The trailhead for Cottonwood can be reached either by shuttling or pedaling about 7 miles up county road 175 out of Salida. Look for a large unpaved parking area on the right (south) side of the road, which has a large kiosk.
The first section of the Cottonwood trail starts as Beasway Trail
, with a fairly gradual climb through a shady pine forest. This will be a welcomed bit of respite from from the full sun exposure on the road if you're riding during the summer. This trail got a major facelift in the summer of 2014 and now follows a very different path to start. Expect smooth, nicely bench-cut trail that contours across a rather exposed topography. There are a few minor rock features to navigate on this first section of singletrack, but for the most part it is all smooth and flowing. The descents feature in-sloped corners and a smooth surface so you can really let it go here. Some of the best views of the Collegiate Range can be seen from this portion of the trail.
Eventually, you'll come to a junction with Forest Road 173, cross it and continue to on the singletrack signed as Rumba Trail
. This will start with a climb, until you get on top of the actual ridge, overlooking the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Salida to the right. This is where the fun starts. Follow the ridge out and back down, into the drainage, where the trail really starts to flow. Watch out for some sneaky left turns. This leads to the "Waterfall" section (technical, might check it out first before riding it) and then the actual Cottonwood Gulch, the start of the actual Cottonwood Trail.
The trail rolls up and down both banks of the gulch as well as straight lining the riverbed at times. Expect the most technical, rocky riding you've seen yet. There are large roll-over features, drops, loose rocks and tight chutes. In short, this is a technical trail rider's dream. Hold on all the way down to the junction with Uncle Nazty and keep left to stay on Cottonwood. This trail has its terminus at an intersection with Backbone
and Sweet Dreams
. Take Backbone
if you want to get back to town quickest/easiest. Take Sweet Dreams
for more great singletrack, to Dream On
and/or Chicken Dinner Trail