Rolling down 191 toward the Colorado River, Samantha and I pondered where we would point the van after our week of riding with friends in Moab. We had to be back in Bellingham mid June for an obligation, but we had more than a month to find our way there. As we brainstormed spots in the Southwest which should be on our list, one stood out as an obvious choice: Durango, Colorado.
We’d spent a few years in Durango, and were quite familiar with the place and wanted to ride some of the trails there. Add to it a long list of friends to catch up with and an equally long list of restaurants to eat at (we had a 2 year backlog of cravings to satisfy), so the choice was as good as made. Just a three hour drive from Moab? It was a done deal.
After beating ourselves up in Moab, we jumped on US-160 and set cruising speed for Durango. An overnight in La Plata Canyon treated us to a taste of late winter in that grisly range of the Rockies, and in the morning we started the spectacular descent to town. Cruising down the steep highway grade from Hesperus, the landscape spread out in panoramic view before us. Rolling hills studded with rocky buttes, lakes, green pastures dotted with grazing cows all took on an ethereal glow in the post-dawn light.
Having only budgeted three days in Durango, we set to work immediately catching up on all of our lists. Straight to the Test Tracks trailhead to pull the bikes out of the barn.
Riding Mountain Bikes in Durango
Durango has been a mountain bike mecca since the early days of the sport. It has given rise to legends such as John Tomac and Missy Giove, and provides residence for other such as Bob Roll and Ned Overend. Over the last three decades, now-residents have found their way to Durango for just these reasons. Bikes run strong in the culture – suit-and-tie office workers commute to work on muddy full suspension bikes, parents drop their children off at school on sophisticated cargo bikes, fat bikes are practically standard issue for locals.
That all being said, the outlet for riding bikes in Durango is near limitless. There are five trail systems which you can pedal to easily from anywhere in town, and the trail density within those systems gives riders an inexhaustible number of options. But that isn’t where the true gold lies: the “high country riding”, as locals refer to it, is where you’ll find the deeply satisfying, soul rewarding rides. Limitless pedaling through the San Juans’ green forests and up above treeline, with wide open views of the pristine mountain peaks behind oceans of wildflowers. Stuff like this is normally reserved for coffee table books.
Most of the year, however, town is where the riding is good. The five large trail systems in Durango are:
1) Horse Gulch – the largest and most well known trail system in the area. Spreading over a large area East and South of town, trails of every skill level are found here. Riding up to Raider’s Ridge can provide you a short ride with a highly technical character, others such as a ride down toward Carbon Junction or Sale Barn can provide a long pedaling day with a smoother, cross country aspect. Tackle the Telegraph climb to unlock stunning views of the La Platas to the West, or a ridge ride will garner an unbeatable panoramic view of Durango itself. There is a little bit of everything in Horse Gulch, and it is an incredible resource in that grants long, desert style riding days within a short pedal from anywhere in town.
2) Sailing Hawks – Located on the North side of town right off of Junction Creek, Sailing Hawks is a much newer trail system. Situated on the slopes of Animas Mountain, the longest loop reaches the summit for a spectacular view of Durango and the oxbows of the Animas River up the valley from town. The lower trails weave through large boulders and along the base of a cliffline frequented by rock climbers – watch for climbers and boulderers in the trail as you round corners. The trails in Sailing Hawks are rocky and technical in places, intermediate in most places with some shorter, more advanced segments.
3) Overend Mountain Park (commonly known as Test Tracks) – a much smaller system on town’s West side, Test Tracks is a much smaller footprint but has a great trail density within. These trails have a long heritage in Durango, dating back to the days when Yeti Cycles was a hometown icon and would use Test Tracks as a backdoor proving ground. These trails can all be completed within the matter of 2-3 hours, and can be combined with a pedal to another system in town to create a longer day. Mostly made of of looser shale packed smoothly, the majority of riding in Test Tracks is very smooth and buff with intermittent rocks and roots within.
4) Twin Buttes – also a much newer trail system in Durango, the twin buttes trailhead is off of US-160 within a 5 minute ride from main street. These trails are also smooth and flowy in nature but heavier in the climbing aspect. The ride on Twin Buttes Trail starts abruptly with a steep switchback climb, but the grade soon slackens to a mellower steady climb reaching toward the plateau below Peirins Peak. Cliffrock Loop grants more flowy, winding singletrack up on the plateau, with several stunning viewpoints of Durango and the Animas River Valley to the East. Take Ed and Flow for a winding and flowy descent, with some intermediate ladders and obstacles built toward the bottom.
5) The Colorado Trail – Though this is hardly a trail system which belongs to Durango, the CT terminates on Junction Creek just outside of town. An epic adventure beginning in Denver’s Chatfield Park and finding its way along the rocky ridges and green valleys of the Colorado Rockies down to Durango, the CT offers some of the most rewarding rides to be found. Most of Durango’s high country rides center around the Colorado Trail from Molas Pass down, but many riders also pedal up the CT from town. Pedaling from the trailhead, 3.8 miles will find you at Gudy’s Rest, a rocky outcropping which provides a view of Junction Creek below. Continue pedaling for a lollipop loop of the CT, Hoffheins Connect, and Dryfork Trail, returning the way you came past Gudy’s Rest (14.6mi total). Alternatively, continue up the CT to High Point, an elevated viewpoint within the LaPlatas with incredible views of the rugged red and grey mountains.
Though these are a few highlights, the ways, means, and directions in which you can ride a mountain bike in Durango are almost limitless. For complete maps, trail conditions, and directions for these trail systems and other trails in the Durango area, check out Trails 2000’s website here.
And for all the mountain biking there is to be had in Durango, the options for food and drink are equally as compelling. Food Beta:
- Durango Doughworks
- College Ave Cafe
- Himalayan Kitchen
- Carver’s Brewery
- Zia Taqueria
- Diamond Bell Saloon.
Regrettably, we only had three days to burn in Durango. We made the most of the time, though, packing the days with breakfast and dinner dates with friends whom we badly needed to catch up with, and getting out for at least two mountain bike rides a day. With a long to-do list, however, we left with a lot of boxes unchecked. Oh well. Until next time, Durango!