Alpine Ventures

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Colorado Trail – Buffalo Creek segment (July 10, 2010)

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On Saturday, I decided to get out and do some mountain biking not too far from Denver.  Generally, I like to stay away from the trails right outside of Denver on hot weekend days in the summer, so I headed west on US-285 to one of my favorite places to ride – the Buffalo Creek area.  Accessible by driving about 10 miles south of Pine Junction off of 285, there are tons of different trails geared towards mountain bikers in Buffalo Creek.  Loop possibilities are endless, and the singletrack is smooth and sweet, with very few technical obstacles.  On the southern end of the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area, Segment 3 of the Colorado Trail was calling my name.  In general, the Colorado Trail, which starts in Denver and ends in Durango, offers some fantastic mountain biking opportunities, and the Buffalo Creek segment does not disappoint.

I had been reading about this section of the trail online, and decided to check it out for myself on Saturday.  Since I slept in a little bit on Saturday, I wanted to ride somewhere relatively low (as opposed to the Colorado Trail from Kenosha Pass, which is much more exposed) to avoid lightning danger, and Segment 3 fit the bill perfectly.  While there weren’t any particularly steep or difficult sections, there was plenty of up-and-down type terrain that wore me out over time, but overall, it was a very enjoyable ride through a beautiful forest.

Going back to the lightning danger – despite riding in an unexposed area, mostly between 7,500 and 8,000 feet, I did get caught in a thunderstorm.  After riding six miles on the Colorado Trail, after starting at the trailhead off of Forest Service Road 550, I decided to do a recommended loop on a spur trail, called the Green Mountain Trail, that offers a bit of a climb, but with a fun downhill section.  However, just as I started this trail, I noticed a nasty looking cloud heading my way.  I decided I would go a little farther and listen for thunder.  Right after I decided this, around 11:30 a.m., it started thundering… loudly and frequently.  So I decided to head back down immediately and do the best I could to get away from it.  Well, that didn’t happen.  Once back on the Colorado Trail, the thunder was still rumbling every few seconds, and I began to see lightning through the trees.  So off the bike and into a low-lying, forested area I went to wait it out.  It rained for a few minutes, but never very hard, and eventually the storm moved on.

The storm was moving to the east, though, so instead of riding back into it, I decided to keep riding west for a couple of miles before turning around.  The rest of the ride went very well.  It was a fairly busy day on the trail, but not overly crowded… certainly not as bad as trails closer to Denver are on the weekends.  I saw several Colorado Trail thru-hikers, including one man I talked to who had to have been about 70 years old… I thought that was really cool to see.  Older people who are still kicking ass in the mountains have my uttermost respect.

I actually gained a little more elevation riding back the way I came, so I was really feeling it on my last long climb, which was not overly steep, just persistent.  I ended up riding about 17 or 18 miles total, and including a break while waiting out the storm, I was gone for a total of three and a half hours.  I would recommend this trail to anyone who enjoys mountain biking, especially if you’re more of a fan of smooth singletrack than more rocky and technical terrain.  Just be forewarned that as an out-and-back, you’ll be working just as hard, if not harder, on the way back!

Riding Information:

To reach the trailhead, take US-285 to the town of Pine Junction, then take a left (south) onto CO Hwy 126.  From here, drive 10 miles to the small town of Buffalo Creek.  Continue south past Buffalo Creek for another 3.7 miles and take a right onto Forest Service Road 550.  The trailhead for the Colorado Trail is just to the right.  There is a $5 fee to park here, but if you don’t want to pay, you can drive down the road a little ways and park at one of the pull-offs for free (this is what I did, and it seemed to be fine).  You can pick up the Colorado Trail again from this road about half a mile further down from the official trailhead.

Ride as far as you wish on the Colorado Trail until you reach the Lost Creek Wilderness, where bikes are strictly prohibited.  From the trailhead to the Lost Creek Wilderness boundary, it is about 14 miles.  From the trailhead to the where I turned around (at 7.7 miles), elevation ranges from 7,380 feet at the turn-around point to 8,000 feet at mile 4.5.  If you ride the entire distance to the Lost Creek Wilderness, elevation ranges from 7,380 feet at mile 7.7 to 9,100 feet at the wilderness boundary.

Another fantastic option, which I had planned to do before getting caught in the thunderstorm, is to add the Green Mountain Trail, which intersects the Colorado Trail twice, at mile 6.3 and mile 7.5.  A couple of other guys I talked to recommended taking the loop starting at mile 7.5.  From here, take a left on the Green Mountain trail, and after 3 or 4 miles you reconnect with Colorado Trail heading back the way you came.  This supposedly will add a challenging climb but fun descent to your trip.

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Written by Alan

July 13, 2010 at 9:21 am