Over the past two decades, cycling in Summit County has grown in popularity so much that our resorts have (almost) become bike towns with a ski habit. Our summer season might be shorter than what lower-elevation cycling meccas like Moab and Sedona have to offer, but as with many aspects of high-country living, what matters is quality—not quantity—of hours spent in the saddle. A 20-mile mountain bike ride here is usually more involved than a 20-mile ride elsewhere—due to not just the thinner air, but also the varied and challenging terrain and, if we’re being honest, the views that constantly ask to be photographed in case said thin air fogs the memory later. Summit County, in fact, was named the No. 1 mountain-biking destination in Colorado by Singletracks.com, which cited 812 miles of trail (!) within a 25-mile radius of Summit’s epicenter. And while our corner of Colorado may not be known as a prolific road-biking haunt, options abound there, too. What follows is an insider’s guide to the best rides around, aimed at helping you—and your friends and family—maximize your two-wheeled experience in Colorado’s Playground, pandemic and all.
A favorite both for its swooping layout as well as the mesmerizing aspen forest through which it swoops, this trail can be ridden up or down, but most prefer to descend it. The town of Breckenridge reworked the route a few years ago, lengthening the trail and increasing time spent among aspen trees, to much acclaim. Come fall, the tread takes more traffic than any trail in town, for good reason. True to its name, tall trunks line the singletrack and make you feel like you’re riding through a tunnel of white and gold and orange. Just try to keep your eyes on the trail ahead, because Aspen Alley also is known for tight, bermed corners and a flowy smoothness that lets you go. There aren’t many times when someone reaches the bottom and isn’t smiling from earlobe to earlobe—including locals who ride it every day.
Length 1.3 miles
Find it Off Boreas Pass Road, just past the gate south of the Bakers Tank trailhead
Pairs well with Bakers Tank Trail, Blue River Trail, Illinois Creek Trail
Miners Creek Trail
You may have seen photos of mountain bikers crossing the Tenmile Range near Peak 5—one of the classic images from the nationally renowned Breck Epic stage race. The good news? You can ride the same trail as the Olympians do. The bad news? Getting there tests your legs and lungs like few other summer adventures in Summit. Most ride this rugged singletrack, which doubles as the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail, from south to north, hiking much of the climb up the west side of the range. Why suffer? The views, for starters. And because the descent from 12,466 feet into Frisco is one of the best descents in the state—one I like to celebrate with a cold beer on the rooftop deck at Frisco Marina’s Island Grill.
Length 4.7 miles (just Miners Creek)
Find it VIA the Peak 9 service road from Breck, then right on the Wheeler Trail, OR ascend Wheeler from Copper to its junction with Miners Creek
Pairs well with Wheeler Trail, Peaks Trail, Gold Hill
Tenderfoot Trail / Oro grande
Tucked away on the east side of Dillon, the Old Tenderfoot Trail got a reboot last summer when volunteers extended what used to be an out-and-back and turned it into a loop. Trail work continues in the area, which will serve as something of a hub for hikers, bikers, and motorized users when it is complete. For mountain biking, the new loop provides incredible views of Dillon Reservoir and the Tenmile and Gore ranges. You can also combine it with the Oro Grande Trail, a wide, beginner-friendly out-and-back that takes you east toward Keystone.
Length 6.4 miles
Find it On County Road 51 across Highway 6 from the town of Dillon
Pairs well with Straight Creek Trail
Silverthorne doesn’t have a ton of mountain biking, but this trail makes up for what the town lacks in variety. An out-and-back with a handful of spurs worth exploring on either side, Ptarmigan climbs to a wilderness boundary below 12,498-foot Ptarmigan Mountain, where you get magnificent views of the Gore Range. During the ascent, you pass through aspen and pine forests on tacky dirt that is never too steep. I sometimes ditch my bike at the wilderness boundary and continue on foot to the summit.
Length 8.4 miles round-trip to the boundary
Find it On the Ptarmigan Trail (it’s the road name, too) up the hill from Wendy’s in Silverthorne
Pairs well with A cold pint at the Bakers’ or Angry James breweries
Technically called the Wheeler National Recreation Trail, this classic Forest Service singletrack starts in McCullough Gulch, just below Quandary Peak and about five miles south of Breckenridge, and traverses the Tenmile Range to Copper Mountain. If you like getting above treeline and riding a trail that looks like a spaghetti strand, you’ll be enamored on Wheeler. It always amazes me how few people I see on this route, probably because it takes more effort and pain tolerance to ride it than most other trails in the county. You crest 12,400 feet twice between Peak 8 and Peak 10, and unless you are superhuman, you can expect to be pushing your bike a good bit. Pack plenty of water and food, lather on the sunblock, and don’t underestimate the potential for foul weather up high.
