Trail Boss: Taming Boulder’s Rowdiest Rock Garden

Known simply as “The Rock Garden” by locals, Bitterbrush Trail is a technical riding rite of passage.

Mentioning the Hall Ranch rock garden to anyone who’s ridden it will prompt one of two responses: Technical trail lovers, starved by Boulder’s otherwise smooth, flowy trails, will profess their love for it, while more modest riders are likely to tout Antelope Trail, a much smoother alternative, as the superior route to the access the trail system.

My pals at Oskar Blues, a now popular brewery which started in the sleepy town of Lyons, Colorado, tend to fall in the former camp. Before I’d ever ridden the two and a half miles of fabled gnar, I had heard countless stories about beautiful views, technical lines, and grippy rocks that more than piqued my interest. So, I packed my bags for Colorado’s Front Range to do some taste-testing, er…riding, and I finally got to see for myself what the hype is all about.

Climbing Bitterbrush is a blast. It’s definitely challenging, but there are a TON of options so it’s a blank canvas and you have the ability to make it harder or easier depending on your line choice. The true rock garden section is only about 3/4 of a mile–here are 3 tips for getting through it:

1.  Pace yourself.  You never want to go too hard on really technical climbs because when you have to dig a little deeper to make a crux move, you need to have something left in the tank.
2.  Choose a slightly harder gear than what you would use to spin out, but nothing you need to stand to turn.  You want to be able to float over the seat, so choose something you can still turn while sitting on the smooth sections but that has some drive when you attack out of the saddle over the rough stuff.
3.  Gain momentum when you can, not only when you need it.  If there’s a smooth patch before a tech section, use it so you carry speed into the rough stuff rather than try to find it once you’re in the thick of it.

Lower Bitterbrush Map

Riding the Rest of Hall Ranch

Once you clear Lower Bitterbrush, you’ll want to explore the rest of the trails at Hall Ranch. My buddy Mike Murfitt, a pro BMXer, HotBox Roasters employee (yes, Oskar Blues had a coffee company, too), and mountain bike shredder gave me the local 411.

“The first thing you need to know is that you’ll want to start from the Oskar Blues in town,” Mike said, “That way you get a nice little warm up on the road before hitting the rock garden and you get to finish the ride with a ChubBurger and a Dale’s Pale Ale!”

“Once you clean the rock garden,” Mike continued, “pedal Upper Bitterbrush to the Nelson Loop, a super flowy and fun 2.2-mile loop you can ride in either direction or for multiple laps.” [ed. note: we prefer clockwise.] Then, of course, it’s back down the rock garden for some seriously fun technical descending. Mike offered one last piece of advice, too, “as you cruise back down HWY 7 toward town, you can tack on the Picture Rock Trail, a rocky and scenic out-and-back, if you really want to earn that burger and beer I mentioned earlier.”

Sounds like good advice to me! Enjoy the ride.

Follow trials riding champion Jeff Lenosky on his quest to clean the country's toughest trails. Trail Boss S2:E1