Colorado 14ers Loop
285 Mi.(459 KM)
% Rideable (time)
with Bikepacking Roots
The mountains of central Colorado are home to the highest concentration of 14,000-foot peaks in Lower 48. And some of them are somewhat rideable and open to bikes, although few riders ever tackle such challenging terrain. This loop connects routes up 7 of these 14ers with another ~200 miles of beautiful, singletrack-rich riding between Salida and Leadville. So choose your adventure – an enjoyable 4+ day loop, throw in a 14er adventure or two, or try and tackle all 7 for a truly exhausting endeavor.
The recommended beginning and ending point for this route is the small town of Salida, a hub for any and all forms of mountain recreation. From Salida, the route climbs west to join the Colorado Trail, and the flowy singletrack winds its way north along the flanks of the Collegiate Peaks to the towns of Buena Vista and Leadville. Four of the 14er options sit just west of this section of the Colorado Trail – Mounts Shavano, Antero, Huron, and Elbert (Colorado’s highest peak). Each of these peaks requires a steep 4,000-foot climb with hike-a-bike, to reach the summit and some top-notch technical skills for the descent back down.
From Leadville, the steep climb up Mosquito Pass leads to the tiny town of Alma and the next two and most rideable 14ers, Mounts Cameron and Lincoln. The route then heads south on bike path and dirt roads, past Mount Sherman, the last of the 14ers, eventually reaching primitive singletrack below the eastern slopes of Buffalo Peaks. A few dozen miles of quiet forest roads leads to a final 2,000-foot singletrack descent that leads directly to downtown Salida, closing the loop with an exclamation point.
Difficulty: This route is one of the most difficult in our database and receives the highest rating for both physical and technical difficulty. It is punctuated with numerous steep climbs requiring bike-pushing and/or carrying. The riding is very challenging with frequent large obstacles, exposure, and very steep grades, making it suitable only for advanced mountain bikers. Note that you can do the route without taking in the optional 14ers. This results in a 192 mile route with a difficulty rating of 6.
- Flowy, mostly-rideable Colorado Trail singletrack between Salida and Leadville
- Towering 14ers standing high above the scenic Arkansas River Valley
- Access to 7 of the 8 semi-rideable 14ers that are bike-legal; riding these is some of themost stunning, memorable, and difficult mountain riding in the West
- Cheery mountain towns – Buena Vista, Leadville, Alma, and Salida
- Rugged mine roads into the alpine at 13,000-foot Mosquito Pass
- Primitive backcountry singletrack with big views into South Park
- Classic Salida singletrack descending right to downtown
- Glowing aspen groves if ridden in September
- Ideal time of year: For the base loop without including the 14ers, mid-July to mid- September are the ideal time of year. Following particularly snowy winters, the climb over Mosquito Pass (13,000’ at the top) may still be snowy through mid-July. If attempting to tackle 14ers along the way, mid-August to mid-September is the narrow window in between sufficient snow melting off the peaks and the first snowfalls of the next winter.
- Safety concerns: Be particularly wary of afternoon thunderstorms. These convective storms often are quite electric, and lightning strikes are very common, and fatalities due to lightning strikes can happen. Take this risk very seriously. Plan to be down below treeline by noon at the latest on days when storms are building.
- Summiting the 14ers: For each of the 14ers along this loop, bags/bikes can be stashed in the woods, and the peaks can be hiked/ridden unloaded. But if taking your bike along to the summit, plan to hiking up most, if not all, of each peak (roughly 4,000 vertical feet). These are steep, rugged, rocky trails created by and for foot travel. Descending these trails on bike requires advanced skills, and given the relatively remote nature of these peaks, don’t use the trails to push your limits and test your skills – exercise caution and restraint. Long-travel full suspension bikes, dropper posts, and pads are strongly recommended.
- Bike access on the 14ers: Riding the 14ers along this loop is a fringe activity that, as of the summer of 2016, was permitted by the US Forest Service on all the peaks included on this route. Continued access by mountain bike is tenuous, so it is of paramount importance that mountain bikers exercise the utmost respect and kindness toward hikers and horse riders on these trails, and practice conscious mountain Leave No Trace skills.
- Bike shops: Salida (Absolute Bikes, Sub-Culture Cyclery, and Salida Bike Company), Buena Vista (Boneshaker Cycles), and Leadville (Cycles of Life).
- Bikepacking challenges: High elevation, timing weather windows between storms, hike-a-bike Longest stretch between resupply (miles/days): 80 miles/2+ days without the 14ers; 90 miles/3+ days with the 14ers
- Longest stretch between water sources (miles/days): 30
- Recommended bike type: Mountain bike (long-travel full suspension for the 14ers)
Recommended printed topographic maps:
- Salida-Buena Vista Colorado Trails (Latitude 40 Maps)
- Summit County Colorado Trails (Latitude 40 Maps)
Please visit BikepackingRoots.org to download the complete guide for this route and to check for any route alerts or updates.
This route and associated information is just a starting point for your preparation, and your safety is your responsibility. Although this route, its GPS track, and route data were prepared after extensive research, their accuracy and reliability are not guaranteed. Check for current conditions, route updates, use your common sense, obey local laws and rules, and travel with alternative means of navigation. Bikepacking Roots, its directors, employees, and volunteers will in no way be responsible for personal injury or damage to personal property arising in conjunction with using this route. If you do encounter changed conditions or inaccuracies.
