“A multi-day bikepacking trip through some of Colorado's least appreciated canyons.”
— Stuart Black
Tunnel closure at Helen Hunt Falls. Detour provided.
A 150-mile, multi-day trip following historic railroads and stage roads through remote Colorado canyons that have been used by Native Americans, Zebulon Pike, miners and tourists as well as scientists searching for the bones of long dead dinosaurs. Most of the route is on easily rideable dirt roads that offer spectacular scenery.
Need to Know
Services are extremely limited. There are grocery stores in Colorado Springs, Cripple Creek, and Cañon City. Stock up before you start.
Water is also limited. Water may be filtered from Cripple Creek and Four Mile Creek along Shelf Road
, although access to Four Mile Creek is limited due to the steep terrain when you reach the "Shelf". Water may also be filtered from Eight Mile Creek in Phantom Canyon but both streams only flow intermittently. Gold Camp Road
is extremely dry and water availability for filtration or treatment is extremely limited.
Cell phone service outside of Cripple Creek and Victor is spotty at best and mostly nonexistent. Carry a map alternative, either paper, download a map, or use the MTB Project mobile app
You can park a car at the parking lot for Tunnel 3 on Gold Camp Road
although it may not be the most secure place to park. Parking may be available in Manitou Springs. For Denver-area residents, the easiest way to start is to use the Bustang from Denver for $1.
The route follows Gold Camp Road
from Colorado Springs to the Cripple Creek/Victor area. This is an old railbed that includes passing through six of nine tunnels as well as several miles of car-free travel and fantastic views of the canyons around Colorado Springs.
The route continues as a car route to Cripple Creek while passing through more spectacular scenery on the south side of Pikes Peak.
Once in Cripple Creek, the route travels south to Cañon City along Shelf Road
through 4 Mile Creek Canyon, a maze of spires and twisting canyons before reaching the "Shelf", a narrow route that clings to the rocks of the upper Garden Park area. The route offers breathtaking views of deep canyons and high desert terrain before passing through Garden Park and the famed Garden Park Dinosaur area. This area is known as the locality of many of today's most famous large dinosaurs. Stop and enjoy the views in between missile-like downhills through this steep canyon.
From Cañon City, the route follows the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad on a long but relatively gentle climb through Phantom Canyon. Its steep drops and towering spires offer ample opportunity for pictures. Teddy Roosevelt said that the route bankrupts the English language.
Once back in Victor, the route returns on Gold Camp Road
which offers a screaming 20-mile (finally) downhill. Check your brakes before you head down the hill! You'll need them!
History & Background
The area is rife with history. The route crosses Zebulon Pike's attempted, but ultimately failed, climb of the peak that bears his name as well as following Four Mile Creek to the current Cripple Creek area. The Gold Camp Road
, under the name Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railroad, was one of the most expensive railroads built in Colorado and operated for about 40 years.
Phantom Canyon was the route of the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad which operated from the late 1890 to 1912 when all but one of 12 bridges along Eight Mile Creek were washed out in a flash flood that ended the railroad.
The Garden Park dinosaur quarries were part of an 1870s "dinosaur" rush and dinosaur war between Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh and resulted in the discoveries of most of the famous dinosaurs - T. rex, stegosaurus, and brontosaurs - that we know today. Many of their bones are on display in the Peabody Museum and Philadelphia.