TERRI HOUSE

Continental Divide Trail (CDT)

Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced

Mileage: 15-plus miles

Route: Out and back or loop

Trail: Dirt, single track

Description: The CDT is truly an “epic” Colorado trail. One of the area’s most beautiful mountain biking venues, the CDT trail has it all. 

Getting there: From the large parking area at the summit of Wolf Creek Pass, pedal through the meadow on an obvious trail and cross a creek on a wooden bridge. Turn left after crossing the bridge — there’s a social trail here that heads right and will lead you off track. 

From here, the trail climbs steadily through old-growth forest that’s been heavily affected by pine beetles — a large percentage of the pines here are gray and dead. There are a few tight, steep switchbacks but almost everything is easily rideable by an intermediate-to-advanced rider. Shortly after navigating some switchbacks in a scree field, the trail will contour around to a south aspect and you’ll come to a “junction” with Treasure Mountain Trail No. 565. There is a USFS sign and a rock cairn, but the trail itself is basically nonexistent. 

Past this junction, the trail gains the ridge just west of and below Alberta Peak, at the top of Wolf Creek Ski Resort.

Continental Divide Trail/Alberta Peak Loop

Difficulty: Advanced 

Mileage: 8.6 miles 

Route: Loop

Trails: Single track, dirt road, pavement

Elevation: 10,800 to 12,000 feet

Maps: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Weminuche Wilderness (map No. 140)

Follow the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) south from Wolf Creek Pass as it circles behind the ski area and around the south face of Alberta Peak. This route has it all: smooth, technical, single-track, challenging ascents and descents, and “top of the world” riding as one emerges from the subalpine forest into the alpine meadows and talus slopes surrounding Alberta Peak. This is a memorable ride for experienced mountain bikers.

Getting there: From the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 84, drive north on U.S. 160 for 22 miles to Wolf Creek Pass. Park in the large parking area on the south side of the highway. The ride starts behind the kiosk on the Continental Divide Trail.

0.0 — From the parking area, follow the CDT across the meadow, crossing a headwater tributary of Wolf Creek on a wooden bridge before entering the forest. Then you will begin a tough and somewhat technical climb. Stay left after crossing the bridge, ignoring hiker-created trails on your right.

0.4 — The trail switchbacks to the right (a trail on your left climbs to the ski area). Continue following the trail, which switchbacks and climbs, often steeply, up the ridge.

1.1— Switchback up a technical, rocky outcrop leading to a view over a “rock garden” below and to the west. The trail merges into a short section of ski area service road and arrives at Bonanza Run lift tower.

1.7 — From the lift tower, head west 20 or 30 yards — here the trail continues into the forest along the top of the ridge, heading south then east. Emerge from the forest into subalpine meadows (look for a CDT trail post) at the edge of the ski area, mile 2.5.

2.5 — Climbing southeast, the trail tops out, then makes a gentle descent to a log drift fence at mile 3. Beyond the drift fence, the trail circumvents the south face of Alberta Peak. Here it is narrow with exposure to steep dropoffs. Drop down and around the peak, with a last steep descent to a ski patrol hut.

3.4 — From here, the trail continues eastward along the lip of the Knife Ridge and its north-facing ski chutes. The first 0.2 miles beyond the hut are technical and exposed, but soon the route eases and wanders over alpine meadows. 

4.0 to 4.2 — The trail veers left through a meadow (the trail disappears briefly, look for CDT trail posts) and back into the forest.

4.3 — Begin a steep drop, passing under the Horseshoe Bowl.

4.4 — Continue your steep descent, passing a narrow saddle with easterly views at mile 4.8.

4.8 — You now enter a clear-cut area (heading northeast). Look carefully for a CDT trail post and grown-over double track coming into the trail at a sharp angle on your left.

5.2 — Take this double track down to a jeep road and go right. The road soon bends west and takes you through the ski area and the ski area parking lots leading to the highway.

7.4 — Route arrives at U.S. 160. Turn left onto the highway and return to your car at mile 8.6. 

Treasure

Difficulty: Advanced

Mileage: 8-plus miles

Route: Shuttle, out and back

Trail: Dirt, single track

A remote and solitary high country trail in the South San Juan Mountains off Wolf Creek Pass with a big descent. Truly a Colorado classic — not to be missed. From the lower trailhead, the trail climbs on moderate grades through scenic aspens and firs. Eventually, the trail intersects Windy Pass Trail. 

