“The Crested Butte mega classic! High alpine meadows with unbeatable views.
— Chuck McQuade
The definition of alpine mountain biking. The loop provides endless views of Colorado's breathtaking Elk range, winding its way around alpine lakes, through aspen groves, while immersing riders in shoulder high skunk cabbage. This ride ranks among the best of its style, and the among best in the area.
The loop begins with an easy 5 mile climb up the Gothic road to Schofield Pass. At approximately mile 4 it is not uncommon to come across "The Plug" an almost permanent snowfield across the road. A quick hike-a-bike will place you in view of Emerald Lake with a short distance remaining until the famed 401 singletrack begins.
At the top of Schofield Pass, the famed singletrack of the 401 Trail veers right starting with a tough and consistent climb for 1.3 miles through dense trees. Near the top, the grades gets easier, the trees open up, and the views behind you are stellar. The climb isn't really all that hard - nothing technically - but your lungs will keep reminding you are at 11,000 feet above sea level.
Then the payoff begins. The unsurpassed 360 degree alpine views of the Elk mountains, followed by the first of the steady downhill. After descending a few hundred feet, the trail flows fast and gently downhill with stunning views in front of you and flowers all around in mid-summer. For much of the top part of the descent you're hugging the hillside, with a steep drop to the right, which can mess with your equilibrium. There are a few very skinny sections that are easy but have very bad fall potential. Take your time and savor it!
You'll intersect with the Bellview hiking trail and take a right. This section has several switchbacks and has begun to get a little rutted out, but it's generally fast and flowy with great traction all the way. When conditions are good, the middle section of the 401 descent is about as fun as mountain biking gets.
Once down to Rustler's Gulch, take a breather because the climbing begins again. This point also provides an exit back to Gothic road if the weather turns for the worse. Otherwise continue your tour through the Ruster's Gulch camping area, and follow the 401 trail into the meadow above the campsites.
The trail climbs for about a mile and is technically a bit harder than earlier sections, though still fine for fit intermediate riders. You'll pass thorugh a drainage with lots of rockfall, and most people walk their bikes a few feet to get through it.
One final descent takes you to the outskirts of Gothic. Please respect the trail signs here and avoid private property.