“An out-and-back that hits some incomparable views of southwest Colorado from a 12706' vantage point.
— Ted Stroll
A challenging doubletrack climb with fantastic views in all directions. Although some sections are rough, rocky, and steep, the breathtaking views at the top and the fun descent make the effort to get to the top very worthwhile.
Drive on Colorado Highway 149 south from Lake City past Spring Creek Pass or north from Creede. Turn east on Rio Grande National Forest Road 532, a well-graded dirt road. This section is tricky because there are a number of candidate roads that go east off the highway in the vicinity, and the Forest Service sign for Bristol Head is lying on the ground. If you see a sign for Bristol Head, upright or lying flat, you're on the right road.
You have to ford a stream shortly afterward, and this should be attempted only in a four-wheel drive vehicle with sufficient clearance. At certain times of the year, it could be impassable by motor vehicle. In this case, however, you could park, wade through the water if it's safe, and ride up eight miles to where this ride starts, for a total of 16 miles each way with about 4,000 feet of climbing.
If you make it across in your four-wheel drive, high-clearance car, you should be set, because there weren't any more streams to cross when I did this ride. Drive up eight miles to the Bristol HeadCrystal Lake junction. Park there. You're now at the starting point. Ride south on the dirt road to Bristol Head.
As you approach Bristol Head, you'll start climbing steadily. About a half-mile of the climb is rough and rocky, and I found myself walking most of it. I could descend it with no problem, though.
Once you clear the rocky, rough section the road becomes rideable again. Ride up to the transmission towers. There you'll find fantastic views in all directions. You're on a promontory that's perhaps 4,000 feet above the valley floor and in places you're looking almost straight down to the Santa Mara Reservoir, a beautiful body of water. You can look west toward the San Juan Mountains, North to Snow Mesa and Baldy Cinco, and east past Creede into the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo range, dozens of miles away. A distinctive peak to the northwest is the Rio Grande Pyramid.
History & Background
It's dizzying up there, both because of the elevation and the vertigo-inducing plunges off the cliff. Some ATV'ers told me that 25 years ago a woman in a snowmobile went up to Bristol Head and went over the edge. It took two months for a helicopter to be able to retrieve her body. Fortunately, a mountain bike has less momentum.