Getting there: This ride is best done as a shuttle. Many street cars will be able to reach the lower trailhead off East Fork Road. There are some rocky arroyo crossings beyond about 37.402, -106.82 that will stop low clearance cars and RVs. Look for parking or camping spots and ride on up the road to the trailhead. 

If you plan to do this trail as a shuttle, from the top of Wolf Creek Pass, heed the warning above. You’ll ride the Continental Divide Trail to the top of the ski area and look for a rock cairn and a USFS sign posted on a tree. These will be your only clues that there’s a trail here because there’s literally no signs of an actual path. Make your way down the grassy gully and head right when you reach the flat meadow below. Use of the MTB Project mobile app will be crucial to keeping you on track here. Head left into the trees and down the second pitch. The trail becomes much more apparent here, but it’s still faint by most standards. 

When you reach Wolf Creek Road FS 725, head left for about a mile with a little climb to the epic single track downhill section of the trail. Drop down the steep sidehill through the burn area. 

After some great views and narrow sidehill, you’ll come to another steep moonscape section. After a few creek crossings and sections of true downhill riding, you’ll arrive to a big, open meadow that is the Windy Pass Trail intersection. The rest of the trail has more flow and speed as it sweeps through aspen groves and meadows. Once you arrive at a cattle gate, the ride shreds down a sidehill through oak brush and open slopes until you reach the bottom. 

The ride can be done as an out-and-back from the East Fork with many hike-a-bike sections after the Windy Pass Trail intersection. 

It’s better done as a shuttle from the Continental Divide Trail at the top of Wolf Creek Pass or riding up Wolf Creek Road FS 725 to avoid the top steep section. Most people leave a car at the large parking area at the start of the East Fork Road 667.

Do-right Trail

Difficulty: Advanced

Mileage: 4 miles of single track using a shuttle, 12 miles riding loop

Route: Shuttle or loop one way

Trail: Dirt, single track, gravel roads 

Note: Motorcycles are permitted June 15 to Aug. 31 on single track 

This is described as a loop ride, but the gravel road sections can be replaced by shuttling with two vehicles. You will climb from 7,500 feet to 9,100 feet and then descend back down to 7,500. Don’t go alone. Advanced riders should find the entire loop rideable.

Getting there: Drive west from Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160 toward Durango for about 22 miles. Turn right onto First Fork Road (FS 622), this is on the east side of the Piedra River. Take First Fork Road north for approximately 7 miles to the Sheep Creek Trailhead and parking.

From the trailhead, do not ride the Sheep Creek Trail. Head east on Monument Road (FS 630) directly across from the trailhead for approximately 7 miles. This is a 1,600 foot elevation climb on a gravel road through Aspen trees with big vistas of the Piedra Valley. Once you get to the turnaround at the end of Monument Road, take an immediate left to the west through the steel single track barrier. You are now on the Do-right trail. This is a 4-mile, 1,500 foot descent back to First Fork Road. Once you reach the end of the single track, you are at First Fork Road. Take a left and head south for approximately 1 mile back to the Sheep Creek Trailhead.   

Eightmile Mesa

Difficulty: Intermediate; long mileage with one steep 4-mile hill

Mileage: 14.4 miles

Route: Out and back

Trails: Graded and primitive roads

Elevation: 7,200 to 8,040 feet

Eightmile Mesa provides an interesting contrast to other rides surrounding Pagosa Springs. After a steep and relentless 2-mile climb, you reach the top of the mesa, then your route becomes a pleasant, rolling journey through pine/oak woodlands interspersed with grassy meadows.

Getting there: From the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 84 at the east end of town, drive 5 miles south on U.S. 84 to Eightmile Mesa Road, identified by a brown Forest Service sign on the right. After traveling up Eightmile Mesa Road a little over a mile and passing the entrance to the Loma Linda subdivision, you will reach the Forest Service gate. Park here.

0.0 — Starting at the parking area, and after making two short climbs, you reach an open meadow area at 0.9 miles.

1.1 — The road, FS 651, bends westward and begins a steady climb.

2.0 — A final steep climb begins at the 2-mile mark.

