“A spectacular segment of the Colorado trail in a breathtaking alpine setting topping out at 12,044'!”
— Chuck McQuade
The Colorado trail (CT) impresses yet again. This out and back ride with great rolling singletrack includes several playful bridge crossings to start off as you cross the Copper Mountain ski resort. Alongside Guller creek there are several creek crossings and a very continuous but manageable climb through treeline up to the alpine basin formed by Elk mountain and Sugarloaf peaks. Here you can expect snow fields and muddy conditions starting around 11,700' during early summer months.
This is a great summer ride as much time is spent at higher elevations to avoid the heat. With this in mind it's best not to attempt this ride in early summer before spring melt is complete. (Mid to Late June you'll likely encounter snowfields). A rain shell or extra layer is recommended, as you'll spend a good chunk of time above treeline.
Need to Know
A few good parking options exist:
1. The large dirt overflow parking lot for the Copper mountain ski area, which is just east of highway 91 and just south of the main entrance to Copper Mountain Resort.
2. A 1/4 mile further north of the lot is a Conoco gas station and an additional dirt parking lot.
Pay close attention to CT trail markers and supplied GPS tracks around mile 2.0 - as the trail crosses the several ski runs it becomes hard to follow. There is an intersection of two trails - don't be tempted to take the more traveled singletrack (a Copper Mountain downhill trail?) instead, the CT continues on a maintenance road cutting across several ski runs before returning to singletrack (marked on the map).
Once you reach treeline expect lingering snowfields and a muddy singletrack well into the early summer months. Please attempt to stay on the trail as the alpine vegetation is very sensitive.
In the SE corner of the ski area overflow parking lot, look for a bridge crossing the Tenmile Creek and/or the Colorado Trail information sign. Rather than crossing the creek, the trail heads directly south keeping the creek on your left hand side. In a short distance it crosses over highway 91 and continues on great rolling singletrack with several bridge crossings and a few short downhill sections as it crosses the ski resort. There are a few times as you cross the resort that the trail merges with maintenance roads for short distances - continue on keeping your eye out for CT trail signs. (These spots are marked on the map).
The trail then begins to enter heavier treed sections via nice wide switchbacks. As you leave the ski area, the trail bends south and heads up Guller Creek, which you'll cross a few times. Some crossings may require dismounts depending on season and water level. You'll remain along Guller Creek for about 2.5 miles while you chew up about 1000' of elevation gain.
Next, you'll ride a few long switchbacks to climb your way out of treeline and into the lower basin below Elk Mountain. Once above treeline the trail tends back south, giving you your first view of Searle Pass. The pass is only approximately a mile away (500 vertical feet) at this time but, remember you're riding at 12000'. The trail will cross a few creeks draining from the upper basin - a couple of them likely will require dismounts. As you near the pass, the grade increases dramatically as does the technical riding. The trail passes through scree fields that will lead to challenging moments. Once you reach the pass, soak up the views before turning to enjoy the 3000 vertical feet of downhill!
The remainder of Colorado Trail Segment #8 continues for another 15 miles south of Searle Pass over Kokomo pass, eventually ending at Tennessee pass. The entire segment can be done as a shuttle ride, leaving a car at Tennessee pass. Or after completing the Copper Mountain to Searle Pass ride, one may consider riding from Tennessee pass up to Searle Pass as an out and back.