“A fun, flowy and technical trail through sub-alpine terrain in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains”
— J. Bella
Much of this trail is snowpacked from mid-October until mid-June.
From the intersection with SR 38 in Red River, drive 6 miles up 578 to the junction with the Middle Fork Road. Turn left and cross the bridge, then continue to the right up 58A about a mile to the East Fork trailhead. High clearance vehicles are recommended for the last section, passenger cars can park before the bridge at the junction with the Middle Fork road.
The first section of trail is a steep and moderately technical climb winding up the mountainside until it passes the Sawmill Park trail after a mile and reaches the Big Ditch, a 41-mile mining feature constructed in the 1800s to transport water to mines in the Moreno Valley. There is a sign here describing the history of the area
Bypass the tempting singletrack leading into the forest on the right side of the ditch and continue on the more worn trail to the left. The next 2.5 miles are a combination of smooth and flowy Sangre de Cristo mountain dirt and rocky and rooty climbs as the trail contours upwards through several drainage gullies and new-growth forests, with a few tricky stumps and downed trees to navigate around. Along this ascent the environment gradually but noticeably transitions to a more high alpine clime, and once you reach the wooden bridge across the Red River you'll be surrounded by older spruce and fir trees. After crossing the river, the trail climbs moderately with more rocks, roots, and flowy sections.
There are a few stream crossings leading to an exposed outcrop with some amazing views of Wheeler Peak's eastern slopes and the valleys to the northeast. Continue along the trail as it skirts the Wheeler Peak Wilderness boundary and crosses Horseshoe Creek, then comes to the junction with Trail 91. Here there are two riding options; turn right and continue towards Lost Lake, or return on trail 56 back to the parking area. The trail to the left leads into the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, there are lots of places to stash your bike and hike the 1/2 mile to Horseshoe Lake for some epic views.
Descending the trail on a return from the Trail 91 junction leaves little to be desired. Fast and flowy sections mixed with fun, moderately technical roots and rocks, and stellar views provide an awesome descent, well worth the effort of the climb.