Biking the Colorado Trail is a bucket list adventure for any daring bikepacker willing to take it on.
This 500-mile trail takes you through some of the most breathtaking tracks in the Rocky Mountains, with majestic peaks, glistening streams, and vibrant wildflowers at every turn.
Don’t get it twisted; it’s not all beautiful wildflowers, this is no easy ride!
The Colorado Trail is renowned for its challenging terrain, with steep climbs, rocky descents, hike-a-bike, and unpredictable weather testing even the most experienced riders.
It is a point-to-point route from the small mountain town of Durango to the Mile High City of Denver. You can tackle the Colorado trail from either side, with most riders choosing to depart from Denver.
Proper preparation is crucial for a successful Colorado Trail bike trip.
In this article, we will cover:
- The Colorado Trail: Overview and Background
- Biking The Colorado Trail: Skills Required
- How Long Does The Colorado Trail Bike Ride Take?
- Colorado Trail Cycle: Sleeping Options
- Bikepacking the Colorado Trail: Essential Gear
- Best Time Of Year To Bike The Colorado Trail
Let’s jump into it!
The Colorado Trail: Overview and Background
You don’t currently need any permits to go bikepacking on the Colorado Trail.
However, bikes are not allowed to enter some sections of the trail, so be sure to consult with The Colorado Trail Foundation for the official Colorado Trail mtb route.
There are places to stock up on supplies while en route and plenty of water throughout the ride. For a more detailed look at supply points, check out the FarOut Colorado Trail guide.
And as with any bikepacking trip, remember to Leave No Trace!
From Denver to Durango
- Length: 867 km (539 miles)
- Altitude Gain: 22,098 m (72,500 ft)
Beginning in Waterton Canyon, the Colorado trail will lull you into a false sense of security, offering a gentle gravel road for your first 10 km. Before you know it, the trail will reveal its true colors with 25 km of steep, rocky, and narrow singletrack.
Soon you will cross the Platte River with Raleigh Peak to your left. Be sure to grab a snack at Wellington Lake, as the next stretch is a gorgeous detour through the Lost Creek Wilderness.
Expect singletrack, and lots of it. The Lost Creek Wilderness detour lasts for over 100 km; although you can choose to head along the Highway 285 route, it’s a short but busy option. You will be rewarded with more singletrack after fighting your way up the Kenosha Pass.
One more climb up Georgia Pass before a descent into Breckenridge. If you’ve somehow managed to stay on your bike for the majority of the ride so far, the climb out of Breckenridge will see that streak ending with a demanding hike-a-bike section.
You will soon be riding along a ridge, giving you a full view of the spectacle around you.
Jagged ridges morph into rugged peaks, with deep valleys defining this majestic landscape. The mountains boast a kaleidoscope of colors, with rocky snow-capped peaks, cliffs, and slopes adorned with vibrant wildflowers.
Soon you will be cascading downhill after the Kokomo pass. Soak this descent up; you’ll remember it for a lifetime.
It’s about now when I’ll stress just how much hike-a-bike there may be. Unless you are a highly proficient mountain biker and very confident in your bike handling, you’ll be hopping off your bike during challenging and rock-littered singletrack.
All in all, around 85% of the trail is rideable, although bear in mind the hike-a-bike will feel never-ending. Some hiking sections may be short, although there are several long stretches that’ll test your mental resolve.
In total, walking will likely take up more than 15% of the total time on the trail.
Ensure you are comfortable pushing your fully laden bike.
Up a pass, down a pass, eat, and repeat.
The second half of the trail toward Durango is often touted as being the most challenging. Containing consistent altitude above 3000 m (10,000 ft) and technical rutted tracks. Remember, you signed up for this!
At certain points throughout the Colorado Trail, find yourself riding through towns. Be sure to stock up on some high-calorie goodies. Towns of note are Breckenridge, Leadville, Buena Vista, and Silverton.
It is around now that you’ll get to ride along Indian Ridge, a true highlight of the trip, arguably offering the best views yet.
You’ll be pleased to know that the final 30 km is a spectacular downhill descent toward Durango.
