Arkansas River Road: Wellsville to Coaldale

SingleTrack-and-Tarmac-coverPublished with permission from the guide book: The Local’s Adventure Guide to Singletrack & Tarmac – Mountain Bike Trails and Road Rides in the Upper Arkansas River Valley by Nathan Ward.

  • Featuring 36 Mountain Bike Trails and 18 Road Rides in and around Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado – beginner to expert, town to summit, smooth tarmac to extreme singletrack.
  • Maps and Elevation Profiles for each ride, including altitude gain and loss.
  • Local Advice on riding areas and seasons, where to sleep, where to soak, where to find the best pizza, the best coffee and the best bars in Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado.

The Arkansas River Road is the only road, besides busy US 50, that leads down beautiful Bighorn Sheep Canyon east of Salida. It’s a fairly smooth road that runs downhill along the Arkansas River past whitewater rapids, swimming holes, railroad tunnels, red rocks, high altitude desert and hay fields. This ride features fabulous views of the northern end of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. This route also has interpretive signage along its length with information on the old settlements and industry that used to exist in the canyon. It’s all gone now, but the river road is still a beautiful place to ride your bike.

Trailhead Access: This ride requires a shuttle (unless you ride it out and back). From the US 50/US 291 junction at the eastern edge of Salida, drive 17.3 miles east on US 50 and turn left on CR 45 toward the Vallie Bridge Recreation Site. Drive 0.3 mile and park in the Recreation Site. This is a fee area so check the board to determine the fee and pay it.

Location: Bighorn Sheep Canyon, east of Salida
Distance: 12.1 miles – one-way
Riding Time: 1 to 1.5 hours
Riding Surface in Miles: Paved 0.6, Dirt Road 11.5
Aerobic Level: Easy – downhill
Technical Difficulty: Novice – two short rocky sections
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 6,563; High Point 7,026; Climbs 132; Descends 516
Land Status: BLM, Private Land
Maps: Salida East, Wellsville, Howard
Options: Ride the route out and back, or straight from town to eliminate the shuttle. Use caution, the highway is busy and the shoulders nearly nonexistent.

Arkansas River Road Wellsville to Coaldale-map

Arkansas River Road Wellsville to Coaldale-elevation

Arkansas River Road Photo Gallery

Salida Aerial

Arkansas River Road Mileage Log

0.0 Turn left on Fremont CR 70/CR 45 and cross the Arkansas River.
0.5 “Better Crops for Better Living”, the U.S. Soil Conditioning Co. on your left.
0.7 Cross the train tracks. Follow the road straight on CR 45.
0.9 The road splits. Take the right hand road, CR 45. There are no signs at this intersection. The road heads slightly downhill along the river.
1.9 Look across the river to see the small town of Swissvale. This section of the ride traverses high altitude desert through piñon pine, fractured red rocks and cactus.
2.4 Cross a cattle guard. The road gets rougher until just before the town of Howard.
2.5 Cross directly beneath the railroad tracks and stay to the left, downstream. This road used to be open to cars, but since a flood washed it out, there is no through route for automobiles. Better for bikes.
3.0 The “cliffs”, a popular swimming hole. Watch out for strong currents…it’s a river.
3.1 Railroad tunnel on your left.
4.3 After a short steep downhill, enter Badger Creek and turn left (upstream if there is water). Ride up the creek for 20 yards and turn right uphill. The right turn is before the large railroad bridge.
5.5 Across the river begins the small town of Howard.
6.3 Ride straight on CR 45 through these intersections. The road turns to pavement for about 100 yards and back to dirt.
7.0 River wash – do not try to cross if there is water running through it. Once past the wash, look right (south) for an amazing view of the Twin Sisters peaks.
7.6 The road changes to pavement. In mid-August this area shines with wild sunflowers.
8.2 The road changes back to dirt.
8.3 Ride straight through the intersection and stay on CR 45.
9.6 Old cemetery.
12.1 The end of the road! Stop at the Vallie Bridge Recreation Site, an AHRA fishing access pullout on the right side of the road. This is a self-service fee area costing a few dollars a day per person. For that dough you get access to pit toilets, a changing area and picnic tables. There is also a walk-in campground beside the river – check fees and reserve it here:

Ride With Care

Bicycle riding is a physically strenuous activity with many risks and dangers. Hazards, natural or man made, whether noted in this book or not, can be encountered at any time under any situation. As a cyclist, we assume you know your personal abilities and limitations. This book represents nothing more than a guide to the trails and roads and is not meant to replace your common sense, your ability to navigate in the wilderness or in traffic, or your ability to ride a bicycle safely.

In addition, the mileages and routes listed in this text are only suggestions. There may be variances and you may get lost. We recommend everyone uses a GPS and topographical map to navigate. Most routes in this text are located on public land, but some trails pass through or adjacent to private land. Respect the land owner’s rights and obey all signs regarding trail use. The same goes for wilderness areas which prohibit mountain bike riding. Neither the author, nor the publisher, nor anyone else mentioned in this book are responsible or liable in any way for any accident, injury or any action brought against anyone traveling any route listed in this book. All cyclists and their companions assume responsibility for themselves. Ride at your own risk.