Family Bikepacking on Aspen Ridge, Salida, Colorado.

  • Distance

    52 Mi.

    (84 KM)
  • Days

    2-3

  • % Unpaved

    85%

  • % Singletrack

    0%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    5,274'

    (1,608 M)
  • High Point

    10,290'

    (3,136 M)
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is, without doubt, an epic ride. But cut it down into bite size portions, and it has all the ingredients for a series of wonderful family bikepacking adventures. Which is where the inspiration for this ride comes from. As family bikepacking goes, it doesn’t get much better than the high grasslands and aspen groves above Salida, Colorado... especially during the technicolored splendour of fall.
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This route uses a small portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route as its backbone, basing itself out of picture perfect Salida – a Coloradan town that boasts bikepacking in its veins, given its prime location on both the GDMBR and the Colorado Trail.

The ride kicks off with a long, gentle climb north out of town on Ute Road, before turning off for a steeper, rockier stint up to Aspen Ridge on 185 – which, as the name suggests, is the heart of the leaf peeping action come September. Looping round the high, grassland basin of South Park on 174, a series of mellow dirt road connects back with 175. Then, it’s round to Salida again by way of the Collegiate Peaks – an impressive row of Fourteeners – finishing with a thrilling descent back down to town again.

Yes, this is a short ride. But factor in hauling a trailer, gear and food, and you’ll find the steep, at times rocky terrain takes on an especially challenging nature. As such, this loops makes a perfect 1-2 night ride, depending on what time you leave Salida. In our case, we were on the road by late afternoon, and returned by midday two days later – allowing for lingering lunches, and lots of time off the saddle for our toddler cargo.

Complete with its polished, historic redbrick downtown – distantly echoing an insalubrious past as a Wild West railroad settlement – Salida makes a great base for all the family. There’s a park in which to picnic, and a playground, climbing wall and river to soak in. The town is awash with restaurants and cafes, and there’s very little traffic to worry about – here, kid trailers are almost as common as the dual suspension mountain bikes that roam the streets. In fact, why not make the most of your visit by combining a family ride with a Colorado classic: the nearby Monarch Crest Trail includes 12 miles of glorious, high altitude riding, topped off with the magnificent Rainbow Trail.

Thanks to Sub-Culture Cyclery for route suggestions, and to Oveja Negra Threadworks for advice on the best places to eat, drink and hang with the kids.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Enjoy low traffic dirt roads, with a network of mellow connecting doubletrack.
  • Kick back along the rolling, high grasslands of South Park.
  • Experience the laid back vibe of Salida, a small but perfectly formed mountain biking mecca in SW Colorado.
  • The area really comes alive come fall, as aspens burst into color!
  • Combine your family campout with a day enjoying world class mountain bike trails.
  • Remember – family rides are about quality of riding, not the distance covered. If the little ‘uns aren’t having any fun, what’s the point?
  • Salida is a great destination all summer long – with a lengthier riding season than many parts of Colorado. Late September through to early October is your best chance of seeing the fall colours.
  • Even in the fall, daytime temps were high, and shade often limited. Sun hats and suncream are a necessity.
  • Bear in mind that Salida lies at 7000ft (2133m) and much of the ride hovers at around 9000ft+ (2745m) in altitude – consider spending an extra day or two in town before setting off, depending on where you’re coming from.
  • There’s three great bike shops in town, all within walking distance from each other – Sub-Culture Cyclery, Absolute Bikes and Salida Bike Company.
  • Showers are available at Sub-Culture Cyclery for $5 – ideal for touring cyclists.
  • Need new bikepacking gear? Pop in and say hi to the folks at Oveja Negra Threadworks – they always have a range of beautifully crafted gear in stock.
  • Latitude 40’s Salida/Buena Vista Trail Map ($12) covers the ride, as well as all the local trails. Trails abound – from singletrack networks accessed a few minutes ride from downtown, to IMBA epics.
  • Surfaces are mostly smooth, with a few rougher stretches along 185, a 4WD road leading to Aspen Ridge. Gear wise, the ride was easily within the capabilities of our two Thule Chariot trailers, though our Tout Terrain Singletrailer handled the rougher stretches especially well.
  • If you can, team up with another family. Your kids will have even more fun. There were 3 kids in our posse, ranging from 1.5 to 3 years in age.
  • The route wends its way through National Forest, which starts just north of town, so camping is never an issue.
  • The Simple Lodge and Hotel is bike-friendly, and recommended. We camped a little further out of town – in Poncha Creek, beyond Mears Junction – and drove into town.
  • Although water is available throughout the area, it’s not always obvious, and its availability is subject to seasonal changes. Keep an eye out for streams and springs, and fill up where you can.
  • Food can be bought in Salida. There’s a large Safeways supermarket, as well as Ploughboys, a locally sourced market, and Simple Foods, an organic/health food store.
  • Cafe Dawn serves great coffee; there’s a spacious bike rack for all your family steeds.
  • When you’re all done with your ride, treat the family to dinner at Fiesta Mexicana. The portions are massive!
  • If you’re headed out to ride Monarch Crest, check out the Elevation Beer Company on your way back into town.
  • Other eateries we’ve been recommended include Poco Taco (Downtown on W 1st) – for street tacos and burritos in authentic style + beer/margaritas. Little Cambodia ((Downtown on F)) serves up tasty Pho. Sweeties whips together awesome sandwiches. Amicas ( (Downtown on E 2nd) offers good pizza/Italian, and is very family friendly. Patio Pancake Place is a classic breakfast spot (On hwy 50), and Moonlight Pizza is well worth sampling too (Downtown on F).
  • For water holes, try Woods, a Micro Distillery (Downtown on W 1st), Bensons, a good pub w/ food and outdoor seating (Downtown on F). Or the Victoria – a classic bar popular with the town drunks (Downtown on F).

