There are three directions from which to access the Durango valley in the southwest corner of Colorado. Driving into the valley from the south reveals the massive San Juan Mountains to the north, the Animas River flowing through the town, and a long glacial valley stretching as far as the eye can see.
Coming in from the north, the drive traverses Molas and Coal Bank Pass from Silverton, following the route of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, roughly paralleling the southern 80 miles of the Colorado Trail.
From the west, the route passes dozens of trailheads as it drops into the valley from the Four Corners area.
A quick glance at a map will quickly reveal why so many people who choose to have their lives revolve around mountain biking, either professionally or recreationally, choose to make Durango their home.
There are trails close to town in the Horse Gulch area, which are free of snow early in the spring and late in the fall. Then there’s the Ned Overend Bike Park, formerly known as Test Tracks. Then there’s the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail, which includes 74 miles of high altitude trail to the top of Molas Pass and countless trails that spur off of it.
Combined with a vibrant community that embraces bicycles in all forms and a town large enough to create a job market, Durango might well be a mountain biker’s paradise.
Located just east of town, adjacent to the Fort Lewis College campus, the Horse Gulch Trail System is the prime location for before or after work rides, lunch rides, all day rides, or spring, summer, and fall rides. Accessed from multiple points including the college campus, Mercy Hospital, and various trailheads in between, the series of loops provide enough variety for any length or type of ride.
Conceived and initially built by Trails 2000, the local trail advocacy group, the system started out with the Telegraph Trail that climbed from the trailhead up to a ridge following an old set of telephone lines and quickly grew from there with the Anasazi Descent being quickly put in as an alternate descent off the ridge. Since then, the trail system has expanded on both sides of the ridge with the Meadow Loop, Mike’s Trail, and Stacey’s Loop making up some of the front side.
With only a few significant climbs and nothing excessively technical, these trails are ideal for many levels of riders. On the backside, Sidewinder, Salebarn, and South Rim add more miles of fast singletrack interspersed with enough rocks and features to keep things interesting.
Ned Overend Bike Park
Starting in 1994, Trails 2000 began acquiring the land west of town through a series of purchases and dedications. The area became known as Test Tracks for its ability to serve up plenty of challenges on its steep hillsides, exposed traverses, and tight corners.
The area was renamed the Overend Bike Park in honor of former mountain bike world champion and Durango local, Ned Overend. Overend also sold 51 acres to the project in the 1990’s. For many years, the area lacked signage and riding in the area was better with local knowledge but a recent push to sign the trails has led the area to be accessible for locals and visitors alike. Still, a little local knowledge goes a long way towards knowing to avoid the Hogback and to climb up Hidden Valley in order to enjoy a screaming fast descent down Starwars.
The beauty of the riding in the Durango area comes from the variety available directly from town. While Horse Gulch and the Overend Bike Park serve up plenty of loops close to town, there are hundreds of miles of trails accessible from town that traverse the high mountains surrounding the area.
The final sections of the Colorado Trail link up the top of Molas Pass to downtown Durango with 74 miles of high singletrack that go over Rolling Pass, Blackhawk Pass, and Kennebeck Pass. From Kennebeck Pass, it’s 26 miles of downhill, with a small 6-mile section of trail that climbs 1,000 feet out of Junction Creek before descending down to the Junction Creek trail and the southern terminus of the trail. The Colorado Trail also provides access points to other trails that drop down from both sides of the ridge, opening endless ride options.
There are few towns in existence that embrace cycling to the level that Durango has. The town eats, sleeps, and breathes cycling, as is apparent by the number of high level cyclists that originate from, or move to the town in addition to the sheer number of bikes seen on the street on an average day.
In order to promote youth cycling, Durango Devo was established in 2006. The program caters to riders from ages 5 to 24 and is split into eight different teams that are built upon each other to teach mountain bike skills and create lifelong mountain bikers.
At the highest level is the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory/DEVO Sweet Elite U-25 Team, which was formed as a reaction to the void felt by racers after graduating from collegiate racing scene but needing a little extra support before joining the professional ranks.
Fort Lewis College Cycling
Another aspect of the huge cycling culture in Durango is the existence of the Fort Lewis College Cycling Team. Ranked as the number one division I team in the nation, the team competes in all four of the collegiate cycling disciplines including mountain, road, cyclocross, and track. What started as a primarily mountain bike team has grown into a program that challenges in all disciplines of cycling, even though finding track time has been a challenge, with the nearest track being in Colorado Springs, nearly a six hour drive away.
Throughout the summer months, the town bustles with cycling related activities. One of the largest ones, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic held from May 26th through the 28th, has grown to include the 50 mile road race from Durango to Silverton across Molas and Coalbank passes where racers strive to beat the Durango train also bound for Silverton, a downtown criterium, a time trial, and a mountain bike race.
In addition to the traditional races, the event also hosts a Cruiser Criterium with crazy bikes and costumes, a kids’ race, and a bike swap. Then there are weekly short track races, bike polo, and new for 2012, a downhill enduro from the top of Kennebeck Pass down to Durango.
But there’s more to cycling in Durango than organized events. With the small town feel, the streets are lined with bike lanes and bike paths and a significant number of trips around town are taken by bicycle rather than car. In fact, several parking spaces in downtown Durango have been converted to bicycle parking spaces with racks to hold large numbers of bicycles.
It’s the small things like the bicycle parking that make Durango such a unique mountain bike destination. Not only does it boast incredible trails, but it also has an incredible community that truly loves their bicycles.
Best of Durango
42 County Rd 250 at Florida Rd
Baked goods with a conscience, Bread is the ultimate stop for all things, well, bread. With scones, muffins, sandwiches, loafs of bread, and too many other goodies to even start listing, Bread has been fueling long rides and supporting the cycling scene with pastries and coffee in Durango for years.
3101 Main Avenue
There is no better post ride food than a giant burrito and there’s no better place to get a giant burrito in town than Zia Taqueria. With the standard burrito stand setup, Zia believes in simple, good food and their commitment to good food at a good price is evident in their burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.
Brews and Burgers
Carvers Restaurant and Brewpub
1022 Main Ave.
Located directly in downtown Durango, Carver’s Restaurant and Brewpub is a favorite for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Voted ‘Durango’s Best Breakfast’ multiple times, the servings are hearty and delicious. For lunch and dinner, the menu features a huge variety of delicious burgers, salads, pasta dishes, and of course, an extensive array of micrbrews.
Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO. She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past. She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. You can follow her adventures on her blog. All articles by Eszter.