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Breckenridge to Taos Alpine Tour

The following is a route from Breckenridge to Taos best ridden in August or September. This adventure was created in the spirit of "Alpine Touring".

Total distance for the trip is approximately 300 miles with about 12,000 ft of climbing and 15,000 ft of downhill through the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico. Crossing several mountain ranges, this trip is a mix of terrain including dirt roads, single track, old pack trails and pavement. There may even be short sections where packing the bike on ones back is necessary.

Although the route is divided into seven legs, each segment does not necessarily represent days on the trail. Instead they represent towns and destinations where we can drop down and get supplies. The ride usually takes about 5 days depending on weather, motivation and the number of saloons in each town. Anyone interested in the whole route or just segments of the route is welcome

True to an Alpine Touring philosophy, we travel in an ultra light mountaineering or old cowboy fashion. No weighty luxuries like a tent or cooking equipment. Instead we sleep under the stars, get water from streams and resupply food in each town. Going light is probably the only practical way to handle this much climbing over mixed terrain anyway.

The Breck/Taos Route

Leg #1 Breckenridge to Hartsel
50 mile length, elevation gain 1,320, elevation loss 3,000

Description: The trip starts in the lovely ski town of Breckenridge Colorado. From town, we follow the Great Divide Trail over the Continental Divide, a classic high altitude route in the heart of the Rockies. This spectacular trail over the Front Range Mountains is mostly dirt road with some single track opportunities. Once over the divide, the route winds down through the heart of South Park to the small town of Hartsel for supplies.

0.0 Start in Breckenridge @ Boreas Pass Road, paved then quickly turns to dirt (elev. 9,700 ft)
10.0 Reach top of Boreas Pass and the Continental Divide (elev. 11, 482 ft)
20.4 Reach small town of Como (elev. 9,813)
21.3 Junction w/ Hwy 285, turn left (elev. 9,681)
21.7 Approx. 0.4 miles to Elkhorn Rd, dirt road heading through South Park, turn right (elev. 9,735)
25.3 Stay Right as road forks
33.1 High Point (elev. 9,670) trail drops and rises approx. 200 ft
50.1 Reach town of Hartsel (elev. 8,864 ft).

Alt #1: We could also follow French Pass which is a single track route over the saddle of Bald Mountain and slightly higher than Boreas Pass.
Alt #2: There is a nice alternate single track on Boreas Pass's east side which links back to Como and 285.

Leg #2 Hartsel to Salida
46.6 mile length, elevation gain 1,270 ft, elevation loss 3,033 ft

Description: We continue on the Great Divide Trail through South Park and over the Arkansas Mountain Range to Salida. This leg travels some very remote Colorado backcountry partly following an old Ute trail. Yes, we need to watch out for Buffalo. Once over the unnamed pass it's a steep downhill run into Salida for supplies, rest and relaxation.

0.0 In Hartsel, turn left towards Caņon City onto State Highway 9 and the TrandsAmerica Bicycle Trail.
1.0 Turn right onto County Road 53 (elev. 8,837 ft).
3.19 Bear right on dirt road 15.9 Bear right on dirt road
19.1 Pass through a gap in mountains into a dry basin with dark mountains
23.9 Continue straight on County Road 53 at unmarked junction. Route soon turns narrow.
26.2 Cross Cattle guard, trail gets more primitive (elevation changes up/down by a couple hundred ft)
29.9 Right onto Ute Trail 175 (west) (elev. 9,108)
27.7 Ford small creek with no bridge. Get water
30.3 Junction with Power Line, continue straight (do not turn left)
30.6 Continue straight on Ute Trail 175, as another trail/road goes right to Cable Gulch and Herring Park.
32.6 Climb gets really steep through San Isabel National Forest towards high ridge.
34.5 Cross cattle guard at watershed divide and start the descent. (elev. 9,933)
39.0 Continue straight/left down at junction
46.3 Turn left at T to continue on County Road 175
46.5 Turn left onto State Highway 291 towards Salida
46.6 Go right onto Mesa Lane and into Salida. (elev. 7,100)

Leg #3 Salida to Westcliffe
46.5 mile length, elevation gain 850 ft, elevation loss 200 ft

A ride down through the spectacular Arkansas River Canyon and then up through the Wet Valley to Westcliffe for supplies. This is some of the best fly fishing country in Colorado. If I wasn't going so light, I'd bring a fly rod. There are also possible opportunities to ride off road on sections of the Rainbow Trail along the Sangre de Cristo range but may require some bike packing. We could also raft our bikes a few miles down river.

