Back in the saddle Part 3: Best Routt County routes for cyclists
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There are many resources for finding new places to ride, but sometimes, it can be an overwhelming amount of information. The Steamboat Trail Guide covers a ton of ground, Routt County Riders is an excellent resource, the city has an interactive trail map, and there is a trail conditions group on Facebook.
Whether a cyclist is new to the area or tired of riding on the same old loops, there’s no better place to get ideas from than locals who have been riding around Routt County for years.
In a small, rural community like Steamboat, there is no shortage of gravel roads. The tricky part is finding the perfect loop to suit distance and altitude preferences. Professional cyclist and Steamboat resident Amy Charity said one of her go-to rides is what locals know as the Emerald Loop. The ride uses Routt County Roads 14, 41, 43 and 33 to circumnavigate Emerald Mountain.
As the temperature and weather improves, Charity opts for rides a little farther away.
“Later in the summer, anything where you head up north to Steamboat Lake is great — just the view of Hahns Peak,” she said. “The gravel roads up north are beautiful. That would be my go-to as it starts to get green and the wildflowers come out.”
Steve Williams, of Routt County Riders, said he refers to thedirtyroads.com/rides to find his routes. The site lists more than 40 rides in Northwest Colorado ranging from 17 to 117 miles. Each includes a map, mileage and elevation.
As a South Routt resident, Williams frequently rides around the Flat Tops and around Stagecoach State Park. His favorite rides closer to Steamboat utilize roads along the Moots Ranch Rally course.
As more cyclists take to the roads, it’s important to remember what those in control of the cars and bikes are required to do to keep each other safe. Most of the time, bikes are not allowed on sidewalks and are expected to move with the flow of traffic and not against it. A full list of rules can be found at bicyclecolorado.org.
While on a bike
- Obey all traffic laws, signs and signals
- Ride on the shoulder or right side of the road unless: you feel the shoulder is unsafe, you’re preparing to turn left, or are overtaking a slow vehicle
- May ride side by side if not impedeing traffic, otherwise, ride single file
- Yield to pedestrians
While in a car
- It is Colorado law to pass with at least 3 feet of clearance
- You may cross a double yellow to pass a cyclist when oncoming traffic is clear
If a person in a motor vehicle behaves dangerously, dial *277 to reach Colorado State Patrol.
“That’s a great route,” Williams said. “All the routes that Steamboat Gravel (SBT GRVL) uses, and the Tour de Steamboat has two great routes that have a lot of gravel on them. Those are great sources.”
Trail maps for those races can be found on their respective websites.
The Tour de Steamboat routes are a great place to start to find scenic and not too challenging road routes. The 44-mile Oak Creek loop features 1,800 feet of climbing.
Road riders love to hate the three sisters on Twenty Mile Road — three hills that increase in size when going southbound between C.R. 33 and Oak Creek.
Of course, the true challenge stares Steamboat right in the eye: Rabbit Ears Pass. Cyclists climb the pass in opening miles of a gravel gruel route that debuted in the 2019 Tour de Steamboat, but it could be a workout within itself. From Haymaker to the West Summit, cyclists will climb 2,500 feet in less than 10 miles.
Some of the best spring mountain biking around is located right downtown on Emerald Mountain. As of Friday, May 29, all the trails on Emerald are open, according to the city’s interactive trail map. The Beall, Ridge and Rotary trails on the backside of Emerald, run by the Bureau of Land Management, are busy multiuse trails as well.
“In the spring, I really do love the variety of trails that Emerald offers to us,” said Routt County Riders Executive Director Laraine Martin. “It’s quite obvious from seeing all the cars lined up at the Ridge trailhead the last couple weekends that it’s no secret. I think just planning, for me, going out for a Ridge-Rotary lap in the middle of the day on a weekday where I’m not going to necessarily see as many people, that’s where it’s at.”
Steamboat Bike Park remains closed, along with all trails below Christie Peak, but there are a few trails accessible from the Thunderhead Express parking lot. Riders should keep in mind there are no facilities or patrols, so they are riding at their own risk and should take caution.
Once the snow melts from higher elevations, that opens up a whole new world of mountain biking. Dry Lake on Buffalo Pass is an often packed trailhead with access to scenic trails with views of Steamboat. There is a seasonal elk calving closure that remains in effect until June 15 though, affecting three popular trails: BTR, Flash of Gold and Great White Buffalo.
“The new GEM Trail is glorious up near Summit Lake,” Martin said. “And the upper reaches of Flash of Gold, that’s really special to this area.”
According to the Routt County Trail Conditions Facebook page, the Spring Creek and Spring Creek downhill trails are both clear of snow and have been seeing more and more action with the warm weather this week.
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