More family friendly ideas

  • The Salida Hot Springs Pool is recommended for families; an indoor hot springs facility with a zero entry pool, and water fountains that are great for kids of all ages.
  • During the summertime, change things up by renting a tube next door to Absolute, and floating down through the Whitewater Park.
  • Alpine Park is another good spot for the kids, and a dedicated bike park is also in the works.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

Tags

  • Steve

    Nice! I’ve been looking for some shorter loops to get the Lady out with me – excellent work!

  • Sten Van Leuffel

    Hi Cass!
    Beautiful pictures as always. I now live with my wife and little mella on the US east coast and we’ll try to figure something out along the same lines for spring. I’m currently preparing with a friend to ride the stagecoach 400 loop in California in the first 2 weeks of December and i have a few questions regarding the revelate designs harness. The bike on the picture at the top of the story, has an orange drybag attached to the handlebar. I have the impression that this bag has a larger diameter then what i am able to attach to my harness system. Here comes my question: is that orange drybag attached with the harness system and did you modify it? or is the bag attached with another system (maybe just nylon straps without the harness?). I would like to attach both my tent and sleeping pad (and ideally sleeping bag as well) to the harness, but so far i struggle to do so.
    thanks a lot for your advice
    sten

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Hi Sten. I thought I’d chime in because I use the Revelate Harness quite a bit. I always carry a tent and sleeping bag in it and have found it helps to use a long narrow drybag for the sleeping bag. OR makes a good one called the Window dry bag (5-7L I think). That paired with a 2 or even 3 person UL tent work well. It helps to have a down bag that compresses nicely.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Hi Sten! If I had the time in December, I would have loved to have joined you…
    I’m pretty sure Thomas’ harness is homemade, and uses a backing plate plus straps. Knowing those guys, they probably ran the nylon extra long to be able to accommodate massive dry bags. However, I’m sure there’s similar harnesses available – tends to be the ones geared towards winter/snow trips, as they require much larger stowage. Wild Cat Gear in the UK, for instance, make the Fat Lion, which is designed to hold bags up to 35L. I’m pretty sure other manufacturers would do something similar. Perhaps Oveja Negra would be up for customizing their Front End Loader with extra long straps, for instance.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks Steve. If you check the profile, you’ll see there’s a good deal of climbing given the ride’s short length. But getting up to Aspen Ridge and the grasslands makes it all worth it (-:

  • Steve

    Yeah, thanks for the heads-up on that aspect. That being said, her ability to take punishment without complaining always amazes me, and both of us embrace a little hike-a-bike. Thanks again – keep up the great work.

  • http://piensasimple.com/ Irak Marín

    Amazing! i have 2 kids and this motive me to make a nice bikepacking in Baja. Thanks, amazing work.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Two kids would probably be a load of fun, as they self entertain. Our friends used two solo trailers on this trip, but a lot of people like the double Thule Chariots, like the Cougar 2. They’re wider, so a bit more stable too. Though 2 ‘minis’ add a lot to the payload, of course…

  • http://www.skaddrd.com Forrest Smith

    Thanks for posting this! My wife and I have been backpackers mainly, but I’ve been trying to get into bikepacking since I think it’s much more manageable with our two year old. This looks like a great trip, I’ve been looking for good options in Southern California — I seem to have a hard time finding the balance between roads that don’t see a lot of traffic, and roads that are too rough, considering the little guy riding in the trailer. I got a little burned out trying to find some good options, but your post has got me looking at maps again. Thanks!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Great to hear, Forrest! I’m not sure which trailer you’re using, but we’ve found the Chariot’s surprisingly capable over rough terrain. They’re expensive, but the suspension and durability makes it worth it, in my opinion.