0.0 In Salida take road heading towards river at south of town. (elev. 7,100)
1.3 Intersect and take Hwy 50 down river (elev. 7,018)
5.1 Turn east towards & over river on County Rd. 45
17.2 Cross over Hwy 50 but stay on County Rd. 45
19.1 Intersect Haden Creek Rd. turn left (north east)
19.4 Reach Coaldale, turn right (south east) on Hwy 50
23.5 Reach Cotopaxi, turn right (south) on
30.5 Turn right (south) on Road 69
46.5 Reach Westcliffe (elev. 7,875)

Alt #1: We could rent a river raft and float our bikes down the Arkansas River to Cotopaxi.
Alt #2: The Rainbow Trail runs roughly from Salida to Westcliffe through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and can be mostly traveled by bike. Talking to a local bike shop it sounds like the trail is torn up by ATV's and is not much fun for bikes. However if we find a nice section the route can be diverted for some distance on this trail.

Leg #4 Westcliffe to Fort Garland
70.8 mile length, elevation gain 3,100, elevation loss 2,660

Description: This leg winds up through the Wet Valley then over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and down to Fort Garland in the San Louis Valley, Colorado's only true desert. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are very rugged but there are a couple of opportunities to cross over.

0.0 In Westcliffe head south on 6th Street, turns into Hwy 69. (elev. 7,874)
15.9 Reach high point (elev. 8,560)
33.1 Reach Gardener (elev. 6,968)
33.9 Back to junction Hwy 69 & County. Rd. 572 towards Malachite (elev. 7,000)
39.8 Reach Malachite, turn South on County Rd. 572 (elev. 7,508)
51.1 Reach Pass Creek Pass (elev. 9,379) 52.3 Junction with North La Veta Pass Rd. 160. (elev. 9,095)
70.8 Reach Fort Garland (elev. 8,021)

Alt #1: Medano Pass also crosses over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains south of Crestone Peak into Sand Dunes National Monument and down to Fort Garland. Sounds like a fun route, but might require a couple miles packing our bikes on our backs through soft sand.
Alt#2: We could ride/pack over one of the 14,000 ft peaks in this range also.

Leg #5 Fort Garland to Amalia New Mexico
35.7 mile length, elevation gain 500, elevation loss 300

This leg is a relatively flat trip down through the San Louis Valley visiting Colorado's oldest town, San Louis. The route veers off the main road at San Louis and follows back roads to New Mexico primarily to find a more direct route and to get out of the desert quickly. An interesting alternate route over Wild Horse Mesa is an interesting possibility. Imagine riding with the heard. Stock up in Fort Garland or San Louis, because there are no services until Red River New Mexico. Amalia isn't really a town.

0.0 In Fort Garland go south on Hwy 159 (elev. 8,021)
15.7 Reach town of San Louis, Head south east on dirt road (elev. 7,969)
18.3 Turn right, South, on dirt road towards San Pedro (elev. 8,100)
19.2 Reach village of San Pedro (elev. 8,087)
20.2 Reach village of San Pablo (elev. 8,093)
21.5 Right turn, South, on dirt road towards New Mexico (elev. 8,177)
27.1 Cross stream (elev. 8,470)
34.5 High point (elev. 8,570)
35.7 Reach Amalia New Mexico (elev. 8164)

Alt#1: The semi-wilderness area south of San Louis is called Wild Horse Mesa. This route would include dirt roads linked with single track, might be a great bit of fun and very secluded.

Leg #6 Amalia to Taos
49.5 mile length, elevation gain approx. 1,000 ft, elevation loss approx. 1,500

Descend down to Costilla New Mexico and ride the highway through Questa and into Taos

Route Information

Route is still Preliminary