Updated: Aug 26
It’s no secret that there are a lot more people riding bikes right now. Biking has taken center stage as one of the best and healthiest ways to enjoy the outdoors while maintaining social distancing. As a result, there are many new riders out there in the front range area of Denver, Colorado trying out our mountain biking trails. While I am personally stoked to see this, I also remember how it was for me as a newer mountain biker when I moved here in 2002: our trails can be really difficult!
That’s what gave me the idea to write this article- aimed at those who are trying to get out on their bikes a little more and have some fun, but don’t want to feel destroyed after- or like they walked the entire trail. Making time for rides can be a huge reliever of stress during these times, and it helps with getting used to how your bike handles and feels on different terrain while building your endurance along the way.
I do want to address trail etiquette first and foremost. Long-time mountain bikers are no strangers to the ongoing relationship with other trail users. There have even been a few times of higher tension since I moved here, and trail use advocates are always working hard behind the scenes to protect our trail usage rights. When you show up at a trail that you are allowed to ride, chances are, at some point, there may have been a controversy around MTB trail rights at that very trail. Keep this perspective when out there riding and choose to abide by proper trail etiquette.
In no particular order, some trails to consider for building your mountain biking experience:
1- Ridgeline and Phillip S. Miller in Castle Rock
Trailforks Route here: https://www.trailforks.com/goto/route/6606/
Pros: An excellent trail for starting your mountain bike aerobic endurance fitness journey as there are no long climbs. Also excellent for practicing cornering and rolling over small technical sections scattered sparsely throughout. You can do up to 16 miles if you do the entire loop and you won’t feel beat up after. Tends to be one of the first trails to melt off early season.
Cons: Short punchy climbs tend to take a lot of effort, so pace yourself instead of hammering up each one to conserve energy and be able to enjoy the whole system. Not a lot of trees, very open to the sun.
2- Waterton Canyon Loop (with Colorado Trail Segment 1)
Trailforks Route here: https://www.trailforks.com/ridelog/planner/view/149774/
Pros: Another excellent trail for building aerobic endurance. There’s a long, smooth open road section to start that follows a flowing river. Bighorn sheep can often be seen at some point along the way. If you continue up past the end of the dirt road, you will encounter easily ride-able switchbacks in tree shade. After reaching the top of the climb, opportunities exist on most of the next section to practice your downhill skills with minimal technical terrain. As you continue on the lollipop back towards the road, there is one larger technical section that can be walked easily if needed or practiced if you’re ready.
Cons: The long, flat dirt road can be hot and sometimes there is a headwind. Some people don’t like this section because there are often larger groups of people walking on the road.
3- Buffalo Creek (pretty much any trail loop)
Trailforks route here: https://www.trailforks.com/ridelog/planner/view/147094/
Pros: Honestly, you could ride almost anything out at Buff Creek without feeling too beat up or worked over after. There is ample twisty turning terrain with technical sections ranging from easy to difficult scattered sparsely throughout. Try a loop including Little Scraggy if you’re ready for more consistent technical, yet mostly ride-able terrain (blue & black lines exist). The climbing is what I’d describe as “made for mountain bikes”, so more switchbacks and gradual climbing, versus straight up the side of a mountain.
Cons: Some large areas without shade. I can’t think of any other cons. 😊
4- Green Mountain
Trailforks route here: https://www.trailforks.com/ridelog/planner/view/136335/
Pros: On the route above, the trails were made for mountain biking, so climbs nicely (although there are some trails on GM that don’t!) At the bottom of Box O’ Rocks, which is not on the route I chose, but close to the pedestrian bridge, there is a large rocky area to practice technical skills if you want to do so at the end of a ride.
Cons: No shade at all, and no trees, except one very small section on the west side. Lots of other trail users, especially after a workday.
5- Marhall Mesa and Doudy Draw
Trailforks route here: https://www.trailforks.com/ridelog/planner/view/149784/
Pros: Nice, gradual climbing, easier technical terrain with stunning views of the Flatirons. Plenty of little easier techy sections to hone your skills. Ample wildflowers, especially in early summer.
Cons: Not much shade. Can be heavily trafficked by many other trail users.
Wherever you decide to explore next, consider taking along a trail app (like Trailforks) and always be kind to other trail users. Happy riding!
Talitha Vogt is a certified endurance and wellness coach with an elite racing background. She has 22 years of experience as a mountain biker, including 12 total years of racing and other events. Leveraging her wellness coaching experience, she provides custom-tailored training plans and accommodating coaching for women locally in the front range of Colorado and online for anywhere else in the world.