Despite being just half an hour apart, the communities of Gunnison and Crested Butte are very different. The former is a high desert college town with a river running through it, popular among anglers. The latter is a one-time mining city deep in the mountains, now famous for the challenging ski runs at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. One thing that links them: some of the best mountain biking and gravel riding in Colorado.

You could easily make a case for Gunnison County being the birthplace of mountain biking. In the 1970s, Crested Butte locals began fixing up one-speed “klunkers,” driving them up mountain passes in pick-up trucks, and bombing down the trails. From there came the legendary Pearl Pass ride, a lofty 40-mile trip to nearby Aspen over the mountains (more on that later). Organized races and trail-building eventually brought Crested Butte national attention as one of the best destinations for mountain biking in the country.

Biking infrastructure in Gunnison developed more recently, but the town has quickly made its mark with several trail networks within riding distance. More recently, the 1,000-plus miles of dirt roads that crisscross the surrounding landscape have attracted eager gravel bikers (and serve as part of the 2,700-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route). With first-rate terrain waiting outside any front door in Gunnison and Crested Butte, riders have countless reasons to come — and stay for a while to pedal and explore. Here’s where to point your tires when you visit.


Photo: Gunnison Crested Butte

If you decide to set up camp in Crested Butte, a typical ride day might look like this: Wake up at the centrally located Old Town Inn, Elk Mountain Lodge, or Crested Butte Hostel. Hop on your bike, ride to Camp 4 Coffee for a caffeine fix, and then head straight to the trails. Don’t stop pedaling until you’re back in Crested Butte for aprés at Kochevars Saloon & Gaming Hall, Talk of the Town, or Montanya Distillers. It’s that easy to access epic trails — just note that many of the higher elevation bike routes in the area don’t open until June, depending on snow conditions.

Snodgrass Trail | Mountain biking

For a low-elevation option, this 7-mile out-and-back trip makes for a mellow ride, but the scenery is anything but subdued. The Snodgrass Trail swaddles you in beautiful aspen groves and flower meadows before revealing a wide-open view of Crested Butte and the surrounding lands. Be sure to check if it’s open before you head out — the trail, which intersects with private land, sometimes closes for seasonal cattle grazing.

Lily Lake | Gravel biking

A beginner-intermediate route, this 20-mile round-trip takes you around a lake and back to town. The convenient start and end point means you can grab breakfast at Butte Bagels, start your ride from nearby Whiterock Avenue, and then brake for a beer at The Eldo or a slice at Secret Stash later on — all in one fell swoop (well, loop).

Lupine Trail | Mountain biking

Photo: Gunnison Crested Butte

Crested Butte is famous for its meadow-ringed trails, and this route (in season) is a perfect example. It’s fairly easygoing, totaling 7 miles from the trailhead or a bit longer from your doorstep, the perfect length for a shorter morning or afternoon tour. There’s no parking at the east end of the trail, where you’ll want to start your ride, so plan to make a loop from town — head up the rec path, west over to Lupine 1 and 2, and then back via Slate River Road or Lower Loop. Expect magnificent views of flowers as you climb and descend about 900 feet.

Kebler Pass | Gravel biking

This 30-mile gravel route connects Crested Butte and the town of Paonia. It’s less rugged and lower in elevation than some of the other famous dirt routes in the region. Kebler Pass is also a great place to see the aspens change color in the fall, and it can be fat-biked in winter.

401 Trail | Mountain biking

Photo: Gunnison Crested Butte

This classic 14-mile mountain bike loop starts just outside of town, whisking you to incredible views, summer wildflowers, tight singletrack, and a 1,500-foot descent to round things off. If you only have time for one trail in Crested Butte, make it this one. You won’t find a better floral show in the valley — expect brilliant yellow mule’s ear blooms in the first half of summer and blankets of purple fireweed later on.

Pearl Pass | Gravel biking

Where it all started: the classic spartan route to Aspen. First, ride to the 12,710-foot pass and back, a climb of more than 3,000 feet. Then head over the top to nearby Ashcroft or join the weekend Pearl Pass Tour in September to ride the full 38 miles (and more on Sunday). Wider tires are recommended; though this is a dirt road, it’s very rocky and demanding.

