Published 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.
Aspen Ridge to Chinaman Gulch: The Aspen Ridge road is one of the only ways to ride between Salida and Buena Vista on dirt – great for both mountain bikes or cyclocross riders. The route climbs high up Ute Trail and follows a ridgeline in the Arkansas Hills. After the initial climb, the road encounters nothing but small hills until reaching the long technical Chinaman Gulch down into Johnson Village, 3 miles south of Buena Vista. There are great views of the Collegiate Peaks, huge aspen groves, open meadows and a long descent at the end. Be ready for a long ride.
Trailhead Access: This ride requires a shuttle. Drive a car 22 miles north of Salida on US 285. Turn right on US 24/285 and drive 0.5 mile to Johnson Village. Park in the Gunsmoke Truck Stop parking lot – please park in the dirt section, all the way back by the fence. Drive the other car and bikes back to Salida. Start riding.
Location: Salida to Johnson Village (near Buena Vista) via Aspen Ridge
Distance: 39.3 miles – one way
Riding Time: 4 to 5 hours
Riding Surface in Miles: Dirt Road 39.3
Aerobic Level: Strenuous – mileage and climbing
Technical Difficulty: Intermediate – Chinaman Gulch is technical.
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 7,023; High Point 10,299; Climbs 5,967; Descends 5,162
Land Status: USFS, BLM, City/County, Private Land
Maps: Salida East and West, Cameron Mountain, Castle Rock Gulch, Buena Vista East
Note: This is the premiere aspen viewing road in late September when they change colors.
a. Drive up Ute Trail and ride a shorter section of Aspen Ridge out and back – see the ride description between miles 14.3 to 19.8. This eliminates the need for a shuttle, bypasses a lot of climbing and decreases the mileage while still accessing the heart of Aspen Ridge.
b. Skip the technical Chinaman Gulch by continuing to US 24/285 and descend the pavement of Trout Creek Pass. To do so, continue straight on CR 187 another 2.6 miles and follow the signs to Trout Creek Pass. Watch for traffic, it’s a busy highway.
c. Ride dirt all the way to Buena Vista by connecting with the Midland Railroad Bicycle Trail. Follow the directions above to US 24/285. Turn left on US 24/285, ride 0.8 mile and turn right on CR 315. Follow the route description, in reverse, for the Midland Railroad Bicycle Trail.
0.0 Ride west down Sackett Street.
0.3 Turn left on M Street and ride one block.
0.4 Turn right (west) on 1st Street/US 291.
0.9 Turn right (north) on CR 175 past Sands Lake.
1.1 Keep to the right on CR 175 and follow it until the pavement ends.
3.0 The pavement ends. Keep going straight on CR 175 uphill.
5.0 The road enters National Forest after a cattle guard.
7.1 The grade lessens and passes through flowered meadows. Watch for wildlife.
7.6 CR 181 splits to the right. Stay on CR 175.
8.0 CR 182 splits to the right. Stay on CR 175.
8.5 Look left (west) for a great view of the Collegiate Peaks.
8.6 Turn left on CR 185 when the road splits. Look for the large sign to Turret. This section passes through private property so stay on the road.
10.1 The road splits. Take the right hand road, CR 185. This section of the road climbs above an old water filled quarry.
10.5 Stay straight on CR 185, following the sign to “Aspen Ridge 4”.
10.7 Stay straight on CR 185.
12.7 The climbing mellows out on this high plateau. Many small roads split off, so always stay on the main road, CR 185.
12.9 The road splits three ways. Take the middle road, following the sign to Aspen Ridge. The road gets rougher.
13.2 The road splits. Take the right hand road, FSR 185.
13.8 Stay on the main road, FSR 185.
13.9 There is a fence across the road. Open it, ride through and close it. The road splits immediately after the fence. Turn left downhill on FSR 185.
14.3 This is a good spot to start a short out and back ride. Park on the left and start riding.
15.0 The road splits. They both go the same place. The right hand road is smoother.
16.9 The road splits. Stay on the right hand road.
18.3 Look left for a great view of the Chalk Cliffs and Mt. Princeton (14,197 ft.).
19.8 Intersection with a dirt road. Turn left and stay on FSR 185. This area is Coon’s Park. This is a good turn around spot for the short out and back ride option.
20.6 Stay on the main road straight.
21.8 Stay straight on the main road.
22.4 T-intersection. Turn left on CR 187, follow the sign to Trout Creek Pass.
24.6 Stay on the main road. The rocks directly in front are the “Castles”.
26.6 Stay on the main road to the right.
27.2 Turn left on FSR 300 to Bald Mountain Gulch. This is the BLM Four Mile Recreation Area.
27.8 The road splits. Take the left hand road.
28.0 The road splits. Take the right hand road.
28.5 The road splits. Take either road. After they come back together, the road splits again. Take the left road, staying on the signed FSR 300. Awesome view.
29.0 The road splits. Turn right on Trail 1423.
29.5 The trail splits. Stay right on Trail 1423.
31.5 The trail drops into a sandy wash. Turn right up the wash, follow Trail 1423.
32.6 The trail intersects a sandy road/wash. Turn right. When the road splits after 10 yards, take the firm left hand road uphill. About 30 yards up the hill, the road intersects another road heading east-west. Turn right (west) uphill. The sandy wash should be off to your right.
32.7 The road splits. Take the left road heading uphill.
32.8 A barb wire fence with a small opening. A sign reads “Chinaman Gulch Technical Jeep Route”. Pass the fence and ride about 25 yards to the intersection with a dirt road. Turn right on the road. Follow the sign to the Chinaman Gulch Loop.
33.0 Intersection with dirt road. Turn left and ride uphill.
33.8 Start a long technical downhill section. When the road opens up, stop and look at the views to your left.
34.7 The road splits. Take the left hand road.
34.8 Drop into a sandy wash and ride up the road directly across the wash.
35.6 T-intersection with dirt road. Turn right. Stay on the main road at the bottom of the hill.
36.6 Turn right through a green metal gate and follow the road between 2 fenced fields.
37.2 Pass through a green metal gate (close it) and turn right on the big dirt road, CR 301. Across the road you’ll see a stone house and barns which are part of the Buena Vista Correctional Facility.
38.8 Intersection with US 24/285. Turn left.
39.1 Cross over the Arkansas River.
39.3 Turn left into the Gunsmoke Truck Stop.
The Colorado backcountry is popular – bikers, hikers, motorcycle riders, hunters and equestrians use the trail system in the Arkansas Valley, and everyone wants a private piece of heaven. Even if you don’t agree with everyone’s motives or methods of travel, please treat them in a courteous manner.
If you require search and rescue services, it can be costly. Buy a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card to protect yourself. Funds from the CORSAR program go into the Colorado Search and Rescue (SAR) Fund. If a CORSAR card holder becomes lost or injured in the backcountry, the Colorado SAR Fund pays eligible search and rescue expenses.
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.
© 2023 Chaffee County Visitors Bureau | All Rights Reserved