Fall Colors by Mountain Bike

Taking the local color tour on two wheels, and well away from the crowds
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Oct 5, 2014 | By Whitney James

There are a few different ways to experience changing fall colors. You could jump in the car, mittens and pumpkin spice latte handy, and snap photos with the rest of the soft-core-adventurers. Or, you could jump in the car with your full suspension mountain bike, pumpkin beer, and full stoke and head for the trails. Chances are if you’re reading this post, you prefer the latter.  

The mountain towns of Colorado are popular destinations for leaf-seekers, with the majority landing right on top of appropriately named Aspen. But while one side of Independence Pass crawls with tourists, the other side is relatively empty, even during peak weekends. It’s also where one of the most beautiful sections of the Colorado Trail intersects, winding down to Twin Lakes beneath the surroundings, and if you’re lucky, snowcapped peaks, including 14,439-foot Mt. Elbert. 

Depending on your level of dedication to fall colors (and your work schedule and the size of your quads) you can either ride from Twin Lakes the roughly 97 miles to Kenosha Pass on the Colorado Trail, or link them by car. Last fall, a friend and I shuttled the two. We jumped on the trail at South Elbert trailhead. 1,900 feet of elevation gain and 14.6 miles awaited us through perfectly crunchy leaves and dreamy, if not steep, singletrack. An out-and-back because we weren’t connecting the two, we turned our bikes downhill to reap the rewards of the climb and enjoy those beers. If only it had been a month earlier and a bit warmer, we’d have dove straight into Twin Lakes where we left the truck. 

With one trail under our padded bike shorts, we hit the perfectly positioned Kenosha Pass to Lost Creek Wilderness portion of the Colorado Trail. Although the first half of this 13.6-mile section was slightly more populated, soon the tourists thinned as we pedaled through the golden groves on an increasing grade. Eventually, our legs carried us to singletrack above the aspens. Tremendous views of South Park opened up, as well as a view of the incoming snowstorm. Deciding to outrace the weather, we once again returned to the car, legs burning and hearts full of singletrack stoke. We wished we’d had time for more. 

For trail details including the best spots for fall riding, I recommend Dan Hickstein’s Mountain Biker’s Guide to Colorado. 

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