Reno-Flag-Bear-Deadman’s Gulch | Mountain biking

A rollercoaster of a ride, this three-climb linkup loop (19 miles all told) offers the toughest ascent in town and some ripping downhills. Note that segments of the trail can get rutted from dirt-bike use, but you’ll love riding it regardless.


Photo: Gunnison Crested Butte

Hilly, rocky Gunnison is an epicenter of staggering views, thanks to the encompassing public lands and the soaring Collegiate, Sawatch, San Juan, and West Elk ranges farther afield. For gravel riders, one benefit of basing here is that you can build your own adventure tour on hundreds of miles of national forest trails that connect Gunnison to the historic towns of Tincup, Pitkin, and Ohio City. For lodging, try locally owned inns like the golf-oriented Gunnison Inn at Dos Rios and The Inn at Tomichi Village, overnight at the Mesa Campground, or get a cheap bunk at The Wanderlust Hostel. You won’t find a huge party scene in Gunnison, but many of the half-dozen eateries at the center of town celebrate its bike culture with cheeky, trail-named menu items. Together with local-roast coffee shops like Tributary and Double Shot — where, conveniently, you can also get your bike serviced — you’re bound to stay fueled and ready to ride.

Frontside Loop | Mountain biking

Located just outside of town, Hartman Rocks offers endless riding, with 45 miles of technical singletrack. The 12-mile Frontside Loop gives a more intermediate introduction to the region. One major highlight is Rattlesnake, a cross-country ride that’ll have you winding through Gunnison’s characteristic sagebrush and tracing a rollicking granite ridge while admiring peak views (literally). If you feel competitive, come for the Original Growler race over Memorial Day weekend and choose between a 20-, 32-, and 40-mile ride.

Hartman Rocks | Gravel biking

Beyond its mountain biking trails, Hartman Rocks is a 14,000-acre Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcel that’s chock-full of dirt roads for gravel enthusiasts, plus lots of dispersed camping options for those looking for an overnight. It’s basically a choose your own adventure when it comes to gravel biking.

Signal Peak | Mountain biking

Photo: Gunnison Crested Butte

East of Gunnison, the Signal Peak trail system has upwards of a dozen cross-country routes that showcase the area’s rolling hills. Locals love the 1.6-mile fast and curvy Chicken Wing descent, which is pleasantly rideable for cyclists of all levels. To make a loop out of it, take Contour to Rasta Gulch and then Ridgeline — you’ll be rewarded with grand views of the Sawatch and San Juan ranges at the top before zipping down Chicken Wing.

Maggie Pass | Gravel biking

Just outside of Gunnison, this 37-mile loop is a full-day gravel adventure, but it never gets too technical. There are also opportunities to shorten or lengthen your ride here, depending on your legs and appetite for challenge.

Doctor Park | Mountain biking

Photo: Gunnison Crested Butte

Can’t decide between Gunnison and Crested Butte? Doctor Park splits the difference, located between the two towns in Taylor Canyon. Expect a grind of a climb and a fast, flowy downhill on this 20-mile expert loop. Bonus points if you come during fall to admire the aspens (and rip through a large grove when you get to Jedi Woods). This area is no stranger to gravel riders either, with some excellent options around Almont, Taylor Park, Taylor Reservoir, and Spring Creek Road. Spend a couple of nights at Campfire Ranch if you’re not ready to leave Taylor Canyon after just one ride.

Gunni Grinder | Gravel biking

If you’re curious to see how your skills and endurance stack up against other riders, the Gunni Grinder is a gravel bike race that takes place in September. Starting and ending in downtown Gunnison, the full loop spans a whopping 120 miles, but there are 30- and 60-mile out-and-back options as well. Yes, it’s as intense as it sounds.

Across Gunnison and Crested Butte, riders are spoiled for choice: mountain trails or gravel routes, epic ascents or meandering flow trails, personal bests or proper competitions. But deciding to make Gunnison and Crested Butte your next biking destination? That’s a no-brainer.