Length 10.3 miles
Find it At the base of the south-facing hillside in McCullough Gulch and on the east side of Highway 91 at Copper
Pairs well with Miners Creek Trail, Peaks Trail, Tenmile Canyon Recpath
A Summit County rite of passage, the Peaks Trail traverses the forested eastern flank of the Tenmile Range between Frisco and Breckenridge. It is the site of an annual time trial race in the Summit Mountain Challenge series and a popular way for locals to get from town to town without using pavement. In fact, it might see more use than any local trail. But there’s a reason for that. Its climbs don’t last long, and a handful of long, smooth, flat sections lend themselves to cranking in a bigger gear. While certainly not a beginner trail, if your teenagers don’t mind walking through some of the chunkier technical sections, it’s a fine place for them to practice their skills.
Length 7.8 miles
Find it Off Miners Creek Road in Frisco and Ski Hill Road in Breckenridge, just north of the Peak 7 base area
Pairs well with Gold Hill, Miners Creek, Breck’s town trails
For a 486-mile route that runs from Denver to Durango, the Colorado Trail committed a lot of mileage to meandering in and around Summit County. We consider that a boon. Sure, you can expect to yield to plenty of through-hikers during high season, but it’s a small price to pay when such a wondrous singletrack is the reward. The CT breaks down into sections as it snakes from east to west in Summit, each a destination of its own. Kenosha Pass to Breckenridge is a fall classic, 33 miles of open country and big landscapes with stunning foliage lining the route. Then there’s the famous descent off Georgia Pass into the Swan River drainage; the locally renowned West Ridge segment starting with a crushing climb out of the North Fork of the Swan; a meandering-if-chunky pedal over Gold Hill; and the sensational, wildflower-heavy climb to Searle Pass from Copper. Some keep going from there, over Kokomo Pass to Tennessee Pass and beyond. The point is, your options are almost endless.
Length As much as you want to ride
Find it Popular trailheads include Kenosha Pass, the Tiger Dredge, Swan’s Nest, Gold Hill, and Copper Mountain’s Corn Lot
Pairs well with Peaks Trail, Red Trail, Horseshoe Gulch (pictured here), ZL Trail, Galena Ditch
The town of Breckenridge has no shortage of pearls in its frontcountry system, an ever-growing list that includes Moonstone, Barney Ford, Slalom, and Sidedoor. But one of the old reliables, especially if you don’t feel like climbing too much, is the Flumes network on the northeast side of town. It starts next to the Kennington Place Townhomes across from the 7-Eleven and offers a large loop with three distinct segments, Lower, Middle, and Upper. It also connects to a broader system that continues to the Swan River drainage.
Length 6.5 miles
Find it On the north side of Huron Road between the Kennington Place and Huron Landing complexes
Pairs well with Slalom, Tom’s Baby, Discovery Ridge, ZL Trail
Due to the rocky, rugged terrain throughout Summit County, it can be hard to find beginner trails. And while the Peninsula Recreation Area doesn’t exactly qualify as being easy for novices—your best bet for novice singletrack is the River Trail in Breckenridge or Oro Grande in Dillon—it’s a good option nonetheless. Most of the trails are flat, with short, punchy climbs, if any. You can park at the Adventure Park’s day lodge and base yourself there, enjoying a picnic lunch between family loops. My favorite trail is the Peninsula Lakeshore Loop, six miles of blissful waterfront singletrack that traces the rim of the peninsula and makes you feel like you’re riding in the Pacific Northwest.
Length 6–11 miles
Find it You can start from anywhere, but if you’re driving, it makes sense to start at the day lodge at Frisco Adventure Park (621 Recreation Way).
Pairs well with Peaks Trail
Barney Flow / B-Line
Just above Carter Park in downtown Breckenridge, a hidden gem exists in the adjacent Barney Flow and B-Line freeride trails. Think of B-Line as the slightly rowdier of the two, with a few more drops and man-made features. Barney Flow features bermed turns and a handful of poppy jumps. If you’re not quite ready for these trails, you can work on your skills at the Wellington Pump Track in French Gulch—or take a lesson at Woodward Copper, the renowned action-sports camp.
The details Ride up the Carter Park switchbacks to Moonstone, which connects to Barney Flow and B-Line. Find the Wellington Pump Track off Wellington Road near the horse stables. One-hour MTB lessons at Woodward cost $75. campwoodward.com
Frisco Bike Park
At the Frisco Adventure Park, riders can choose between four options tailored to a range of abilities. The pump track is perfect for kids and beginners. The dual-slalom course lets you race your buddy on manageable terrain. The slopestyle course provides a reasonable entry into jumping. And the dirt jumps are as good as you’ll find in the central Rockies—with an even better backdrop for action shots. Best of all: it’s free.
The details 621 Recreation Way, Frisco townoffrisco.com/adventure-park
Keystone Bike Park
Like riding down mountains but don’t love climbing them? Behold your happy place. Keystone’s lift-served terrain is among the best in North America and has hosted some of the world’s best freeriders, as well as the no-name rippers from Summit who ride it every day. Keystone’s 55 miles of trail offer everything from blue runs to rock gardens to 20-foot drops. Everything is purpose-built for mountain biking, including manmade features that up the ante on expert runs. Hence the resort’s moniker: “We maintain a devotion to downhill.”
The details Full-day lift tickets cost $48 for adults and $27 for kids—or you can always climb under your own power for free. Not ready to drop in by yourself? Keystone also offers lessons, starting at $58 for beginners (or $135 including bike rental and protective gear). A full-day private lesson costs $300. keystoneresort.com
Summit County’s road-biking options aren’t as plentiful as its mountain-biking options, mainly because most of the shoulders are narrow. But the expansive local recpath system can be used to link every town in the county. The two most popular segments run between Frisco and Breckenridge, and Frisco and Copper, where you pedal (or coast) along Tenmile Creek and gape at the towering rock walls through Tenmile Canyon. Don’t forget basic recpath etiquette: stay to the right, and announce yourself if you want to pass.
Three of the most popular local roadie rides, not surprisingly, involve climbing a mountain pass. Two of those rides crest the Continental Divide: Loveland Pass culminates with an ascent of Highway 6 past Keystone and Arapahoe Basin, while Hoosier Pass serves as the paved high point between Breckenridge and Alma on Highway 9. But the best of them all is Ute Pass, a winding, 5.3-mile climb (gaining a lung-taxing 2,000 feet in elevation) from Highway 9 north of Silverthorne that affords arguably the best view of the Gore Range in Summit County. Head up early in the morning, when the sun bathes the Gore in spectacular light. If you have time for more than just the climb, start at Silverthorne Elementary for a 31-mile round-trip.
2020 Race Update
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Summit’s biggest races, the Breck Epic (breckepic.com) and Firecracker 50 (mavsports.com), were canceled—as was the inaugural Breck Bash (warriorscycling.com). But all three plan to be back in 2021. At press time it was unclear whether the weekly Summit Mountain Challenge series would proceed this year.
Get the Map
The Summit County Open Space and Trails Department built an interactive digital map that includes a trove of detailed information, from trails to campgrounds to scenic sites like lakes and peaks. summitcountyco.gov/trailmap
As with most aspects of society, the pandemic has changed the way we ride. The International Mountain Bicycling Association put together a list of ways you can keep yourself and others safe this summer:
- Ride within your skill level.
- Wear a mask if you can’t stay 6 feet away from other users at all times.
- When passing another person on the trail, communicate as you approach each other; one person should step 6 feet off the trail perpendicular to the trail until the other user is past, then return to the trail the same way. Be cautious of sensitive vegetation, and try to keep singletrack single!
- On the rec path, riders should have a mask and be prepared to wear it when approaching other users.
How One Local Pedaled Through the Pandemic
Josh Tostado, the four-time 24-hour national champ, kept his season alive with 400-mile training weeks and hope for a return come fall.
Entering the 2020 mountain bike season, endurance racer Josh Tostado was coming off arguably his best year as a professional. The four-time 24-hour national champion won seven races last summer, almost all of them longer than 100 miles. Tostado kept his momentum going in February in Arizona with an improbable win at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, one of the biggest events in the sport. It seemed the local 44-year-old was poised for another windfall—until the Covid-19 pandemic put sports on hold.
Tostado had planned to enter a dozen races this year. Most were canceled or rescheduled by late May. “My best-case scenario is to be racing in September,” he said on Memorial Day. A lot could change by the time this magazine publishes, of course. But Tostado wasn’t taking any chances. Soon after he realized that traveling to train was out of the question, he started poring over Google Maps at potential big loops in his backyard. He’d made his name as an endurance racer in the mid-2000s while living in Breckenridge, but now he lives in Fairplay, where a network of dirt roads and singletrack presented world-class training possibilities. Tostado spent much of March, April, and May logging 80- to 100-mile days on his full-suspension Santa Cruz Blur, pedaling for seven or eight hours at a time. “I was basically exploring,” he said. “Anywhere there was nobody around, that’s where I went. And there’s plenty of that in Park County. It’s like the social-distancing mecca.” On many of his rides, he battled 30 mph headwinds to get home. “I would finish the last 12 miles and it would take me two hours. But really, I can’t complain. I got to ride my bike and didn’t see any other riders for months.”
Barring a setback, Tostado envisions a condensed schedule that could entail entering three races a month through November, including the 750-mile Arizona Trail race in October. Such a stretch would exact a heavy toll on his body, but he is itching to return to competition. And with his contracts heavy on performance incentives, he could use a few wins. “I really have no idea when I’ll race again,” he said, “but if there’s one out there I’m going to do it.”