I finally experienced the 401, which is short for the 401 Trail Loop mountain bike trail in Crested Butte, Colorado. If you like mountain biking or have ever been to Crested Butte, you have probably heard about the 401. Phrases like “epic” and “Alps-like views you didn't know existed in the States” come to mind. And knee-high wildflowers glowing like a mind-tweaking kaleidoscope. All within a short, gnarly little drive north of town.
The 401 is whispered about. Overheard in parking lots of mountain bike trailheads far and wide. And in our case, laughed about until our bellies ached. "You've never done the 401? Seriously?" On a recent camping trip to Crested Butte, it became our inside joke. Everything began to relate to the 401. We considered T-shirts.
All jokes aside, I'm here to confirm, the 401 is still there, still stunning, and still just one shining moment when it comes to impressive mountain bike trails in Crested Butte. It's a town so tied to big-tire biking history it would be a tragedy not to sample the goods in the woods.
In addition to classic rides like the 401 and Snodgrass (check seasonal closing for cattle grazing), there are plenty of options closer to town, as well as expanded and linked networks of trails that afford everything from a short sample of the "Butte’s" claim to fame to an all-out, all-day CamelBak-draining cross-country tour.
There's a beginner and family-friendly pump track east of downtown town; a paved "rec trail" linking the quaint downtown to Mount Crested Butte, where the ski area resides; dirt double- and single-track trails accessible right from main street; crusty climbs you've got to know a local to find; lovely rolling, "pedally" loops; and massive multi-trail excursions that will undoubtedly garner a fat spot in your bike history book.
One more recent development is the Lupine (pronounced Lupin) Trail, with two 1.8-mile sections that you can catch right from town, following the rec path north to a trailhead off Gothic Road, partway to the ski hill, hitting two sweet singletrack slices and returning to town across Slate Road via the mellow Lower Loop. The Lupine Trail offers folks on rental bikes a more rolling introduction to mountain biking, says Tim Kugler, a bike mechanic at The Alpineer and Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association board member.
For more advanced riders looking for newer backcountry stashes outside of town, the Cement Creek area, south of town, is coming around. The Reno/Flag/Bear expert loop is a classic, as is the 409, which got a facelift last year, and Teocalli Ridge won’t disappoint. Baxter's Gulch, another area south of town, is in the midst of a multi-year expansion project, with crews cutting new track up to the Forest Service boundary this summer. The goal here, says Kugler, is to eventually tie this emerging area to Colorado mountain bike legend Dave Wiens’ dream of a singletrack trail from Crested Butte to the town of Gunnison, Colorado, a another mountain bike mecca. You'll have to wait a bit on that one.
The real beauty of Crested Butte mountain biking is it's endless. It would be hard to exhaust the permutations of mountain biking tracks here. I know. My husband has tried. Each year his bike buddies from around the country fly in for another round of adventures in the Butte, with no year the same as last.
This summer his disparate crew, some with hearty mountain legs, others pushing pedals with sea-level lungs, all found something to smile about. The adventurous explore from dawn to dusk, unable to give up the quest for what's around the next switchback; another satisfies a need for speed, taking a ski chairlift up, then flying though aspen groves down; while still others take in the scenery and stage a few trail-side selfies, finishing the day with a cold beer and slice of pizza from Crested Butte’s funky post-ride spot, The Secret Stash.
For us, Crested Butte will always be our secret stash. A place to play as hard as we want. To discover new trails. To explore to our heart's content. But for now I'm OK sharing the treasure, for all will find a gem that, under the piercingly beautiful Colorado sun, will shine unto them alone.
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