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Steamboat Magazine

Biking in The Boat: Five Best Trails for Beginners

07/28/2020 11:21AM ● By Rachel Miller

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – If you’re anything like me, then your need for adventure is prominent in your day-to-day life. When it comes to adventure, is there a better town than Steamboat Springs? I don’t think it exists, but if it does, then you’re one of the lucky ones too. So, with this being my first summer living here in the beautiful Yampa Valley, I’ve been spending my days exploring everything this town has to offer: tubing the Yampa River, hiking new trails, visiting new camp sites and learning the sport of mountain biking. 

One beautiful summer day, a good friend of mine randomly called me and said, “Grab your bike, we’re going mountain biking.” Now mind you, I had just bought a used mountain bike from my roommate, my helmet was still perfectly wrapped in its packaging, and the biggest concern of all was that I had never been mountain biking a day in my life. But the adventure-seeker in me agreed without hesitation. I threw on what I considered bike-worthy attire, packed my bag, and was out the door. 

                                          Beautiful landscapes on Mad Creek Trail

Of course, being the newbie to all of this, I had no idea where we were going, and I had absolutely no clue what to expect. But I was along for the ride, and more eager than ever to find out what mountain biking was all about. We pulled up to the parking lot of the trailhead, loaded our bikes, and began our first mountain biking adventure. I’m not sure if it was the adrenaline rush in trying something new, the complete fear of looking over a hundred-plus foot cliff as I was ascending a mountain, or the growing excitement as I gained speed barreling down a rocky hill, but I was hooked. 

My summer days are now spent riding new trails and truly exploring everything this town has to offer. I now know why Steamboat Springs is also called Bike Town USA™. This new sport I’ve entertained has sparked a little fire, and with that being said, I have come up with a list of what I consider to be five of the best trails for those who are new to mountain biking like me. They range from beginner to intermediate/semi-advanced. But if you’re into a little risk-taking, and seek that adrenaline rush, then trust me riders, you’ll enjoy!

1.     Spring Creek Trail

Because of how easy this trail is to get to, it gets very crowded and there are quite a lot of hikers to yield to. But if you can hit this trail at a quieter part of the day, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll be stopping every couple of minutes to take pictures of the beauty, like I do. I like riding this trail as an out-and-back, making it a little lengthier of a ride (around 10 miles). The beginning starts out as a gravel road, but if you can make it to the single-track, it only gets better from there. Your legs will burn on that steep incline at first, but the beautiful columbine and aspen views make it tolerable. There are a lot of downhill-only bikers, so be mindful as you're ascending. It is an extremely fast but fun descent, so be careful and watch out for others.  

2.     Emerald Mountain – Rotary Trail

You really can’t go wrong with any of the trails on Emerald Mountain. Trails vary in difficulty, ranging from beginner to expert. This trail is one of my favorites because of the rolling terrain, making it not too challenging. I turn this into a little loop, starting up Ridge and then intersecting with Rotary. The initial climb is relatively easy, and then the trail turns into fun banks and rollers, making navigating through the meadows very enjoyable and the flow downhill very smooth. 

3.     Emerald Mountain – Bluff’s Loop

Emerald Mountain obviously has a ton of trails you can explore, and with it being so close to town, its easy access makes these trails my most frequented. This one is a quick loop – only 2.2 miles – but it’s a fun single-track you can’t go wrong with. The climbs are nothing too extreme, definitely beginner friendly, and the downhills are exhilarating. You wind through tall overgrown grass, almost like you’re going through a grass tunnel. As you pass through wildflower meadows, you get direct views of downtown and Mount Werner. Trust me, it’s beautiful. There are only a few questionable rocky areas, but overall this trail is definitely a must-do. 

                                                        Views on top of Mt. Werner 

4.     Steamboat Mountain Bike Park Trails

There are quite a few trails that you can ride at Steamboat Mountain Bike Park, but my favorite is Zig Zag trail. I begin the trail right at the base of the mountain, but you could always park at Thunderhead and get on the trail from there. From there you will climb through some fun sections, weaving in and out of trees until you intersect Why Not Road. You can either take this and ride up to Thunderhead Lodge or take Zig Zag a little further up to So What Road. Either way make it up to Thunderhead for the views and you won’t be disappointed. 

5.     Mad Creek Trail

Mad Creek was the first trail I ever rode, though I wouldn’t necessarily advise this trail for beginners. Maybe ride it once you get a little more experienced and comfortable. But then again, I survived, so if you’re up for it, go for it – you won’t be disappointed. You begin climbing right out of the gate, and if you’re terrified of heights, I don’t recommend you look down to your right as you’re pedaling up the mountain. Mad Creek runs along the trail next to you and hearing the river flowing is soothing. Seeing the 100-plus-foot drop off? Not so much. But the reward is so worth it. At the top of the climb, 2 miles or so up, is the Mad Creek Barn. Take a little break and explore a little history or have a drink of water with the family of friendly marmots. From there you can head back down or continue on the trail through fields of wildflowers and aspen groves to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness boundary. Either way, take a little dip in the creek, and enjoy the thrill of the ride back.