This is a pretty big ride with a decent amount of climbing and, of course, descending. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the cottonwood descent is one of the best in the region, and is open longer than the high altitude trails. During the course of this ride, you'll experience everything from loose, technical climbs to large rock roll-over features and everything in between.
Be prepared for anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 hours in the saddle, depending on your pace and number of stops.
Start this ride in the F-street parking lot, located at the base of the trail system. Exit the lot and begin pedaling eastward on the gravel path that parallels the train tracks. Turn left to cross the tracks shortly thereafter, stay right and follow the road towards the hills. Hang a left onto singletrack and start the climb up Frontside
. This is a great warmup trail that features tightly switchbacking singletrack, some tricky rock sections, some exposure, and great views of town. Eventually, Frontside
ends at Spiral Drive, with a trailhead and kiosk. Cross the circle and find the Lil Rattler
trail. Wind your way up the mostly smooth flowing trail to where it meets Spiral Drive again, turn sharp left and continue through the lava rack until you reach a gravel road. This is the saddle where FR 173 (jeep road), Lil Rattler
and the new Rusty Lung
trails all intersect.
From here, take a moment to appreciate the view of Spiral Hill and Salida before grinding 50 yards up the very loose 173 road to the North Backbone
trail. Turn left onto North Backbone
and begin a blast of a trail. The first third of the trail is rolling contour across dry, open rocky hillsides with a few pockets of pinion pine. From there the trail descends towards a drainage and transitions from hard packed trail to firm sand and then pink boulders and slabs. Through this middle section of the route expect to be challenged through some quick and steep transitions. It's mostly all rideable except for one steep uphill section. After 3.1 miles on North Backbone
you'll get to "Ute Trail" - Road 175.
Turn right and start climbing the nicely graded road, and settle in for about a four-mile grind. The road portion starts off with a steeper grade through some turns, but then eases up and makes for a good place to chat with your riding buddies. Try to ignore the shuttle vehicles.
Look for an official parking area, with a trail kiosk, on the right side of the road. This is the Cottonwood
trailhead. Start the first segment of the Cottonwood
singletrack, the Beasway Trail
(formerly Salsa trail). This 2.7 mile section starts with a short 0.5 mile climb through a shady pine forest. This will be a welcome bit of respite from the full sun exposure on the road if you're riding during the summer. 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. Eventually, you'll come to a junction with Forest Road 173 (same road at the start of North Backbone
). Cross the road.
The next segment of the Cottonwood
trail is called Rumba Trail
, and climbs steadily to a ridge (pass the Big Snake sign) with great views, and then the pace picks up on the way down. This segment then drops down into a drainage in an open valley, with good flow.
You'll eventually find yourself shot out onto the dry riverbed of Cottonwood
Gulch. It starts with the "waterfalls", the most technical features on the entire ride. Expect very technical riding in the first 50 yards, before the trail continues to roll up & down both banks of the gulch as well as straight lining the riverbed at times. Expect loose rocks and tight chutes, a few jumps and some short technical climbs. In short, this is a technical trail rider's dream. Hold on all the way down to the junction with Uncle Nazty and turn left to stay on Cottonwood
At the end of Cottonwood
, there's a three-way junction with Backbone
and Sweet Dreams
. Turn left to follow Sweet Dreams
. After a short climb & downhill turn sharp left and continue. After 1.5 miles of tough up & down, turn left onto the Chicken Dinner Trail
. Enjoy the sweet purpose-built features on this new-school trail. It's icing on the cake! At the bottom turn right and ride to town on double and singletrack.