September is the month when deciduous trees in the high mountains go through their annual metamorphosis and blanket the landscape with a patchwork of yellows, reds, and oranges - meaning it's the best month for mountain biking in the area, and not just for the spectacular scenery but also because the intensity of summer has waned making it much more comfortable.
A perfect example of a classic Colorado mountain town, Crested Butte played a pivotal role in creating the entire sport of mountain biking, and with 700 miles of singletrack, including trails for every skill level, there may not be a better place to mountain bike … anywhere. The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, the authority on trails in the area, differentiate trails from rides, the latter being a collection of trails that make for a good day in the saddle.
The Dyke Trail is just 5.5 miles long, but it is one of the more advanced trails in Crested Butte. The quintessential autumn trail, there are tough climbs, at least one tough descent and stream crossings that combine to make a ride that is as tough as it is beautiful. Amazing views of Ruby Peak and Mt. Owen as well as a trail littered with aspens makes this a must-ride trail. If you are only in Crested Butte for one ride during the fall color change, make it the Dyke.
Somewhat easier is the Strand Hill Trail, a Crested Butte classic. Another trail that is perfect for autumn thanks to the aspen forest it passes through, it also contains amazing views of Teocalli Mountain. And if you are after something brand new, the six-mile Baxter Gulch Trail is the newest in the region. For those just starting out, Crested Butte Mountain Resort's Evolution Bike Park has a network of over 30 miles of singletrack trails that include lift-served downhill trails and cross- country rides that connect to some of the legendary rides in and around the area.
The yin to Crested Butte's yang, Gunnison is just 30 miles south of Crested Butte and they're linked by a free bus.
Trails here range from the 1.2-mile Luge Trail, a fast and fun ride that is great for beginners, to the The Hartman Rocks Big Loop, a 30-mile loop with an ascent (and a descent) of 3,514 feet.
This autumn you can join the good people at Gunnison
Trails, the go-to experts on mountain biking in the area, at High Alpine Brewing Company in Gunnison for Ales for Trails, an event that celebrates everyone who participated in maintaining the local trails over the past season.
VAIL, BRECKENRIDGE, AND THE COPPER TRIANGLE
Colorado's other celebrity ski haunt, Vail, has plenty of on-mountain trails that can be conveniently accessed by gondolas as well as plenty more in the Vail Valley's White River National Forest. A short drive east down I-70 you will find hundreds more miles of trails in and around Frisco, Keystone and Breckenridge.
ASPEN AND SNOWMASS
Needing no introduction, one of the top ski areas adds hundreds of beautiful miles to the region's trails.
When it comes to sheer natural beauty, this area is hard to beat. And while the ski resorts here are world famous, there may be basis for a claim that some of the state's finest mountain biking trails are also here.
With just under 300 miles of trails, hardcore riders come from far and wide to tackle the Aspen Snowmass Mega Loop - 60 miles of almost entirely singletrack with a monster 9,000 feet of elevation gain (don't worry you descend for the same amount as you climb).
As with many other ski areas, Snowmass turns many of its ski runs into mountain biking trails for the cycling season. Winding from the top of the Elk Camp Chairlift all the way to Snowmass Base Village, the Snowmass Bike Park offers something for everyone, including the three V trails: Viking, Vapor, and Valhalla.
Sitting immediately west of the 2.2-million-acre Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest in the northwest Rockies, the world-class trails at Steamboat reach into that vast acreage of public land and offer some amazing riding opportunities while being surrounded by aspens, scrub oaks, pines, and rocky terrain.
Although this area has a small selection of difficult trails, there are plenty of easy and intermediate ones, making Steamboat perfect for those just starting out on a mountain bike. The Emerald Mountain Flow Fest Trail is just over 10 miles of 100 percent singletrack that has a gentle ascent followed by a similar descent. And it starts and ends right downtown.
For a more curated experience, Steamboat Bike Park has a 50-mile trail network that includes lift-assisted downhill flow and tech trails. There are also multi-directional trails if you want to make it more of a workout.
And that's really just scraping the surface of high alpine mountain biking. Virtually every mountain town in Colorado offers amazing mountain biking, including Durango (read more on page 38) and Telluride (read more on page 46), both of which are arguably among the best in the state.
Check individual resorts / locations for closing dates and other useful info.