To ride the high-altitude epics, visit in late July or early August. If coming in early July (perhaps for the Independence Day holiday), check the trail conditions. The higher rides like Engineer Mountain may still be snowed in. If planning a Labor Day holiday, know that Durango hosts a Motorcycle Rally that weekend each year, so plan for lodging in advance. The lower trails are in an entirely different ecosystem and can be ridden in the shoulder seasons. We rode them over Thanksgiving one year; the trails were perfectly dry and the temps just fine.
Mountain bike rides like Engineer Mountain and the Colorado Trail take you high into the San Juan Mountains where your lungs will be busting at 12,000 feet and even trees don't venture. These are Durango's classics, the rides that mountain biking dreams are made of. Climbs are tough, rides are long, and scenery is visual overload. Be prepared for a smackdown from giant wildflowers than line the skinny singletrack of the Colorado Trail, or a swarming of butterflies on the Hermosa Creek Trail -- a beautiful Durango "must do" intermediate ride.
Durango is where the Colorado Trail is truly stunning, celebrating its beginning or end (depending on your viewpoint), with killer views and climbs to match. Sample the CT as one of several loop options or an out-and-back, such as the amazing Sliderock Trail section. Expect some serious climbing, even when you get shuttled halfway (or all the way) up the mountainside. Don't be fooled by starting at the top of jaw-dropping Molas Pass, because yes, you will climb above the pass's nearly 11,000-foot elevation in the chilly meager air. Arrange your shuttle, rise early, eat hearty, pack rain gear, and plan for a whole day of top-of-the-world mountain biking that will leave you breathless on many levels.
Not up for the grueling climbs and craving a little more O in your air? Get a tiny taste of the Colorado Trail as a loop with the Dry Fork Trail, winding through fairy-tale forests of gambel oaks, aspens, and pines. For something completely different, trailheads starting right from the edge of Durango, such as Horse Gulch, take riders into a red dirt sage and pinyon playground overlooking the town. Just stay away after a recent rain -- the red clay will stick to your bike like fleas on a dog. Intermediate riders can combine Horse Gulch with Telegraph and Sale Barn. Overend Mountain Park, accessible right from town, and the relatively new Twin Buttes trail system, just off Highway 160, are faves, with great intermediate rides. The desert-like setting is a welcome alternative if weather up high is threatening or you arrived too early in the season.
Durango hosted the first UCI Mountain Biking World Championships in 1990, which tells you something about how the town embraces the sport. With mountain biking icons like Ned Overend, Juli Furtado, John Tomac, and many others who have called Durango home, you know the place is mountain bike friendly. But Durango perfectly accommodates us mortals as well. Nearly a dozen bike shops are available to make sure your time on the trail is exceptional, and shuttle companies are happy to whisk you to those classic mountaintop rides. When we'd dallied too long making plans, we got the maintenance guy at our campground to give us a shuttle. And the campground's owners let us hose down our bikes after getting seriously muddied in a ferocious downpour. That's mountain bike friendly!
Epic rides require rock solid self-sufficiency, especially when you're climbing above treeline. When that shuttle van heads back down the hill, you're on your own. We've been caught in rain, hail, and snow in July high above Molas Pass, all in the same long day. The high elevation rides have few escape routes. Set your clock to start early, and then start even earlier than that. Peaks as high as those in the San Juans are cloudburst breeding grounds. No matter how hot and sunny the start may be, pack for any and all kinds of weather, and bring more food and water than you think you need. Leave any dalliers to the easier rides!
Trails are in great shape thanks to Trails 2000, a local non profit that plans, builds, and maintains Durango's local trail network, educates trail users, and encourages connectivity on road, path and trail. Their web site is a treasure trove with maps, trail conditions, and enticing photos that will make you want to be there now. Sign up for their free newsletter to get the lowdown on planning your perfect Durango mountain biking adventure! And maybe even time your trip to lend them a hand on a trail-building day -- a great way to make new local friends.
The Hermosa Creek Trail is considered by many to be one of Durango's top trails and one of the best in Colorado.
The trail itself is about 20 miles (one way) and most people complete it as a "shuttle" by which you are dropped off at the top trailhead and picked up at the bottom. It begins high up in the San Juan Mountains and follows a dirt singletrack trail along Hermosa Creek and ends at a campground not far from the town of Hermosa. Trail use includes Mountain Biking, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Motorcycling, ATV's, Hunting, Cross Country Skiing, Snow Shoeing and Snowmobiling. There are a lot of outdoor recreational activities available here and is one of the reasons it has become so popular. With that being said, there is some trail use guidelines posted at the trailheads that should be adhered to and you can find more information at the USDA Forest Service website.
