on a number of occasions!
Read the full article in the Autumn, 2018 issue of West of 105, available for free here.