North Routt Ramble
57 Mi.(92 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Jody is a long-time resident of Steamboat Springs, Colorado and is most at home in the mountains. Jody enjoys poring over maps, planning trips, and taking in the adventure with new and old friends. Find more of Jody’s photos on instagram @jodylmcgee.
The North Routt Ramble takes you along the sides of Hahns Peak, Nipple Peak, Bears Ears Peak, and Sand Mountain, four of the most recognizable peaks in the Elkhead Mountains. It offers a fun mix of singletrack, doubletrack, and dirt roads. The Elkhead Mountains are fairly sedate by Colorado standards, with none of the peaks in the range exceeding 11,000 feet, but don’t think you won’t get a good taste of climbing with this ride. Even though the elevation is lower than many classic Colorado routes, you’ll climb up over 9,000 feet on challenging trails and roads on each of the four peak sections. The Hahns Peak and Nipple Peak sections include singletrack riding on Prospector, a multi-use trail that tops out with a beautiful view of Columbus Mountain and the Brush Mountains in the distance. The descent from here is the most technical part of the route with some steep, rocky, and rooty sections.
The North Routt Ramble then joins the GDMBR for a few miles and passes by Brush Mountain Lodge, a haven for bikepackers. Spend the first night there or at least stop in for a beer, pizza, and chat with fellow cyclists. If you plan to ride on, be wary of the vortex as the lodge is known to draw you in and keep you longer than planned! Next up is a section of Bears Ears Trail #1144, a seldom ridden doubletrack trail in a remote part of the county. Enjoy the solitude, minor technical sections, and punchy climbs as you make your way through Sawtooth, Grizzly, and Adams Parks before returning to the GDMBR and the climb up Sand Mountain. At the top of the Sand Mountain climb you reach the high point of the route. The ensuing descent has been cursed by many GDMBR riders as horrible, jarring, and bone shaking. Hang on and don’t forget to take in the views! It’s really not so bad.
The route has an overall difficulty rating of 6/10. Technical difficulty: 6; Physical demand: 7; Logistics: 5. While not overly technical, the trails and roads are rocky, rooty, and sometimes steep and loose in places. Given the remote nature of the western half of the ride, confidence in backcountry riding and intermediate mountain biking skills are helpful. Expect some steep uphills and short hike-a-bikes in each section.
Route Development: The route was created with three goals in mind: make a loop, ride singletrack/trail, and visit Brush Mountain Lodge. Friends John Saunders, Kirsten Alder, and Cindi Hillemeyer helped with route development and mapping and shared photos for the route.
- Riding through varied alpine terrain—aspen groves, pine forests, high meadows, and parks
- Sweeping views of the peaks where you’ve been and where you’re going
- Wildflowers in July and August and fall colors in September
- A stop at the iconic Brush Mountain Lodge
- Abundant wildlife—this area is home to deer, elk, moose, eagles, coyotes, bears, and mountain lions
- Climbing Sand Mountain
- Land Acklowledgement: The North Routt Ramble travels on the unceded traditional territory of the Eastern Shoshone and Ute Nation. Take some time to learn about and respect their people.
- When to ride: The route is rideable from mid to late June, depending on the snow year, through September
- Ideal Bike: A plus hardtail is probably the ideal bike but any mountain bike will do for this ride.
- Where to park: The Steamboat Lake State Park Visitor Center marks the start/end of the ride. The park is approximately 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs. There is a fee for parking at the Visitor Center.
- Bring cash. Tent camping, food, and beverage at Brush Mountain is on a donation basis. Keep track of what you eat and drink and donate appropriately.
- Bring proper mountain weather clothing as conditions and temperatures can change quickly.
- Hunting season brings heavy use to the trails. If riding after Labor Day, use extreme caution. Check the hunting seasons and wear high visibility clothing.
- Check local fire restrictions before heading out on the ride.
- Trails are open to motorized traffic after July 1st each year. Prospector allows dirt bikes and Bears Ears allows ATVs. If riding before July 1st, expect some downed trees. The moto crowd does a lot of the trail clearing in these areas.
- Sheep dogs may be encountered on the route. Move slowly through the flock, consider dismounting, and talk to the dogs if they approach.
- Dispersed camping opportunities abound as most of the route is on public lands.
- Brush Mountain Lodge has cabins, lodge rooms, and tent spaces available and is a great first night stop. The lodge is typically open to cyclists from Memorial Day to Labor Day, after which it becomes a hunting lodge.
- Water is available from small creeks along the route. Carry a water filter as this is sheep and cattle country.
- Carry all of your food for the trail. Aside from Brush Mountain there are no resupply options on the route.
- Food and water may be available at Brush Mountain Lodge depending on when you ride. Kirsten makes an amazing breakfast!
- A stop at the Clark store for ice cream on the deck is a must at the end of your ride. Additionally, there are two restaurants in Hahns Peak Village near the start/end of the ride.
The ride starts on an easy trail that passes along the edge of historic Hahns Peak Village before joining Deep Creek Road. You’ll pass through a few gates before reaching the road. Please close them after you pass through. The road starts with a gentle climb before some steep, rocky sections that may require pushing. At the top of the climb, pick up Prospector Trail for a fun descent back down to Hwy 129. As an alternate, you can ride up Hwy 129 from the start to the turnoff for Hahns Peak Lake Campground to bypass this section entirely.
This section of Prospector forms the southern edge of a trail system that circumnavigates Nipple Peak. This singletrack trail is a challenge to climb for bikepackers. You’ll encounter steep, rocky sections that require pushing. The trail allows dirt bikes after July 1st and, depending on recent rains, expect some moon dust. You can bypass the first four miles of trail by following the road past Hahns Peak Lake Campground until it intersects the trail. After the trail crosses the road, it starts a steep climb before cresting on a saddle at around 9,400 feet. The descent into Slater Park is steep and somewhat technical. Once you reach the road in Slater Park, it’s a little over nine miles of rolling improved road to Brush Mountain Lodge. This is the only significant section of private land on the route. You’ll ride back onto public lands approximately one mile after passing the lodge. The road through Slater Park can be impassable following a significant storm. A summer solstice storm in 2019 caused the TDR armistice at Brush Mountain Lodge.
Bears Ears Peaks
From Brush Mountain Lodge, begin climbing towards Bears Ears on a dirt road. The road is sometimes steep but always rideable. There are several spots you can access a small creek for water and camping opportunities abound. After climbing for approximately 3.5 miles, turn onto the Bears Ears Trail (#1144). This is a doubletrack/ATV trail that sees little use in the summer months. The climbs in here are punchy and short but mostly rideable. You’ll probably push on a few of them.
Join the GDMBR for the climb over Sand Mountain. The climb starts gently on an improved road. There are several nice campsites along the road. After refilling your water when you cross Slater Creek once again, start a steep, sometimes rocky, and sometimes loose climb. Expect to hike-a-bike some of this. The descent down to Steamboat Lake is very rocky in spots with challenging babyhead rocks.
Note on parking: Many don’t want to pay for parking, which is understandable. We chose the state park visitor center for ease of access and to finish with the easy ride along the edge of the lake. There are dispersed camping sites in many places along the ride where you could leave a car if you want to start/finish from a different location.
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