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.
Continental Divide Trail: Saint Elmo to Tin Cup Pass
An epic adventure – climb the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad grade from the ghost town of Saint Elmo to the historic Alpine Tunnel. From here follow a serious singletrack up a steep climb to a saddle above tree line. This section of the CDT wanders north through high alpine meadows to Tin Cup Pass. The singletrack is stellar and the views beautiful. It feels like you are riding on the roof of the Rocky Mountains – few mountain bike trails access terrain this high. Not many people attempt this ride and though the mileage is short, it always feels like an epic.
Trailhead Access: Drive 16 miles north of Salida and look for the sign pointing to Saint Elmo. Turn left (west) on CR 162 and drive 15 miles to Saint Elmo. Park in the middle of town along the fence on the south side of the street. Start riding.
Location: The ghost town of Saint Elmo
Distance: 18.2 mile – loop
Riding Time: 3 to 5 hours
Riding Surface in Miles: Dirt Road 10.2, Doubletrack 3.0, Singletrack 5.0
Aerobic Level: Strenuous – high altitude and climbing
Technical Difficulty: Expert – steep singletrack, rocky, stream crossings, little-traveled
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 9,988; High Point 12,329; Climbs/Descends 2,535
Land Status: USFS, Private Land
Maps: Saint Elmo, Cumberland Pass
0.0 Ride east out of town on the road you drove in.
0.4 Turn right on the uphill road to Hancock, FSR 295. This is the railroad grade.
2.2 The road splits. Ride the left hand road.
3.1 The road splits. Choose the left hand road through the rocks across the wooden bridge.
3.5 Stay on the railroad grade as a road turns left to the Mary Murphy Mine.
5.3 Pass one of the most interesting old mining buildings in the area. Ms. Pac Man.
6.1 Enter the town of Hancock, est. 1880. There is almost nothing left. Look for an interpretive sign off the trail on your left. Continue across a bridge, until the road forks. Turn right, following the sign to the Alpine Tunnel Trail. This road is closed to motor traffic and is the original railroad bed. Ride around the locked green metal gate.
6.6 The trail forks. Take the right hand trail to the Alpine Tunnel. Step over the low gate and continue riding.
8.9 Stay straight ahead as a singletrack splits to the left. This trail leads to Tin Cup Pass and you will come back to it. The Alpine Tunnel lies straight ahead.
9.0 The East Portal of the Alpine Tunnel, used from 1882 to 1910, and built by the DSPPR as part of the great railroad race to cross the Rocky Mountains. Engineers expected to blast through this “hardrock” section quickly, but instead of finding solid rock they found loose rock. They had to shore up the entire length of the tunnel with California redwood. Both ends of the tunnel have collapsed, but the last explorers to weasel their way inside found the entire central section of the tunnel intact.
Turn around and ride back to the singletrack that heads uphill to Tin Cup Pass.
9.1 Turn right on this steep traversing singletrack. This is a stiff climb, crank or push!
9.6 Top of the hill. Turn right (north) on the signed CDT. For a great view of the West Portal of the Alpine Tunnel, leave your bike at the CDT sign and walk to the southern edge of the saddle. There are several restored buildings below and part of a round house. Return to the CDT and ride north up the short steep hill.
9.6 to 11.9 This singletrack winds through challenging high alpine terrain. There is only one trail and no trail markers. Keep your eyes open and look ahead so you don’t loose the singletrack – it does not follow the most logical contours.
11.9 Drop through the deep forest on smoked singletrack served on a bed of fragrant pine needles.
13.7 Cross 2 wooden bridges over the North Fork of Chalk Creek.
14.1 T-intersection with a dirt road, Tin Cup Pass. Turn right downhill. This road is rocky and fast with huge water bars. Many 4WDs and ATVs also use this road, especially on weekends, and you can encounter them at any point along this road.
17.9 Intersection with CR 267. Watch for traffic! Ride through Saint Elmo.
18.1 Turn right across the bridge over Chalk Creek.
18.2 Main Street of Saint Elmo. Not bad, eh?
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.
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