A Summit County mountain biker’s favorite rides for fall foliage
Autumn is in the air. As I write, the leaves on the aspens are starting to turn and we’re in the middle of a run of spectacular fall weather. It makes you want to blow off work and go play. Although it’s still warm in the sun, there is a crispness to the air that is unique to September.
I’m always a little melancholy this time of year. The biggest knock against mountain biking in Summit is the short season, and it’s pretty hard to argue that point. I savor these sweet days, knowing that snow isn’t far away. I revel in the golden light filtering down through aspens on trails that wind through thick groves, knowing that the show is fleeting. “Enjoy it while you can,” says the chill on the breeze.
Here in Summit, we don’t have many trails that snake through aspens for miles and miles, but we do have some spectacular sections. Most of them are around Breckenridge. Why that is, I’m not sure — maybe it’s because aspens do better in soil disturbed by mining activity. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of trails around Breck for the aspen aficionado. They’re the rides that take your breath away with their beauty, rides that make you want to stop and just take it in.
First off, there’s Aspen Alley. Duh. This trail connects the Boreas Pass trailhead with the Wakefield historic site. Aspen Alley was rerouted last year, and the reroute changed the nature of the trail quite a bit. Whether you like the new trail as much as the old depends on your personal preference, but there’s no doubt that the new trail gives you more aspen bang for your buck. One thing the reroute undoubtedly did was make the trail less technical and much faster on the descent, so take it a little slower to drink it all in. (Don’t forget to watch for uphill traffic and stop or yield to hikers.) Speaking of uphill, the other thing that the reroute did was make the trail a reasonable climb, which makes it a little easier to look around.
French Gulch aspen loop
A great aspen loop in the Breck area is the Prospect, Side Door, Minnie Mine and X10U8 ride in the French Gulch area. It’s not a long ride and doesn’t have a lot of vertical, but it’s one of my favorite short, easy aspen fixes. Mining heavily impacted this area and aspens dominate the trails.
Start by climbing the Prospect trail off Gold Run road as it switchbacks up Prospect Gulch, then get onto Side Door Trail. Make sure you take a little time to stop at one of the mine tailing overlooks and soak in the beauty. Continue to Minnie Mine and bear left, staying high at the large mine dump to follow a more-or-less level grade until you reach X10U8 and take a right. X10U8 is a bit more technical than the rest of the ride, but intermediate riders should still enjoy it. When you hit French Gulch road, you can cross the road to B&B trailhead and continue your adventure, or head back to town.
Gold Dust trail
Just over Boreas Pass in Park County is the Gold Dust Trail. The top two-thirds of the trail isn’t heavy on the aspens, but it is heavy on the fun. Once you get down near Como, though, the aspen meter goes off the scale. One of my all-time favorite lunch spots is on this section in a meadow overlooking South Park and the Tarryall Range. It’s a place I’ve often thought about hanging a hammock so I could laze the afternoon away, taking in the view. (You’ll know it when you see it.) Once in Como, you can head back the way you came, although the color on Boreas Pass Road almost makes braving the dust and vehicle traffic worth it.
Sheep Creek Trail
Just over Hoosier pass are a few of my favorite, less-traveled trails. The first is Sheep Creek Trail near Fairplay. This trail goes through aspen forests dotted with big trees, the kind we don’t have in Summit. It’s moderately technical, with several drainages and demanding vertical, but, as long as you’re not a total novice, you should be fine.
I usually park at the forest boundary gate on Breakneck Pass Road just off of Weston Pass Road, found about 5 miles from U.S. Highway 285. Ride the road over Breakneck Pass and look for the trail on your right. It’s about 1.5 miles from the top, when you break out of the trees. If you reach a creek crossing, you’ve missed the turn. (Disclaimer: This is all from memory. Use a map or search the interwebz before heading out.)
Once on the singletrack, ride for about 6 miles in and out of drainages and gawk your way though humongous aspen trees. The trail ends at a clearing with a road heading downhill. From there, you can either head back the way you came, or use the county roads to make a loop out of it.
Colorado Trail off Kenosha Pass
The last trail on my list is the Colorado Trail off of Kenosha Pass. No, not Kenosha to Georgia (although that has beautiful aspen sections). I’m talking the Colorado Trail on the other side of the highway. I’ve only done it as a 12-mile out-and-back, but the autumn splendor and different character make it one for any Summit aspen-lovers list.
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