Breckenridge Bike Guide: French Gulch (video)
Distance: 16 miles
Rating: Easy/advanced, the lower part ideal for gravel bikes
Time: 3-4 hours
Elevation: 9,600-12,046 ft
Type: Out-and-back, dirt road, trail, gravel
Parking: Gondola lots on Park Avenue in Breckenridge
The French Gulch Road trail area offers a number of riding options that branch from a well-maintained dirt road ideal for gravel cycling that runs through historic French Gulch just outside of downtown Breckenridge. The primary trail, just beyond Breckenridge’s Wellington Neighborhood, passes many old mining remains before becoming a rugged track, more suited for mountain bikes, that climbs steeply to a remote mountain pass, French Pass. The Golden Horseshoe trail area to the north and a number of other trails to the south are also accessible from French Gulch.
Lower French Gulch Road (up to the Sallie Barber Mine Spur) is often dry enough to ride by April. The first 6.5 miles of the ride are easy, recommended for novices and usually free of snow by mid-June. Up to here, you’ll find the most fun on a gravel bike before the last few miles to the pass require more advanced skills. Expect traffic on Lower French Gulch Road, which is surrounded mainly by private land for the first few miles. Please respect all “No Trespassing” signs. French Pass is above timberline, so be prepared for rapidly changing weather. Most historic buildings are private and fragile and are recommended to view them from a distance. Beautiful stands of aspen also make French Gulch a spectacular fall ride.
Follow the beginning of the Sallie Barber Mine ride but continue straight where that ride forks right and drops to the stream. At about 4.8 miles, beyond a large tailings slope on the left that spills from the top of Humbug Hill, you’ll ride through a gate. Continue climbing, passing a fork on the left for Little French Gulch. The road gets a little rougher as it passes a few homes nestled in the trees. It crosses over some rocks, boggy areas and a small creek but remains a gradual climb. Eventually, you’ll enter a wildflower-filled meadow. At the far end of it, the road starts climbing steeply. Novices should turn around here. Advanced riders can tackle the strenuous ascent to French Pass. After a gate and stream crossing, this rarely used road becomes rock-filled and technically demanding as it traverses lush meadows below rugged peaks. Sometimes changing to singletrack, the route becomes quite steep and might require some hike-a-bike. Rewarding views from French Pass make the climb worthwhile. The route continues, but heads far south from Summit County toward U.S. Highway 285 in Park County. From the pass, return as you came.
On the way up to French Pass after you pass the last houses in the subdivision that’s there, there’s a lot of avalanche debris in the valley that is run down from the winter and spring 2019. In summer 2019, just getting through that was a matchstick challenge. I think it’ll probably be OK and passable in summer 2020 when the snow is gone, but just be aware that there is a lot of debris and downed trees before you get to the pass.
– Scott Reid
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