- Lodging options: Salida, Mount Princeton Hot Springs, Buena Vista, Twin Lakes, Leadville, and Fairplay (3 miles off route).
- Camping is possible along most of segment 1 (see Trail Notes) aside from the ~10 miles west of Salida, the ~10 miles north of Buena Vista, and the ~6 miles west of Leadville.
- Camping is possible along most of segment 2 (see Trail Notes) aside from the ~3 miles east of Leadville, the ~10 miles south of Alma, and numerous other short sections.
- Water availability: Water is relatively abundant along this route, but it should all be treated or filtered appropriately. Do not drink the water in the drainage above Leadville due to heavy metal contamination. The longest stretch without water is final 30 miles of the route (when riding the loop clockwise) which has little, if any, surface water in the late summer.
- Resupply options: Salida, Mount Princeton Hot Springs, Buena Vista, Twin Lakes, Leadville, Alma, and Fairplay (3 miles off route)
Segment 1: Salida to Leadville (western side of loop)
Segment length: 97/156 miles without/with the 14ers
Total climbing: 12,600/30,500 feet without/with the 14ers
Recommended number of days: 2+/5+ without/with the 14ers
With Salida at your back, pavement and dirt roads lead to the base of the towering peaks to the west, specifically Mt. Shavano. Colorado Trail singletrack picks up where the road ends and heads north toward Buena Vista. The trail is windy, flowing, and traverses the eastern flank of the Collegiate Peaks without any prolonged climbs. Stream crossings and aspen groves are frequent, good camping spots are abundant, and other trail users tend to be very friendly.
The first of the semi-rideable 14ers along the route is Mt. Shavano, the toughest of them all. The trail up climbs 4,300-foot climb in under 3 miles, and the descent is relentless incredibly technical riding. The next 14er north is Mount Antero, and the route up is far more gradual, but still quite steep at times. The route up following a mixture of singletrack and mine roads, and the most enjoyable trail down is entirely swoopy singletrack.
From above Buena Vista, the route leaves the Colorado Trail and takes the most direct dirt route to town. Eat up and resupply before heading north on a quiet dirt road along the Arkansas River. You’ll rejoin the Colorado Trail at Clear Creek Reservoir and follow it north to Twin Lakes. Beyond Twin Lakes, the Colorado Trail gets a bit more rugged, before a few miles of dirt road and pavement delivers you to the high-elevation town of Leadville.
Along the stretch of trail between Buena Vista and Leadville, the options for Mounts Huron and Elbert strike off to the west. Mt. Huron offers a steep, rocky ascent at the end of a long dirt road. Mt. Elbert, the tallest in Colorado, sits just off the Colorado Trail, and the trail offers some of the most breathtaking riding of any of the 14ers on this route. But beware of all the other trail users on this popular peak.
Segment 2: Leadville to Salida (eastern side of loop)
Segment length: 95/129 miles without/with the 14ers
Total climbing: 11,400/19,000 without/with the 14ers
Recommended number of days: 2+/4+ days without/with the 14ers
After following the popular Colorado Trail to Leadville, the route begins to loop back south through country that sees far fewer bikepackers. The toughest, tallest climb on the main loop gains Mosquito Pass through the heart of the still-active Leadville Mining District on steep, loose mining roads. On the east side of the pass sits the much smaller town of Alma and access to Mounts Cameron and Lincoln to the north. Beyond Alma, the route descends gradually on paved bike path toward Fairplay before turning south through rural neighborhoods and 4×4 roads to Fourmile Creek. To the west sits Mt. Sherman, the final 14er on this loop.
Mounts Cameron and Lincoln can be ridden from Alma as a loop, best done clockwise. Most of this loop follows rough mine roads that top out at nearly 14,000 feet. From there, gaining the summit of Cameron is just a short jaunt off the main ridge. Summiting Mt. Lincoln requires a bit of scrambly hike-a-bike, but the huge views are well worth the effort. The descent off Lincoln is steep, and loose to start, but after a few hundred feet, you’ll join another mine road and descend that all the way back down to the main valley far below. Mt. Sherman sits at the end of a graded dirt road, and it is easily rideable up to nearly 13,000 feet. From there, the trail to the summit is almost entirely on scree and talus, making for nearly continuous hiking up and rather treacherous riding down.
South of the Fourmile Creek Road, the main loop follows a series of 4×4 tracks, a bit of quad trail, passes through one last rural neighborhood, and then joins a series of primitive backcountry trails. The seldom-traveled Sheep Creek, Tumble Creek, and Salt Creek trails are all quite rideable, water is relatively abundant, and the views looking east into South Park are unparalleled.
The 40 miles of the route is primarily dirt road descending from Buffalo Peaks and then traversing the rugged landscape to the south before joining singletrack for the final long descent into Salida. The dirt roads first pass through Chubb Park, an area to avoid if wet due to the clay- rich roadbeds. After crossing Highway 285 and the final reliable water source on the route, the graded road climbs intermittently and becomes rougher. The high point on the road is Aspen Ridge, and from there, the route begins the up-and-down descent toward Salida. The final section of the route follows ~10 miles of singletrack right to downtown. This 2,000-foot descent (with a fair bit of climbing along the way) wraps up with the infamous Cottonwood Trail, sure to put a smile on your face as you roll back into town.