Get ready for a big day on the bike. At 24 miles, this ride could be considered a "long" one but it is made grueling by the intense amount of very technical climbing. Almost 4,700 feet of elevation gain on trying terrain will have even the most fit riders hurting by the end.
Now that I've sufficiently scared you.... This ride is an absolute blast!
It has a little bit of everything: big rowdy descents, equally big technical climbs, dark lush forest, open sprawling meadows and smooth-flowing singletrack.
This particular route starts from the southern parking along Golden Gate Canyon Rd. but could really be done from any of the ample parking areas surrounding the park.
Take a short spin up the Blue Grouse
Trail to get the legs warmed up and look for an intersection with Mule Deer Trail
. Turn right onto Mule Deer Trail
Climb up Mule Deer with a few challenging switchbacks and generally rocky trail. There are some nice views of the mountains looking W/SW from the top.
The trail flattens out somewhat across the Rim Meadow and Frazier Meadow. Nice easy riding through aspen and ponderosa forest.
Leaving the meadows, you'll start climbing towards Gap road. At roughly mile 4.1, you'll come to an intersection with Snowshoe Hare
- Turn right and descend for about a mile to a low point at Dude's Hole. Advanced riders may enjoy the challenges of big roots and lots of rocks, but less advanced riders will have to walk long sections of the trail, though the park service may be slowly rebuilding it (already done at the far western end).
This trail seems to be going steeply up or down virtually all the time. You wander around aspen and pine forests with occasional openings, but never any big views. After you top out climbing from Dude's hole, descend sharply, look for Buffalo Trail
on the right and take it.
Descend on this wide, slightly loose and rocky doubletrack all the way to the Mountain Lion Loop. Remember this descent as it will certainly be a challenge for tired legs on the way back. Stay left and start peadaling up the partially reclaimed doubletrack that is this portion of Mountain Lion. The trail will transition to singletrack and get very steep and technical.
Climb hard for a long time at heart-attack grades.
Many sections will need to be walked but it is well worth the pain. Views of Forgotten Valley abound as you top out. Follow the trail into the woods for a payoff in the form of a stomach clenching rowdy descent.
You'll descend over 1,000 feet of vert in under a mile an a half. If you like very technical terrain, this trail will have you grinning. The trail sits at the bottom of a rugged drainage and follows it the whole way down. You'll be challenged with large rock-overs, roots and repetitive drops. There are multiple creek crossings, some of which are bridged. Eventually, the trail will open into doubletrack and mellow out.
Follow the trail as it contours through a slight climb and descent and prepare for the biggest burn of the day - the next five miles are a grueling, unrelenting climb. Pedal up Mountain Lion to a junction with Buffalo Connector
where you'll turn left and continue onto Buffalo Trail
. Remember flying down this fireroad?
Continue on Buffalo Trail
to Snowshoe Hare
, turn right and head up a near impossible technical climb. Snowshoe Hare
will dead-end into a campground - pedal uphill out of the camp grond to Gap Road and turn left. Follow Gap Road for about a mile and look for Mule Deer Trail
on the right, take it. After a tiny bit more pedaling, you're done for the time being.
Congrats - you just climbed nearly 2,000' in under five miles.
Consider following Raccoon Trail
to the panoramic viewpoint for a rest. Otherwise, enjoy the descent on Mule Deer Trail
. Right about mile 20, you'll start the last substantial climb of the day. After topping out, it's a blazing fast descent on narrow singletrack through meadows. When the trail climbs briefly to meet Mountain Base Rd., stay right onto Lower Mule Deer Trail
. Follow it to a junction with Blue Grouse
and turn right.
You made it. Have a beer (or more), you deserve it.