ElevationAscent: 2,520' 768 m
Descent: -2,519' -768 m
High: 8,934' 2,723 m
Low: 7,024' 2,141 m
GradeAvg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 15% (9°)
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“This is a great way to ride the Cottonwood Trail, as a loop from town, while maximizing time on singletrack.”— Brian Smith
Be prepared for anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 hours in the saddle, depending on your pace and number of stops.
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.
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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We need help with the following missing trail information:
Family Friendly, ADA Accessible, Features, Electic Mountain Bikes Allowed, History & Background