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blueBlack Cottonwood Tour

  4.3 ( 72 ) Favorite

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23.1 mile 37.1 kilometer loop
75% Singletrack


Ascent: 2,520' 768 m
Descent: -2,519' -768 m
High: 8,934' 2,723 m
Low: 7,024' 2,141 m


Avg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 15% (9°)


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Trail shared by Brian Smith

This is a great way to ride the Cottonwood Trail, as a loop from town, while maximizing time on singletrack.

Brian Smith

E-Bikes Unknown

Features -none-

Seasonal closure of the Cottonwood / Beasway Trail from December 15th through March 15th, please obey.


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.

Need to Know

The terrain around Salida is arid, rocky and exposed. Expect to encounter the sharp, not so pleasant flora associated with such terrain and plan accordingly -- run a tubeless setup if possible and bring extra tubes!
You could do a version of this ride as a shuttle by driving up to the parking area at the Cottonwood trailhead. This option would cut out most of the climbing but you'd miss the fun of North Backbone trail.


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, Backbone 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.


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May 18, 2019
Andrew Andrew
May 5, 2019
Nate Meier
22.9mi — 3h 35m
May 5, 2019
Ben Calvert
Apr 29, 2019
Pete Galt
Time doesn't include the two flats. 3 yr old tubeless tire said no more. We opted not to ride back up. Always start with the climb. 14mi — 1h 35m
Apr 28, 2019
erik L
Ready to go. Chicken dinner is great for dessert 13mi
Apr 27, 2019
Bob Maiocco
Oct 20, 2018
Joel Van Essen
Legs were pretty spent for the downhill after a tough climb but overall a very awesome ride! 23.1mi — 4h 11m
Oct 13, 2018
Cindi Hillemeyer

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Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 72 votes


  4.3 from 72 votes
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Anonymous User
Anonymous User  
The Cottonwood Trail has been completed as of 10-13-15. Now once you reach FS rd. 173 the trail crosses the road and slowly climbs to a ridge (Big Snake) south and east of the 173 rd. This eliminates the mile of biking on the 173 rd. and puts it all on the new single track. This 2.5 miles of single track is new as of 2015. The old fall line trail leading off of the 173 rd has been closed and rehabed. Oct 13, 2015
This trail is fantastic, and I think this trail is better suited as a shuttle. Rhumba and the upper sections of Cottonwood have technical sections that demand big full suspension bikes. The trailhead and all trails are now very clearly marked. Great job Salida Mountain Trails! Jun 24, 2016
This is a great ride that you can start right out of town, no shuttle needed. Road ride up that turns into gravel, def a tough climb but worth the workout. We happened to see a GIANT snake right after the trail sign said, big snake. Luckily it was non-venomous. TIP: Make sure you bring LOTS of water, its super dry and you can find yourself bonking if you're riding up instead of shuttling. There is a great little canyon that you go through about 80% of the way into the ride and it's got some nice features and drops. Camping info:… Rental info:… Aug 21, 2018

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