Silverthorne Bike Guide: Ptarmigan & the Salt Lick System |

Silverthorne Bike Guide: Ptarmigan & the Salt Lick System

Staci Striegnitz of Denver mountain bikes down an upper portion of the Ptarmigan Peak trail on Friday, July 3, 2020 in Silverthorne.
Antonio Olivero /

The start of the Ptarmigan Loop is absolutely brutal, could be a hike-a-bike for most. But after that there is some nice rolly singletrack that will take you up and down until you get to a bench 2 miles up with a beautiful view. From there it continues to get steep and rocky until the top.
– Eric Cutler

On the northeast side of Colorado Highway 9, the Ptarmigan Loop ride is a grueling climb with rewarding views and downhill as long as it’s not very busy. The various dirt trails up the popular Ptarmigan Peak get a lot of hikers, though the mountain biking is slowly growing here. Pedaling the Ptarmigan Peak Loop requires top-notch fitness. Also, be aware that downed trees on Ptarmigan may drape over trails and make riding difficult, so contact the Dillon Range District in advance to verify what conditions are like.

The start of the Ptarmigan Loop is brutal. It then goes into flowy singletrack with rolling up and down terrain until you get to a bench that’s about 2 miles up. There is a beautiful view from here toward the west, ideal for a sunset ride if you bring your headlamp for the way down.

From here, the loop continues to get steep and rocky toward the top until you get to the wilderness sign, beyond which you are not permitted to ride a bike. When you get to the wilderness sign, you either need to go back down the way you came up or go right and descend down a steeper, older doubletrack, Ptarmigan Peak trail, that is an advanced ride through smooth and steep in spots. Ptarmigan Peak is multi-use singletrack with many hikers along the way that will require you to keep your eyes peeled for uphill traffic as you negotiate about 2 miles of steep switchbacks down the mountain before it flattens and straightens out some.


Distance: 4 miles (Ptarmigan Loop)
Rating: Easy/moderate/advanced
Time: 1-2 hours (Ptarmigan Loop)
Type: Multiuse singletrack (Ptarmigan Loop)
Season: Early May to October
Connectors: Ptarmigan Peak, Tenderfoot Connector, Lower Blue recpath, Old Tenderfoot Trail
Parking: Off Ptarmigan Road on the right, ride your bike up a very steep ortion of the road from there for about one-quarter mile to the start of the Ptarmigan Loop. For the Salt Lick System, park at the Salt Lick Trailhead in Wildernest.

If you’re not up to the challenge of the Ptarmigan Loop, check out the Salt Lick Trail System, also in Silverthorne, that offers intermediate routes for more novice mountain bikers. You can take the Summit Stage to the top of Salt Lick and ride the trails down. Loops are also possible in the Salt Lick System with plenty of rolling terrain.

Salt Lick is accessible via climbing Lower Salt Lick. Remember the upper portion is a wilderness boundary area and is closed to mountain bikes. There’s a lot of interesting named trails in Salt Lick, some featuring old jumps to get air on. The best parking is at the Salt Lick trailhead in Wildernest. From there, various trails pass through areas of lodgepole pine and aspen, including a connector to the hike-only Lilypad Lake Trail. Lower Salt Lick Gulch is a beginner trail that can connect you to Upper Salt Lick, a moderate ride that will take you up about 250 feet over 3,400 feet of distance.

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