Trail begins behind the Durango Mountain Ski Resort (about 5 miles west on forest service road 578). One of the best ways to tackle this one is by shuttle where you have somebody drop you off at the top and you ride down the 22 mile main trail to the lower trailhead. One of the best times to hit the Hermosa Creek trail is in the fall (September - October) when the aspen trees are turning. Guaranteed to be an unforgettable ride. This trail is better suited for intermediate to advanced riders and a back country kit is advisable.
For the mountain biker you can expect some amazing downhill descents through beautiful high mountain aspens and pines with multiple stream crossings and some good technical sections. There is a particularly steep and technical part just beyond the bridge crossing that will challenge even the advanced rider. Since this trail could be considered remote back country and has rugged terrain, inexperienced riders should use extra caution and all riders should use common sense before taking it on.
About a quarter of the way down from the top trailhead the Elbert Creek / Big Lick Creek trail intersects with the Hermosa Creek Trail. For a shorter trip you can take this down about 7 miles to where it exits onto hwy 550 or do a quick up and back from the Elbert Creek trailhead at highway 550. Indeed there are many trails that intersect with Hermosa Creek and will give plenty places to explore on a return visit. Little Elk Creek Trail (#515), Dutch Creek Trail (#516) and Jones Creek Trail (#518) are trails that drop down from the east. There are some that climb up from Hermosa Creek to the Colorado trail like: Corral Draw Trail (#521), Big Bend Creek Trail (#519) and Salt Creek trail (#559) to name a few. Look for signs that indicate usage types such as motorcycle and ATV's to be posted at intersections along the way.
If you want to test your lungs (and the legs) the Engineer Mountain trail to pass creek is an absolute blast. You can start out by parking at the summit of Coal Bank Pass and following the signs up towards Engineer Mountain and take the Pass Creek Trail to the South where it will drop you out at Cascade Canyon and back onto HWY 550. You can either ride back up the road to the summit or if you do at as a shuttle, drive to the top.
Finding the trail to the mountain is very easy. Head north out of Durango 33 miles to the summit of Coal Bank pass and look for a small dirt road on the west side of the highway. Coal Bank has a pull off spot with restroom facilities and the dirt road to the west has a small parking area near the trail head.
When to visit? This depends on what you like to do and people go all year round. The best time for warm snow free activities is from July through September and winter fun starts October through June. Hunting is big during the fall along with color changes of the trees and there are usually fewer people on the trail during this time period. Late July through August are absolutely amazing for wildflowers and is a photographers dream. Winter (November through April) brings back country opportunities to experienced enthusiasts that like to winter mountain climb, cross country ski and snowshoe. Be aware that in the winter the parking lot at the trailhead sits right under an avalanche release zone and so does much of the first section of trail. It is advisable to enter further to the north in the tree line. Back country in the winter is an amazing experience but can be extremely dangerous so it is advisable to have adequate training before going into this area very far.
The Telegraph Trail System, which can include access along Horse Gulch, is located in the hills in the South Eastern portion of Durango Colorado. Its close proximity to town and multiple trailhead entry points make it a very popular place for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy hiking and mountain biking.
The diversity of the terrain and amount of trails available to choose from will provide something for everyone. Steep climbs and technical trails with jumps-n-bumps reside all along the Raider Ridge side to the west and also offer great views onto Fort Lewis College. Need to get your climb on? Try some of the loops like Mikes Trail or Telegraph to Anasazi Descent. If you like swoopy single track downhill head over to Sidewinder or the Cowboy Trail.
The trail gets year round use with cross country skiing available in the winter depending on how much snow there is. Look for winter conditions to exist from late November into March with heaviest snowfall generally occurring February into March. Summer activities can generally begin late March and run through early November. Midsummer in Horse Gulch can be HOT! Bring adequate water.
If you like desert style rides there are three spots that come to mind and are just a short distance from Durango. Phil's World about 42 miles west on HWY 160 near Cortez has some fantastic desert style single track.
Another 12 miles past Cortez on Colorado Highway G takes you to Sand Canyon (AKA Canyons of the Ancients) which not only has some awesome desert style mountain biking but also has lots of Anasazi Ruins right along the trail. The Alien Run mountain bike trail is about 31 miles south of Durango on HWY 550 (just north of Aztec New Mexico) and is a great spot to hit during the early spring or late fall. Sometimes the Alien is free of snow in the winter and can be ridden all year round!