    Sage has been travelling in his since he was a few months old, so feels very comfortable in his little cocoon – he’ll fall fast asleep over the bumpiest terrain! We aim for 4 hours riding a day, coinciding as much as possible with his nap. After lunch, we often get him to trot alongside us; or if it gets especially rough, it’s a good opportunity to stretch his legs too. In the morning, we might play some football with him, to take the edge off his energy levels…

    But yes, low traffic or traffic free is key!

  • http://www.skaddrd.com Forrest Smith

    Yeah, it’s probably me being overly worried about bumping him around too much when he’s riding back there. We’ve had a few good daily outings that lasted a few hours on some nice backroads, I just need to find some more. I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest, where I think perhaps there is a larger stock of logging roads and other Forest Service roads that would be perfect for riding on. I’m kind of envious whenever I go back up to visit family.

    Thanks for the tips, I like the idea of having him trot along. He’s totally at the age now where he could do that.

  • Sten Van Leuffel

    Hi Cass! Thanks a lot, that explains why i struggled. I’ll make do with the harness that i own already, maybe with a different dry bag. The trip is coming near and my physical fitness becomes more of a challenge then the equipment issues :-). By the way, I remember you telling me once that Rohloff might review their chainring/sprocket ratios and they did! So will finally be able to go uber-granny on my bike. I’ll share some pictures of the trip later on. Take care and thanks again. Sten

  • Sten Van Leuffel

    I Logan! thanks for the suggestion. Is it possible that it’s not OR but rather SeaL Line? I didn’t find an OR bag with the name ‘window dry bag’. I totally see the interest of having a long narrow dry bag, rather than the bulky ones that i have. so i was hesitating to buy the sweet roll of relevate designs, or maybe, following your advice, go with the Seal Line window dry bag to get the most out of the harness system (without extending the straps).

  • Hunter Roberts

    Great adventure for those kids! Do you feel that this ride would be possible on a more nimble gravel-cross bike?

  • http://www.whileoutriding.com Cass Gilbert

    The climb to Aspen Ridge was definitely rough and steep in places, with a few bumpy dips too – I was certainly glad to have larger volume tyres. And a broad gear range. But where there’s a will, there’a way!

    On the whole though, the majority of the forest roads in the area are completely ‘cross bike friendly.

  • Daniel

    Hi, Great post!

    What is the name/brand of the one-wheel enclosed kid carrier? Thanks!

    We have 3 kids, I have toured (UK to Portugal) alone and am getting my family into it, so need the right kit… :)

    Thanks!

  • CycleMonkey
  • Mick Sudano

    Planning this trip for mid June, I am unfamiliar with the National Forest regs. Do I need to purchase a pass or pay a camping fee of any kind ahead of time or is this a show up and ride route?

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’d have thought that much of it would be fine, though I prefer larger volume tires for hauling heavy cargo/trailers – to avoid pinch flats, for instance. There’s a few rough stints that are preferable on an mtb too.

  • Cass Gilbert

    You can free camp pretty much anywhere in National Forest, for a period of up to two weeks!

  • Cass Gilbert

    The single wheeler is a Tout Terrain Singletrailer. The 2 wheelers are Thule Chariots.

  • giddyrider

    Please…tell me your camera…what a great pictures!

  • Jeremy Franz

    Awesome post! What kind of kiddie backpack is that you are wearing in some of the pics? Thanks!

  • Warlocks

    Hi. Thanks for the great info. My husband and I are planning a bike pack in June alone while the kids are at camp. Third week in June yo be exact. Do you think this route is doable then or would snow hinder us? Thanks! Amber

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’m not sure about this year’s conditions. I think you’d be just fine but I’d suggest giving one of the local bike shops a ring to confirm.

  • Warlocks

    Thanks Cass. I appreciate it!

  • Charlie

    We just did this route in mid June with a cross bike + Bob trailer setup and a full sus. Water was pretty scarce, with a few ponds along 185 and 175 and a quarry on 185. Approx miles 8, 20, 25, 35. Route was beautiful!