2.3 —The climb tapers off and the route rolls along the top of the mesa, passing through oak, pine and grassy meadows.

3.7 — The FS 651 forks, giving riders a variety of options.

Option 1: The fork to your right leads to the Eightmile Mesa lookout tower in 0.6 miles. This tower, positioned directly above the Eightmile Mesa “clamshell” affords spectacular views of Pagosa Springs and the surrounding mesa, as well as the San Juan Mountains. The tower also provides a convenient turn-around point.

Option 2: Continue straight ahead at the fork to stay on FS 651, the main route, which turns into a primitive unmaintained road. At mile 3.8, FS 651B forks to your left. This doubletrack road rolls gently through wildflower meadows and woodlands for 1 mile to an overlook of the Blanco River Basin and the San Juan Mountains to the east. 

Option 3: Continue past the fork on the main road to mile 5.1, where FS 651C junctions to your left. Follow FS 651C southward for 2.3 miles, passing an old, abandoned sawmill site on the way.

Option 4: Stay on the FS 651, which is deeply tracked or sandy in places, but otherwise smooth. Passing one more side road (FS 651D) on your way, pass through large open meadows at mile 5.9. Wildflowers abound in late spring and early summer. The route ends at mile 7.2, overlooking the Blanco and San Juan river basins. 

Snowball Road (CR 200) and Jackson Mountain Loop (FS 37)

Difficulty: Beginning skills with intermediate fitness level, two river crossings

Mileage: 22 miles 

Route: Loop

Trails: Graveled county road, dirt road, double track dirt trail, highway with good shoulders

Elevation: 7,200 to 8,200 feet

Taking the entire loop from town is a great workout, however, if you shuttle, the ride can be divided up so one skips the highway or county road portion. There are about three gates on this ride. Remember to leave them either open or closed as you found them. This ride has two river crossings. Obviously, take precautions in the spring or early summer when the water level is up.

Getting there: The loop starts and ends in downtown Pagosa Springs.

0.0 — Starting from the Hot Springs Boulevard bridge in downtown Pagosa Springs, ride east on Pagosa Street (U.S. 160) toward Wolf Creek Pass. Turn left at the Forest Service building on 2nd Street. This street turns into Snowball Road, and eventually the pavement ends. Continue on this graveled county road for 4.3 miles.

4.3 — This is the entrance to Fourmile Ranch. Ranch owners have agreed to allow access to the Forest Service road through the ranch, by proceeding through the ranch entrance and staying on the road. You will pass the ranch manager’s house on the right. Looking to the north, one can begin to see Pagosa Peak.

5.3 — At this point, there is a Y in the road. The road to the left goes to the house and the iron gate to the right gains access to the national forest. Proceed through the gate on the right (FS 646), leaving the gate as you found it. The next 3 miles are on a pleasant dirt road along Snowball Creek. You will often see and hear hawks on the last part of this trail.

6.3 — At this point, you will ford Fourmile Creek.

8.5 — A driveway passes through a gate onto private property. Follow the road, which curves to the right to a ford of Snowball Creek.

9.6 — Proceed through the gate, go forward and curve to the right, joining a more pronounced trail. Next, stay left for a mile, ignoring the roads that exit to the right.

10.7 —Proceed through the gate. The next .1 mile down to Jackson Mountain Road (FS 037) is very steep.

10.8 — Jackson Mountain Road. Turn right onto the road and proceed for 3 miles to U.S. 160.

13.7 — U.S. 160. Turn right onto the highway and continue for about 8 miles to Pagosa Springs. It is very easy to eliminate this highway ride by leaving a shuttle here. The sign on U.S. 160 calls this the Jackson Mountain Road.

Willow Draw

Class: Intermediate 

Mileage: 16 miles

This is a scenic loop from U.S. 160 and U.S. 84 junction. Road conditions range from highway to double-track. From downtown Pagosa, ride east on U.S. 160 to the junction of U.S. 84. Turn right onto U.S. 84, then left onto Mill Creek Road. Go 4 miles. You will cross three cattle guards. Immediately after the third cattle guard, look for a double-track dirt road on your left. If you cross over the bridge at Mill Creek, you have gone too far. Once on the double track, you will cross Mill Creek, which may need to be forded on foot. Follow this dirt road generally north for the next 6 miles through Willow Draw and Dry Gulch to Fawn Gulch. Pass through two gates, which are usually closed. When you reach Fawn Gulch Road, turn left for a downhill to U.S. 160. Turn left onto U.S. 160. It is 4 miles back to town.

