Adventure of the Week: A beginner’s guide to biking Steamboat
Steamboat Springs — I am not a professional mountain biker. The numerous scrapes, bruises and trips to the bike shop can attest to this. I’ll be headed there Friday to fix yet another flat tire.
I am not here to give you expert advice on how to ride or take care of your bike — I know little about either. I still don’t understand what a derailleur is.
I am, however, going to tell you what I’ve learned about biking in Steamboat Springs since I moved here from Kansas last month. First, having actual mountains to ride on makes everything a lot more difficult. My legs currently hate me.
Second, there are bears in Colorado, and I met two of them on one of my first bike rides. Don’t worry, I still have all of my limbs, but finding yourself sandwiched between two adult black bears on a bike path wasn’t how I envisioned my first bear encounter. Thankfully, no cubs were around, and the bears let me off with a warning.
Third, Steamboat Springs more than lives up to its summer name — Bike Town USA — because of its numerous bike trails. And I mean a lot of bike trails. Like, so many I didn’t even know where to start.
Being new to town, new to biking, or simply on vacation, it can be a little bit intimidating at first when trying to figure out where to ride. But don’t fret, because there are options for all levels, if you know where to look.
“It’s really an intermediate hotbed. We don’t have great beginner trails, and we don’t have great expert trails,” Brock Webster, owner of Orange Peel Bicycle Services in Steamboat, told me earlier this week about the town’s trail systems. “It’s kind of like our skiing. We are a family resort. Our skiing is very mellow. It’s why it’s popular.”
Eric Meyer, president of Routt County Riders, had a similar view of Steamboat’s trails when we spoke a few days ago. In short, nothing is too difficult, technically speaking, but because many trails have steep inclines to start, they can scare off beginning bikers.
Case in point, my trip down the Mad Creek Trail earlier this week. Located about five minutes outside of Steamboat up Routt County Road 129, this is a beautiful trail up the side of a mountain to a meadow with a historic barn, and paths leading off from there as far as you’re willing to go. It’s great, except for the first mile from the parking lot. I spent that stretch mostly pushing my bike over the rocks as I tried to suck in the little bit of oxygen I could find.
“You might have to walk up a couple of the first pitches, but once you get up a little ways, most of the trails are relatively smooth and relatively low grade,” Meyer said, talking about the majority of Steamboat’s trails. “It’s more a lungs and legs situation for a beginner. We can definitely improve on the lower end stuff and also definitely improve on the technical stuff for the advanced intermediates. But we’ve got the middle covered pretty well.”
If your legs and lungs are better than mine — and they probably are — you’ll have no limit to the trails at your disposal. But if you’re like me and are just getting your feet wet, here are a few trails even the newest of riders can enjoy, as recommended by area experts.
YAMPA RIVER CORE TRAIL
I mostly included this because it’s difficult to ignore if you spend any time at all in Steamboat. No, it’s not a real mountain bike trail (it’s paved) and it’s often full of people (and dogs), but if you need something easy to get your legs warmed up, it’s great. The trail follows the Yampa River from one of end town to the other, making it not only a great workout, but also a great alternative to driving. And if you’re not adjusted to the altitude, I highly recommend giving it a go before you hit the dirt.
SPRING CREEK TRAIL
I wasn’t excited about this one at all, as it’s considered to be one of the most popular trails in Steamboat and starts near the high school, just off of Third Street downtown. However, after actually giving it a chance, I came away a big fan. Yes, it can be terribly crowded and you’ll often have to step aside to let people pass (or they step aside for you), but it’s worth it. Like many trails in town, this one gets better the farther you go. The first two miles is a nice two-track trail following the idyllic Spring Creek. The fun part begins when you get to the single track, which goes for miles more into the forest and offers plenty of ups and downs, all manageable for the rookie rider.
BLUFFS LOOP ON EMERALD MOUNTAIN
From downtown, Emerald Mountain looks intimidating and more of a challenge than I wanted. Turns out, looks are deceiving. Yes, getting up the first part of most of Emerald’s trails is difficult — I find no shame in walking your bike up these parts — but once you get some elevation, the trails are fairly flat and offer amazing views of town. Bluffs Loop, which starts just behind the Rodeo Arena, next to the horse stables, is a beginner-friendly ride for the entire family. And if you get through that, Emerald Mountain offers plenty of other trails, all with their own flair.
I love this trail for many reasons. One, it takes you out of town a little bit. To reach the trailhead, turn onto 13th Street, next to the Bud Werner Memorial Library, and seven miles later, you’ll turn onto Cow Creek Road (Routt County Road 45) and travel another mile down the dirt road, where you’ll find a pair of parking lots on your left. The trail, which is located on the backside of Emerald Mountain, is a 3.3-mile loop that offers plenty of challenges for experienced riders but is also manageable for beginners. The views of The Sleeping Giant are great, the isolation is zen-like, and the cows — well, yes, there might be a few cows on the trail, but that’s part of it’s charm. It’s definitely worth the short drive.
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