If mountain biking passion is proportionate to trail access, Colorado's Front Range is among the most stoked populations of riders in the country.
There are more than 1,200 rides and trails within easy striking distance of REI's Denver flagship store, and all of those (and more) are on the MTB Project website and app, the definitive sources for mountain biking beta and maps. The ten featured rides below are MTB Project's highest-rated areas and rides within quick striking distance of any REI from Fort Collins to the Springs.
In an informal "Hey, what's your favorite local ride?" poll of Front Range REI store managers and bike techs, the Buffalo Creek trail system, just an hour southwest of the Denver flagship, was the overwhelming champ. "You just can't go wrong with Buff Creek," says Dave Halverson, master technician at the Englewood store. "On any trail you pick, you'll get a killer variety of mountain scenery." Trails meander through ponderosa pine forests and recovering burn zones with great downhills and smooth roller coasters almost entirely on singletrack.
Bonus: When other area trails are muddy in spring, Buff Creek trails are often dry. Go big, and target the 23.6-mile Buffalo Creek Big Loop. It's an IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) Epic, a designation denoting a "true backcountry experience" on a route at least 20 miles long and boasting at least 80% singletrack.
Photo by Greg Floyd.
Access doesn't get much easier. The Apex Park Tour, an 8.1-mile singetrack loop, starts just south of Golden, a stone's throw from I-70 and literally minutes from the metro area. Out of the gates, it's a lung buster—you’ll climb for the first 1.6 miles and gain nearly 1,700 feet by the time you finally reach this route's highpoint at mile 5. Your reward? A rollicking, 3-mile descent from the shade of ponderosa pines to wide-open country with bird's-eye views of town on the way.
Note that ease of access attracts crowds; adjust your timing (target weekday mornings)—or your mindset. Also, the park regulates direction of travel: “For maximum downhill fun, hit this route on an even numbered day,” says Brian Smith, content manager at MTB Project.
Photo by Marcel Slootheer.
MTB Project users refer to this area as the "Climate Capital of Colorado." The trails in this relatively new, high-desert network just north of Cañon City are rideable year round. “It’s a great mud-season or mid-winter mountain bike fix.” says Smith. “With moderate temps in spring and fall and awesome singletrack, you'll wonder why you ever wasted time on I-70 driving to Fruita.”
For a highlight tour, tackle this 13.2-mile loop. It’s got grin-inducing trail weaving through piñon and junipers, but don’t glaze over. There are just enough technical rock challenges to keep you on your toes.
Photo by Paul Ellis.
The top choice for Boulder REI employees was unanimous: “Hall!” This former working ranch just outside the bikes-and-bluegrass town of Lyons has a bit of everything, from black diamond rock gardens, to flowy rollers through grassy meadows with stay-awhile views of 14,259-foot Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. “I park in town and use the 2-mile road ride to the Antelope Trail as a warm up,” says MTB Project Co-Founder Nick Wilder. “Then climb 2.3 miles to the Nelson Loop, take as many laps as you have time for, then pick your poison on the descent, going back the way you came or testing your mettle on Bitterbrush.”
Photo by Leslie Kehmeier.
Once fly-by territory for Front Range adventure seekers, the former steel town of Pueblo is now a legitimate attraction with a stellar 45-mile network of singletrack overlooking 4,600-acre Lake Pueblo. Luis Benitez, director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, has called it "one of the best-kept secrets" in Centennial State mountain biking.
Target the South Shore Trail Network, a 24.2-mile double loop skirting the mesa’s edge and dropping into arroyos with twists, turns and fun surprises. Bonus: You can camp just feet from the trailhead. Check Lake Pueblo State Park for reservations.
This 12.2-mile out-n-back gem starts with a peaceful spin next to Bear Creek, where you may see fly-fishing enthusiasts or an American dipper, a funny little bird that dives into the water to feed on hatching bugs. But don’t get lost in the Rocky Mountain wonder—this is just a warmup. At mile 1.2, you’ll take a sharp left and begin a steep (though brief) climb with a few technical challenges and bob-and-weave moves through tight trees. The rest is flowy singletrack on rolling terrain. “It’s a super fun ride and great for newer riders,” says one MTB Project user.
Tip: Weekends get crowded. Hit the trail early—or on a weekday.
Photo by Nick Wilder.
Riding at Betasso can be humbling, not for the terrain necessarily (it’s swoopy and well maintained) but for the general clientele. You’ll likely get passed at least once, maybe by a tech mogul on a five-figure carbon-frame wonder or by a local pro on a casual spin. But, ride your own ride, as they say, and you’ll have a helluva good time.
Try Super Betasso. It starts in Eben G. Fine Park at the mouth of Boulder Canyon, then heads upstream on a gently graded bike path. Access Betasso from the Betasso Link Trail (short, steep) or the Fourmile Link Trail (up Fourmile Canyon) then hit the roller coasters of the Canyon and Benjamin loops. “It’s perhaps the most classic mountain bike ride within spitting distance of downtown Boulder,” says Mark Eller, Director of Communications at IMBA.
Photo by Nick Wilder.
With a name like Full Pull, you know you’re in for something big. This 24.1-mile mega tour with 4,427-feet of (fairly technical) climbing, reaching an elevation of nearly 9,500 feet, is a greatest hits exploration of one of Colorado’s lesser-known parks. It’s a challenge even for the fittest riders, but “it’s an absolute blast,” says one MTB Project user. With rowdy descents, lush forest, sprawling meadows, and sections of smooth and fast singetrack, the Full Pull is indeed a full pull. It’s something every Front Range rider should train for.
Advice: Target early September to enjoy golden aspens, pack plenty of snacks and water, and download the app to stay on course at multiple trail junctions.
Many first-time riders on the Ginny Trail via Powerline Trail, 30 minutes southwest of Fort Collins, experience creeping doubt in the first couple miles. Will the 1,646 feet of climbing on doubletrack through wildfire-scarred trees be worth it? Just remember that what goes up, must come down. As you reach the loop’s highpoint at mile 4.7, you’ll be greeted with views of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park—and more than 4 miles of fun descending on well-built trail ahead. Watch for alternate lines, skinnies and rock drops for added spice. “A great technical challenge with enough amazing foothills scenery to ease your burning quads,” says Smith.
Photo by Jared Crockett.
Just minutes from downtown Fort Collins and Colorado State University lies this 21.1-mile tour of Horsetooth Mountain and Lory State Park. Build up a sweat on the rollicking ascents in Horsetooth, cool off and grin ear-to-ear on the fast singletrack in Lory, and enjoy center-balcony views of the reservoir and downtown the whole way. If you’re parking at the Blue Sky lot, bring money. Riding in summer? Watch for frequent afternoon thunderstorms.