East Fork

Class: Beginner 

Mileage: 8 miles

This is an easy route for beginners as it is fairly flat. Road follows the East Fork of the San Juan River through beautiful canyons into the pristine East Fork Valley (private property for 2 miles), before terminating at Silver Falls guard station. Silver Falls can be seen cascading down the mountainside directly behind the station. The road is a gravel road from U.S. 160 to the forest boundary (.25 mile). The rest is dirt, which can be very slick when wet. Watch for high water across the road in the springtime. 

Left Hand Canyon to the Rito Blanco

Difficulty: Intermediate 

Mileage: 18 miles

Route: Out and back

Trails: Graded and primitive roads, doubletrack (there is not an open ATV trail at this location)

Elevation Range: 7,400 to 8,400 feet

Maps: National Geographic Trails Illustrated South San Juan-Del Norte (map #142)

Beginning in the pine/oak valleys of Blanco Basin, this route climbs steadily into aspen/fir forest along Porcupine Road, ending at the tumbling Rito Blanco Creek. The first half of the ride travels along a mostly smooth, unmaintained primitive dirt road. At the end of this road, a steep and somewhat rocky doubletrack leads you to the top of Lefthand Canyon and onto the graded, maintained Porcupine Creek Road. From here, a moderate climb and descent ends at the Rito Blanco Creek, an excellent spot for a picnic lunch. Your return will be rewarded with an exhilarating descent back to the trailhead. (This trip can be done as a one-way, mostly downhill — see below.)

Getting there: From the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 84, drive south for 8.2 miles to Blanco Basin Road. Make a left and drive 3.3 miles up Blanco Basin Road to its junction with Lefthand Canyon Road (FR 011), on your left. Park and start here.

0.0 — Follow the steadily ascending Lefthand Canyon Road as it meanders north through rolling hills of pine, oak and meadow. You will climb about 600 feet to a fork in the road.

1.0 — Take the right fork. The road becomes primitive and less used while winding along a densely vegetated north-facing slope. To the left is Lefthand Canyon, mostly obscured by vegetation and topography. The canyon drains the lower reaches of the Rito Blanco. Look carefully for a doubletrack ascending a hillside meadow on your right.

3.4 — Follow the doubletrack to the top of the meadow. From here a rough doubletrack continues upward, in a northeasterly direction. Take this trail as it climbs over rocks and gullies for almost three-quarters of a mile. 

4.4 — The trail ends, exiting onto the southern end of the graded and graveled Porcupine Road (FR 024). The rest of your ride to the Rito Blanco will be on this road. Continue on Porcupine Road as you ascend into the cooler forests of fir and aspen. Reach the high point of the ride at mile 5.8, which also marks a good turn-around spot for tired riders. A cool shady respite awaits those who continue the descent to the banks of the Rito Blanco at mile 9.0.

Ride option: This ride may be done as a shuttle by leaving a car at the junction of Blanco Basin Road and U.S. 84. If you choose to do so, your trailhead then becomes the northern end of Porcupine Road. To get there, you must drive back to Mill Creek Road (CR 302, which becomes FR 662) located on U.S. 84 one-quarter mile south of the U.S. 160/U.S. 84 junction. Drive up Mill Creek Road about 9 miles, then take FR 665, which branches to the right. Porcupine Road (FR 024) intersects FR 665 in a little over 2 miles. Park here and ride. The Rito Blanco is about 1 mile downhill from here. The ride back to the shuttle car is mostly downhill.

Piedra Falls

Class: Beginner/Intermediate

Mileage: 7.5-11 miles, depending on starting point

Drive 17.8 miles north on Piedra Road (County Road 600/FS 631). Turn on Middle Fork Road (FS 636) to the left of Sportsman’s Supply and Campground. Find parking along Middle Fork Road beyond the private property. From Piedra Road, it is 2 miles to the junction with East Toner Road (FS 637). Ride East Toner Road about 7.5 miles to its end. There is a single track trail that continues to Piedra Falls. The trail to the falls (about a 15-minute hike) may not be suitable for bicycles.