It was Monday afternoon in April and snow had long since left the Gunnison Valley. The area known as Hartman Rocks had just opened after a brief stint under winter’s white blanket.
With longtime locals calling the cold months of 2011 to 2012 the “Weirdest Winter Ever,” the roads on the Bureau of Land Management land were never groomed for cross-country skiing as they were in previous winters and the trails were inaccessible to mountain bikes for a mere two and a half months in one of the coldest places in Colorado.
With temperatures in the 50s Fahrenheit, the small parking lot at the base of Kill Hill was swarming with mountain bikers out for their first rides of the year.
There were looks of disbelief that the trails had melted out so early and the sense of excitement about the local trails was evident.
Located just three miles from downtown Gunnison, the trail system, located on a high mesa, provides for top notch riding ranging from smooth and fast to slow and technical with spectacular sunset viewing on after-work rides.
There are over 20 trails in the Hartman Rocks area that are crisscrossed with a series of dirt roads that can be linked up in a seemingly infinite number of loops. Made up of mostly decomposed granite, the trails are a combination of smooth singletrack weaving through endless seas of sagebrush and large chunks of granite, providing endless lines to suit riders of all abilities. In fact, it’s this granite that makes the area truly unique, as it’s one of the few places in the world where it’s possible to ride granite slickrock.
Every Gunnison local has a favorite loop and a favorite direction to ride the loop, but based on the wide variety of classic loops that are ridden, all the trails are enjoyable in either direction. Trails can be linked up into loops ranging from ideal for a beginner to loops that will challenge any rider both aerobically and technically.
Beginner: For a ride perfect for beginners, park at the top of Kill Hill, the large hill that rises steeply from the main parking lot of Hartman’s. Head out toward the sage and take Main Street east, passing Becks and Joshos until you hit the top of Sea of Sage. Enjoy the sweeping corners and gradual downhill before hooking up with Luge. Embrace a quick climb before continuing your roller coaster ride down through the expansive views. At the end of Luge, take a right up the road to return to your car.
Intermediate: Everyone has a favorite lunch ride, and as people are generally creatures of habit, they will repeat the same loop many times, occasionally switching the direction or adding a new trail for variety. Most loops ridden counterclockwise will start from the parking lot, riding up Jacks to Behind the Rocks and then adding a combination of Alonzo’s, Fenceline, Gateway, Josie’s, Skyline, and Rocky Ridge before descending back to the parking lot via Becks and Collarbone Alley.
Advanced: In addition to many of the trails that can be described as “rocks requiring trials skills connected by long sections of perfectly smooth trail” there are a handful of trails at Hartman Rocks that cater specifically to the technically adept rider. For a series of harrowing but reasonable rock moves, Rattlesnack is a local favorite. Technical Becks and Freefall also provide lines and challenges worthy of bikes with longer travel, but can be ridden on more traditional cross-country rigs. The entire front side of the area is dotted with trails that have been used as tracks for downhill races by the cycling team at Western State College. While short, trails such as the Notch and V-Drop are ideal for larger bikes and, with relatively easy access, can even be ridden without a shuttle.
For those looking for a long ride, the classic outer loop that is followed by the Gunnison Growler bike race links together most of the trails on the outer perimeter of the area. For some extra mileage, the newly completed Aberdeen loop adds more spectacular singletrack just south of main Hartman Rocks’ area.
The Gunnison Growler
Founded by Dave Wiens, Gunnison Trails is a non-profit trail advocacy group that helps build and maintain trails in the Hartman Rocks area. Founded in 2006, the group has organized countless volunteer trail days, working closely with the BLM to reroute old trails so they’re more sustainable and most recently has added the Aberdeen Loop to the trail system. The group also focuses on trail user education and has contributed over $2,500 toward trail related projects in the area.
A large part of the fundraising done by Gunnison Trails is race promotion and the Growler Series is a popular early- and late-season mountain bike and trail running series that bookends with the Gunnison Growler in the spring and the Big Saturday mountain bike race and trail run in the fall.
The series includes long courses, short courses, little kids’ races, and bigger kids’ races, and each race is truly a community event. The Original Growler, held over Memorial Day weekend has the Original Growler option of 64 miles, or the Half Growler, which is 32 miles. The race, starting and ending in downtown Gunnison, highlights some of the best trails at Hartman Rocks and experiences full community support with well-manned aid stations and an expo and party at the finish line. Like many endurance races in recent years, the Growler entries have sold out in a matter of minutes, prompting race organizers to open the registration in three different waves on different days to try to allow everyone a fair chance of entering the race and separating the Half and Full Growler, allowing for more riders.
Best of Gunnison
On the surface, Gunnison is a small cow town located along Highway 50, 30 miles south of its more famous mountain biking neighbor, Crested Butte. The quiet streets are a funky mix of college students from Western State College, ranchers, and outdoor enthusiasts, including mountain bikers, trail runners, climbers, fisherman, hunters, and motorized recreational users. With an abundance of open space, the user groups seem to have found a way to coexist happily on the high desert plateau.
Bike Shop: Rock N’ Roll Sports
608 Tomichi Avenue (970) 641-9150
Located in the Yellow House along Highway 50, Rock N’ Roll Sports is a Gunnison fixture. Owned by Dave Moe, a Gunnison native, the small shop caters to mountain bikers, climbers, and runners in the summer and Nordic and backcountry skiers in the winter.
Coffee Shop: The Bean
120 North Main Street (970) 641-2408
Located on Main Street, The Bean is a one-stop shop for coffee and breakfast. In addition to coffee and coffee accessories, it boasts a menu of smoothies, breakfast burritos, crepes, and sandwiches to ensure proper pre-ride fueling.
Meal: Firebrand Deli
111 North Main Street (970) 641-6266
Located next door to The Bean, Firebrand serves up the best sandwiches in town. With crispy bread and fresh ingredients, the shop is a favorite for many for a quick and easy lunch.