Get Out! Autumn is a good time to return to long, scenic rides
Fall is in full swing on the Western Slope. Leaves are turning, falling and skittering across parks. Morning temps are requiring me to wear actual shoes instead of sport sandals during my bike commute, and pumpkins are everywhere.
For me this means it’s time to get back to some of my favorite long rides and catch the golden aspens on Grand Mesa, too.
The Western Rim trail in Rabbit Valley is probably my favorite long ride to do in the spring and fall. It’s about 14 miles round trip and provides beautiful views of the Colorado River.
The landscape in Rabbit Valley is always changing. High meadows in the spring are filled with purple grasses, then blooming orange paintbrush and, this time of year, dusty hues of pink and yellow bushes and grasses. It’s a great place to ride.
This ride combines Trail No. 2 and the Kokopelli Trail for a nice loop with jeep-road and singletrack riding. Some technical moments are thrown in, too.
Although the singletrack portions of this trail were originally “user created,” the trail is now maintained by the BLM. The whole middle portion of the ride rolls along on a rim high above the Colorado River. On any portion of this you might encounter dirt bikers. Usually we hear them before they see us, and we’ll yield the trail.
On the jeep-road portions you might encounter off-highway vehicles or all-terrain vehicles. Often the situation and area of trail determine who stops for whom. In any case, I think this loop ride is one of the best examples of shared trail use that I’ve seen.
Starting from the McDonald Creek parking area, I recommend climbing up the Kokopelli Trail to the overlook about four miles away. You can climb up Trail No. 2, but it’s way more fun to come down that one than go up it. No matter which way you go, up or down, you will encounter some sandy sections.
From the overlook, head left down the ledges and out to the doubletrack. This will soon lead you around toward the river and to a piece of singletrack. This is where the real fun begins.
There are a few tricky spots along the rim portion of the trail. Stop to sightsee; don’t try to ride and enjoy those amazing views of the river at the same time.
On this portion of the trail, you’ll go from riding on dirt to coasting across sections of rock. This makes for a fun and entertaining ride. Soon, though, a pretty steep hill greets you, and it will be followed shortly by a second very steep hill. They’re rideable by some. I recommend the rocks at the top of the second one as a nice snack spot.
After a rocking and rolling section of trail with a few climbs and one very steep downhill, you’ll come to a four-way junction with a jeep road. Turn right. This will put you back on the Kokopelli Trail. Now you’re in for a three- to four-mile grind. There are no steep uphills here, just a consistent climb on a jeep road.
You’ll eventually come to another intersection where you’ll also need to turn right. Continue on and through the cattle gate. Please leave the gate as is. If it’s open, leave it open; if it’s closed, close it back after you go through. You’ll find yourself, soon enough, back at the overlook you climbed to earlier.
From the overlook, for a less-technical descent you can follow the signs back down the Kokopelli Trail that you climbed up originally. For a more technical and singletrack route back to the car, head left onto Trail No. 2. It’s easy to miss, so keep an eye out for trail markers at the overlook.
This singletrack section has so many interesting parts to it. A steeply bermed slingshot-like corner, a rocky downhill and a surprising climb will keep you on your toes. One of my favorite fall rides, this one will take you anywhere from two to four hours to complete. Please remember to stay on the trail. Do not widen it; the plants and ground cover in this area are fragile.
If golden aspens and fall foliage are more your thing, head up to Grand Mesa to the Flowing Park Trail (its brand new connector, the Mesa Top trail, is in the midst of construction). These two are on National Forest Land and were built by COPMOBA. Flowing Park is about the same length as the Western Rim Trail and provides great views from a singletrack rim trail down into the valley below. Its original start is off Lands End Road. You’ll turn onto Road 109 and reach the Flowing Park reservoir and gate after about five miles.
The trail is a lollipop that incorporates the Flowing Park trail and the Indian Point trail. These days it is fairly well-marked. The loop is a rock-filled entertaining ride with spurts through meadows and small aspen groves. Make sure to stop often to enjoy the scenery.