Biking The colorado trail: Skills Required
There are a few specific characteristics you should prepare yourself for when biking the Colorado Trail:
You will be riding at an altitude above 3000 m for hundreds of kilometers. The Colorado Trail is uniquely difficult because of the reduced availability of oxygen in the air.
In order to prevent altitude sickness, give your body time to acclimate before starting the bikepacking trip.
It’s a good excuse to wander through Denver!
Technical singletrack trails
The more confident you are riding on singletrack, the more of this route you’ll be able to ride.
Make sure you have some experience riding singletrack. Otherwise, you may as well bring a hiking bag and boots along with you.
Elevation Gain and Distance
There is over 22,000 m of elevation gain to be conquered during the Colorado Trail, with over 800 km of riding.
Just looking at the numbers makes me wince.
Be sure to get a substantial period of training in. Fatigue in the legs will ensure those climbs force you off the bike.
How Long Does The Colorado Trail Bike Ride Take?
The female fastest known time (FKT) is held by Jeannie Dreyer and currently stands at a blistering 3 days, 19 hours, and 40 minutes. The men’s FKT sits at an astounding 3 days, 19 hours, and 40 minutes, held by Neil Beltchenko.
The likelihood is that you’ll need a little more time than that.
Most riders will aim to tackle this adventure within 7 to 14 days. Both are pretty brutal, and it is for you to decide what you want out of the trip.
colorado Trail Cycle: Sleeping Options
There are two main options when it comes to sleeping arrangements and the Colorado Trail:
- Camping: You are in the wilderness, so have a plethora of choices when it comes to wild camping spots. There are also designated campsites at your disposal. Check The Colorado Trail Databook for designated campsites.
- Hostels/Airbnb: You’ll find plenty of hostels or Airbnb in the towns you pass through. Just be sure to plan ahead; most people are very accommodating to your bikes, but give them a heads up anyway.
Bikepacking the colorado trail: Essential Gear
Here is a brief overview of the type of bikepacking setup you will want to bring:
Gravel bikers beware. You will likely have to upgrade your setup a little for this adventure.
The minimum requirement is a hardtail mountain bike with wide tires. This will help with fitting all your kit onto the bike.
However, a full suspension is likely the optimal bike choice for this route.
Ensure your bike is in good condition; you don’t want to get stuck up on the mountain. Test your setup with a local overnight trip first and get it serviced before you start.
You should also be equipped with:
- At least 2 x spare inner tubes and tire levers
- Multi-tool with chain breaker
- Hand Pump or a CO2 inflator
- Puncture repair kit or tubeless repair kit, or both!
- Bright front and rear lights with substantial battery life
- Saddle bag or panniers
- Handlebar bag
- Frame bag
- 2 x bottles
- Tent, hammock, or bivvy
- Tent poles and pegs
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
Cooking And Water
- Cooking stove and gas bottle
- A cooking pot and utensils
- 2 x Lighters or a box of matches
- Water filters or purification tablets
Temperatures can change quickly at such high altitudes. Be prepared for chilly temperatures at night and hot days.
It’s up to you how many of these items you want to bring, as it will depend on how many days you plan to ride and how much you care about being clean, if that is even possible during this trip.
- Comfortable riding gear, including bib-shorts
- Cycling gloves
- Waterproof jacket
- Leg warmers and arm warmers
- Insulated jacket or vest
- Fleece or wool hat
- Warm socks
- Cycling shoes that you can walk in
- Clothes to change into in the evening
- Cycling glasses
- Emergency first aid kit and personal medication
- Insect repellent, expect mosquitos, especially in the evening
- Bear spray
- Toothbrush and toothpaste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc
- Phone and charging leads
- Official maps, a compass, or a trusty GPS device, even though the Colorado Trail is well signposted
- Swiss-army knife or equivalent
- Portable charging pack
- Cash and card
We also have a self-supported bikepacking kit list to help you prepare for your next adventure.
Best time of year to cycle the Colorado trail
Before summer, the trails will still have snow at higher altitudes; even once the snow is gone, the trails will be wet from the melt.
The earliest you will want to tackle it is early July, although August will, on average, offer up slightly better weather. That said, the trails will be busier in August.
September is still do-able, but the risk of storms is slightly higher.