Rides Around Crested Butte
The name of this ride sums it up nicely. You're in mountain-bike paradise the entire time. Challenging climbs, fast descents, an alpine lake nestled on the divide, and massive fields of wildflowers all combine to make this a great backcountry biking experience.
Access: From Crested Butte continue straight at the four-way intersection toward Mt. Crested Butte. Drive to the ski area. Turn right onto Treasury Road and park in the large parking area on the right.
Description: Ride back down the paved road for a little over a mile and turn right onto County Road 811. Follow this well-maintained road up Washington Gulch. The gravel doesn't last for long, nor do the houses. After passing a lake you encounter a three-way intersection. Take the left fork, cross a cattle guard, and pedal up along the side of the valley.
Beyond this point the road becomes less used and more suitable for mountain biking. You wind in and out of the trees and through meadows that are thick with wildflowers in July. It's worth it to carry a camera on this ride, although it's difficult to catch the essence of riding among waist-high Queen Anne's lace and daisies. Beyond an A-frame you begin some staircase climbing, with steeper sections tempered by level recovery areas. The hillsides become more thickly forested and the flowers get even better.
A switchback to the left at about eight miles passes below a cabin that sits perched above the road. The next mile has some lung-bursting pitches as it climbs past another restored cabin on a wildflower-covered knoll. Elkton, a small town of which few traces remain, sat between this cabin and the first one you saw. Switchback left near Painter Boy Mine, marked by the carcass of an old truck, and climb to a small divide at approximately nine miles. A sign here for Trail 403 (a great advanced ride) identifies a fork to the right. Continue on the main road, descending for a little over a mile to a junction. Turn right and begin the climb to Paradise Divide. This ascent is not as steep as the grade near Elkton and once again is broken up with some fairly level sections. Besides, the views are enough to make everyone forget about the energy they're exerting. High peaks in all directions provide a welcome distraction until you reach Paradise Divide, at just over 11 miles. A small pond at the saddle is the perfect place to sit and soak up the views.
From the divide you drop into green cirques surrounding Paradise Basin. Pass some side roads that look like good exploring and descend into the open meadows of Elko Park. Look carefully in this area and you may spot some cabin foundations that remain from small settlements that once developed here. The road curves to the right and climbs for a while until it reaches Schofield Pass at about 14 miles. Another great single track, Trail 401, takes off from here.
Following another drainage containing more spectacular views, you swoop down along the East River as it descends around jewel-like Emerald Lake, through a deeply carved canyon, and into meadows that line its banks. Though it's tempting to really fly on this downhill cruise all the way to Gothic, you need to be extra cautious of traffic. Excellent road conditions mean even the family wagon can inch its way along this route, so be alert, especially on the narrower sections.
This route takes you right along the main street of Gothic. Ride slowly and be observant to see many older buildings that have been restored and added on to. One classic old structure now serves as a store and sells snacks, including ice cream! Beyond Gothic you have about five more miles of riding. The first bit is a gradual climb, and then it's all downhill as the road turns to pavement and descends to the ski area.
History: The area above Crested Butte began to attract prospectors in the 1850s and 1860s. However, important mineral discoveries weren't made until around 1880. Then the boom was on. Elkton came into existence at this time and sported a store, hotel, and the ever-present post office. By 1882, at least 17 mines were working in the area. The Painter Boy, which contained a lot of high-grade silver, became a dominant producer with over $100,000 in silver ore. By the late 1880s, the town was almost deserted, and a fire in 1893 destroyed the majority of its buildings.
High in the meadows of Elko Park, the small mining camp of Elko struggled for survival in a harsh climate. Men working their way up from Gothic found silver deposits at the base of Galena Mountain and established the camp that grew into Elko. Short-lived at first, the settlement experienced renewed interest in 1901 and a 3,000-foot tunnel was dug into Galena Mountain. But the town's distance from the nearest market and the questionable value of the ore led to desertion of this community.
Schofield Pass has always been a busy place. Today full of bikers, hikers, and jeepers, it was once a major route between the mining towns of Marble, Crystal, Gothic, and Crested Butte. Gothic was the first settlement that travelers coming from the west side saw. The Sylvanite Mine, located at the head of Copper Creek, contained silver ore so rich it ran over $15,000 a ton. This news brought fortune seekers and in 1879, Gothic was established. Growth came quickly; a smelter was built, and talk of railroad service began. The peak population was thought to be around 5,000 and a school, stores, restaurants, hotels, and saloons soon crowded the area. But silver discoveries in the surrounding mountains never met the high expectations and even the Sylvanite was closed by 1885. People began leaving and Gothic would have become a complete ghost town except for its rescue by the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, which runs classes, conferences, and research on and around the site.
Comments: Allow plenty of time for this ride. There are a variety of side explorations and a lot of wonderful spots for peak gazing, wildflower viewing, and naps in the sun. Getting an early start should also put you ahead of thunderstorms that could be dangerous when you're above timberline on Paradise Divide. This ride takes you through wildflower heaven. To take advantage of this, visit Crested Butte in mid-July when the blossoms peak.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication