Cataract Ridge Backcountry Loop

Consensus:    (details)
  4.5 from 2 votes
dblack  Extremely Difficult from 2 votes
Rank: #2 in the Southwest Rockies area
#152 in CO, #1,021 Overall
Views: 1,882. Last 30 days: 98
Condition Details | Update
Featured Ride in the area near Lake City,
“A true backcountry experience with endless majestic high alpine views and difficult riding.”
Evan Chute on Aug 8, 2014
Getting There     GPX File     Print
38.061.2 milesKilometers 6,272’1,912 m Ascent 13,244’4,037 m High 6% Avg Grade (4°)
90% Singletrack -6,619’-2,017 m Descent 10,566’3,221 m Low 57% Max Grade (30°)
12:30 average time for 40.0 miles. Details

Breathtaking scenery and rugged, primitive terrain highlight this ride, which includes the highest point of the Colorado Trail: The Entire MTB Route at 13,200'. Nearly the entire route is above timberline, starting at Spring Creek Pass (elevation 10,900'), climbing up to Jarosa Mesa, and then traversing from one high alpine basin to the next. Difficult, rocky, steep hike-a-bike sections are punctuated with technical descents the entire way, this ride rewards the hearty rider seeking a true backcountry experience.
Need To Know
Done as a point-to-point with a shuttle vehicle left near the Rio Grand Reservoir, this trail takes you OUT there. It will very probably expose you to bad weather. The terrain is difficult, and there are few bail-out points depending on where you leave your vehicle. In addition to whatever you usually bring, consider bringing a water filter, lighter/matches, warm clothes, emergency blanket, and even a headlamp.

Also keep in mind that the Cataract Ridge Trail is new as of 2009something an outdated map won't show. Expect to be on trail for 10-13 hours, and be prepared for everything you possibly can.
Leave a vehicle at the end of the Pole Creek trailto get there from Creede, CO travel west on State Hwy 149 for 19 miles. Turn left and travel west 24 miles on Forest Road 520. The trailhead is just before you cross Pole Creek itself in a large meadow. Head back out to Hwy 149 and turn north, traveling about 13 miles to Spring Creek Pass. The Colorado Trail crosses Hwy 149 at this point, start the ride by heading west on the Colorado Trail.

Route finding can be a challenge, and there are quite a few junctions. But for the most part, follow the Colorado Trail all the way to West Pole Creek. Be prepared for hike-a-bike, steep loose terrain, a few sections of 4WD and 2-track dirt road, and every sort of trail you can imagine.

West Pole Creek Trail is a primitive, rarely traveled trail that follows the West Pole Creek drainage. The high point is at the west end, and it drops steeply in to the creek when traveling east to west, then undulates up and down as it winds it's way to meet up with the main Pole Creek Trail. Steeper, fast descents are interspersed with short, steep climbs for the majority of the ride.

Eventually, you'll come to a junction with Pole Creek Trail. A series of small waterfalls, natural arches and crystal clear pools can be viewed on Pole Creek, about 0.25 mile south of the junction of West Pole Creek Trail. The falls are not visible from the trail, but the sound of falling water can be heard if you listen carefully. Turn west off the main trail and take the short side trip from the trail to the creek to see the falls and arches.

Good camping places are available along the lower 4.0 miles of this trail. Domestic sheep graze the upper area near the Continental Divide. Cattle occasionally graze the lower east slope of Pole Creek.

After entering a scattered patch of spruce/fir about 1/4 mile from the Stony Pass Road the trail begins to enter the wide open parks that characterize the Pole Creek Valley to its end at the intersection of FDT#787 (La Garita Stock Driveway Trail).

If you leave a vehicle near the Rio Grande Reservoir instead of at the end of Pole Creek be prepared for a long, undulating dirt road ride back to your vehicle. However, doing this also gives you the option of bailing out on Lost Trail or West Lost Trail, if I recall correctly. Later you can bail out Pole Creek trail or Middle Pole Creek Trail and skip some of the Colorado Trail but still have the road ride back to your vehicle. Please consult a recent map of the area to verify, and always always always take a map (and the MTB Project mobile app) with you when riding long adventure rides like this one.
History & Background
In 2009 the Cataract Ridge portion of the Colorado Trail: The Entire MTB Route was re-routed, a map of the re-route can be seen here:

A portion of this ride is also included in the Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area:
View in 3D
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4.5 (4)
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4.0 (1)
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PHOTOS of Cataract Ridge Backcountry Loop
  3.7 from 3 votes
In a saddle overlooking Cataract Lake. (Silverton, CO)
  2.7 from 3 votes
Slow on the climb shortly after leaving the 2-track and headed up on to ... (Lake City, CO)
  2.3 from 3 votes
The first of several pictures of my bike leaning against a Colorado Trai... (Lake City, CO)