The Mountain Biking Vacation - Riding the 401 Trail Outside of Crested Butte, Colorado

4:46 AM

The top of the 401

A Facebook friend recently posted a picture from The Secret Stash, the best pizza place in Crested Butte, and for a moment I was overwhelmed by one single thought: how can I get back there right now?  No big surprise here, as a stressful week at work is bound to bring feelings like this bubbling to the surface.  I’m in that magical time right now – back from vacation long enough to have forgotten the intense ache in my back that 20+ hours in the car will bring, but still near enough to the trip that I can recall every glorious detail of every amazing ride.

And so this morning I am thinking about the best trail near Crested Butte, Colorado: the 401.  Without a doubt, this was the one trail at the top of our “to do” list when we headed to the mountains this summer. 

Heading down the valley on the 401
The loop trail begins on the Gothic Road just outside of Gothic, Colorado.  You follow the road up the valley (don’t, don’t, don’t hitch a ride on a tour van all the way up to Schofield Pass – take your lumps and climb!), and jump on the single-track trail at the top.  By the time you get to highest elevation (11,200 feet) your legs will be burning from the numerous switchbacks and lack of oxygen.  Take a break in the meadow at the top, enjoy the views of the back side of the Maroon Bells, and get ready for the best descent of your life.

Didn't get to see anyone ride this part...I had to hand my bike up
and scramble up the rocks
The true beauty of the 401 is in the drop back down the valley through beautiful alpine meadows.  The views are spectacularly stuffed with mountains, snow, flowers, sun, and rock.  There are a few places where getting off your bike is advisable – I’d love to see someone who can ride the where spring run-offs have made an incredible rock channel in the mountain – and I will admit that a few technical aspects of the descent were a bit beyond my skill level, but on the whole the trail down to Rustler Gulch Trailhead is fairly manageable.

The section from Rustler Gulch back to the Copper Creak Trailhead is more technical and, thankfully, less crowded as most of the riders opt for the shorter loop (don’t make this mistake!).  With just a bit more climbing in this section, you get repaid with more descent, more rocks, and more beauty as you ride through deep forest. 

Riding through the wildflowers and thinking about pizza
And when you get back to your car, you can head down the Gothic Road back to Crested Butte and the best pizza you’ve ever had!

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