This routes takes riders through what I would consider to be the best trails that Happy Jack Area has to offer. Although not a long ride, this is not for the faint of heart. If the elevation (all above 8,300') doesn't get you, the steep, technical climbing might. Once it's all over, however, you'll be begging for more!
Start this ride from the USFS day-use parking area. Head north on Headquarters
trail, which will immediately connect you to a three-way intersection. Stay left here and veer onto Upper UW Loop
and then stay left again to continue on the western portion of the loop. Upper UW is a wide nordic track that provides fast, easy riding for mountain bikes.
Turn right at an intersection with Meadow Trail
and Ridge Trail
, then stay straight (straight on Lower UW Trail
, too) to hop onto your first fun descent, Aspen Trail
. Aspen Trail
quickly departs Lower UW Trail
and bombs over roots and streams as it winds its way down an undulating hillside. With this undulation comes a couple short uphill bursts, but you should be able to smash right through them.
At the bottom of Aspen Trail
(where an appropriately placed aspen grove lives), turn right onto Aspen Trail Connector
. This short trail connects you to what I would consider to be the hardest uphill of this ride, Haunted Forest Trail
. Haunted Forest brings you up a very steep trail complete with multiple root and rock step-ups. And as if it wasn't hard enough, the trail is an ephemeral creek in the Springtime.
Take this trail all the way to a four-way intersection with Summit Trail
and a short connector. Turn left onto Summit Trail
and follow that for a short distance to Summit Loop
. Turn left onto the Summit Loop
climb. This brings you to the ride's highpoint and IMO the best descent, Death Crotch
From the onset, you know you're in for it when you start Death Crotch
. The trail immediately climbs loosely from Summit Loop
and then violently drops you through a technical rock garden. After a little more descending, this "descent" treats you with its first surprise, a very steep and loose uphill. Luckily, this is the last up on this trail, and the rest is an all-out blast, technical fun-fest.
From its finish, turn immediately right onto Hooch Trail
, which is a climb into a wide descent bringing you over a creek. Continue south here on USFS #707, all the way to the Headquarters
parking area. This is a great spot to stop and eat a well-earned snack as there's a picnic table at the TH.
From your snack spot, head uphill on the very rideable and actually quite fun Headquarters
trail. This trail brings you up not-too-technical rock gardens and has some not-too-tight switchbacks to ride. Eventually, after much struggling, you'll reach an intersection with Browns Landing
. Stay right here onto Headquarters
and blast through the tight woods. Continue past the Summit Loop
(twice) and head past Double Black Diamond
, which will appear on your left.
Finally, turn left onto the Headquarters Overlook
trail. This is the perfect lunch spot as it has incredible panoramic views across I-80 to the mountains in both Colorado and Wyoming. From here, you'll be able to see the Never Summers, the Rahwahs, the Medicine Bows, the Mummy Range, and the Snowy Range.
After you've soaked up the view, continue west on Headquarters
and avoiding any of the three trail junctions you'll come across, a final left turn on HQ will drop you back to the parking lot and the cold beers you've got stashed in a cooler.
Just north of Aspen Trail
lies the old Happy Jack ski area. It operated two t-bar lifts from 1963 to 1977.