Trail of the Week: Mad Creek/Red Dirt

Mad Creek Trail
Jeff Hall

Trail Ratings: More difficult (Mad Creek)/very difficult (Red Dirt)

Season: Early May through October

Know before you go: With southern exposure and quickly draining granitic soils, the Strawberry Park Hot Springs area trails dry out early and offer the longest riding season of all the trails in town. Mad Creek is popular with hikers and their dogs. Please ride carefully and remember to yield to hikers. Also yield to horses — horse use is high during the early riding and hunting seasons. The Red Dirt Trail has some north-facing slopes and does not melt out as early. Do not ride into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area.

Parking: Ample parking is available about 5 miles up Routt County Road 129 at the Mad Creek trailhead, and another half mile beyond at the Red Dirt trailhead (you can also ride C.R. 129 directly to each trailhead). Another option: Ride the Strawberry Park Hot Springs Road (Routt County Road 36) to the Hot Springs trail. Ride this trail down to C.R. 129 and then turn right and go 0.25 miles to the trailhead.

Expect some climbing on Mad Creek, but a great downhill on Red Dirt. Bonus: Cool off with a dunk in Mad Creek by the bridge!

Mad Creek/Red Dirt Loop: This loop climbs from the Mad Creek parking area up to the historic barn. Look for the Swamp Park trailhead sign on your left. Climb through aspen and lodgepole forests before descending the steep and technical Red Dirt trail. A short spin along the road returns riders to the trailhead.

These trails all link up essentially at the Mad Creek Barn, where you have three options: Ride Trail No. 1140 (Saddle Trail) north to the Red Dirt Trail; continue on Trail No. 1100 (Swamp Park) to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area boundary and then back down (do not enter the wilderness); cross Mad Creek onto U.S. Forest Road No. 128 (Mad House) to the south, to either the Hot Springs Trail or the Mad Creek trailhead parking lot. You’ll likely encounter other trail users so ride under control. The long locals’ ride starts in town, rides out Strawberry Park Road to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, down the Hot Springs Trail, up Mad Creek, down Red Dirt, then back up Hot Springs (for a post-ride soak) and finally back into town. 

Note: There is a mandatory winter closure for trail and parking lot Dec. 1 through April 15 to protect winter range habitat.

To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email

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