This is a good option if you want to experience some riding outside of town, without taking on a big high alpine adventure. It starts from the well-marked, large Mad Creek trailhead, and takes riders along the creek past an historic old barn to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness boundary, before looping around through more remote-feeling trail to a final technical and fairly steep descent.
The Mad Creek area can be very busy with hikers and less advanced mountain bikers looking for a quick ride. But as you continue around this loop, you'll find yourself on more and more remote feeling trail. It's worth a bit of patience starting out in order to experience the rest of the ride.
From the Mad Creed trailhead, start up the Mad Creek Trail
. Immediately start grinding up a wide singletrack high above the creek. It can be tough since you'd had no warm-up and it's pretty consistent for over a mile and fully exposed to the sun. You'll pass a gate on the left (which heads over to Red Dirt Trail
), and shortly thereafter to a historic (and photogenic) barn.
Pass that, head downhill to a bridge that connects to the Madhouse Trail
, which would take you back to the trailhead.
For maximum fun though, continue up the Mad Creek Trail
on the left side of the creek for another mile or so through superb aspens and meadows. There are a couple pullovers next to the creek which are great for a snack. It's a smooth, skinny singletrack in this area, and ends all too quickly at the Mount Zirkel Wilderness boundary. Bikes are not allowed in any wilderness zone in the USA. Turn around and enjoy the descent!
On the way back down, look for a trail branching off to the right. This is Saddle Trail
. Work your way up and down a bit to the back of the barn. The trail climbs from the barn through increasingly thick green vegetation. The climbing is moderate, and never too difficult, but it's consistent.
With the thick vegetation and wooded surroundings, you'll quickly feel like you're getting away from the busy Mad Creek area, and headed into more adventurous terrain.
Next, you'll run right into the Red Dirt trail. This trail climbs slightly more steeply than Saddle Trail
, before descending all the way down to the trailhead. It's more technical than other trails in the area, with a few rocks breaking up generally smooth terrain up top, a rooty section through thick tree cover after that, then a steeper, rocky descent leading to a consistent grade with switchbacks and some loose soil to contend with, and finally a bench cut down to the trailhead.
Just after the trail starts to descend after leaving the Saddle Trail
behind, you can take a right to follow this trail up towards the Mount Zirkel Wilderness boundary. This is a consistent and challenging climb, with plenty of Aspens, Pine trees, wildflowers, and thick green vegetation along the trail to keep things interesting.
Parts of the trail are a bit chewed up from horses and rains, making it a little less pleasant than it could be, but overall, it's a nice challenging end to the larger Mad Creek / Red Dirt Loop.
Once you get back down to the road at the Red Dirt trailhead, take a left and follow the road back to where you started from, or stop for a cold dip in the river.