Monarch Crest Trail North: CDT to Boss Lake Mountain Biking Guide - Salida, Colorado

Crest Trail North: CDT to Boss Lake

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.

  • 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.

Monarch Crest Trail North CDT to Boss Lake: From the Monarch Crest this route follows the Continental Divide Trail northeast and climbs the shoulders of Bald Mountain (12,855 ft.). The high altitude climbs are steep and often require pushing. The traverses and descents are steep, rocky and very technical. However, the views are incredible and at one point you can see the entire width of the Rockies, from Pikes Peak to the San Juans. The ride also offers great views of Waterdog Lakes, Hunt Lake, Boss Lake Reservoir and all the surrounding peaks. This is the most technical ride in the book, and should only be attempted by self-sufficient parties with expert riding skills.

Trailhead Access: This ride requires a shuttle. Drive both cars west of Salida on US 50 and start up Monarch Pass. Park one car in the small town of Garfield (now named Monarch), 16 miles west of Salida. Drive the other car with bikes to the summit of Monarch Pass, another 6 miles. Park beneath the gondola building.

Location: Top of Monarch Pass to Garfield
Distance: 12.5 miles – one way
Riding Time: 2.5 to 3.5 hours
Riding Surface in Miles: Paved 0.4, Dirt Road 3.9, Singletrack 8.2
Aerobic Level: Strenuous – altitude and steep
Technical Difficulty: Experts Only – very technical.
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 9,640; High Point 12,529; Climbs 1,868; Descends 3,521
Note: Do not attempt this ride in lightning or thunderstorm conditions.
Land Status: USFS
Maps: Pahlone Peak, Garfield
Options: Ride out and back to make the ride easier and eliminate the shuttle. Turn around when you get sick of pushing.

Crest Trail North: CDT to Boss Lake Mileage Log

0.0 Ride out of the parking lot and cross US 50. Turn left going downhill (west toward Gunnison). Ride the pavement.
0.3 At the first left hand corner on US 50, look closely for a singletrack heading uphill to the right. Turn right and ride uphill. There is a small CDT sign.
1.5 Intersection with a dirt road. Ride across the road and up the dirt road across from the singletrack. You will see a large locked red metal gate and a USFS box to sign in. Ride around the left side of the gate and continue up the road.
2.1 Pass directly beneath a ski lift in the upper reaches of Monarch Mountain ski area. The road splits here. Take the left hand road. The road splits again. Take the left hand road again.
2.4 Stop on top of this climb – look east for Pikes Peak, southwest for the San Juans, northwest for the Elks and north for the Collegiate Peaks.
2.7 As you top this hill, there should be a ski lift hut on the right. As you start the descent, look ahead at the big rocky peak for a singletrack high on the left side. This is where you are headed. Until then, ride straight ahead and bomb down the rocky doubletrack.
3.2 At the end of an open area, stay on the main road as it curves right. When the road splits, take the left hand road.
3.6 As the road turns right toward the visible ski lift shack, the CDT turns left. There is a small sign. Turn left. If you reach the ski lift, backtrack and look for the trail.
4.3 On the right hand side are low rock walls and interpretive signs for the Monarch Pass game drive. Prehistoric people built rock walls and herded big game into pens here. Then they killed the animals with spears and arrows.
4.3 to 8.6 Only one trail passes through this region, and there are no signs to indicate the route, so stay on the singletrack.

You will encounter big steep climbs. Take a break and look over the drop-off on the right side of the trail for great views of Waterdog Lakes and the South Arkansas River Valley. Huge cairns line the route, but instead of following the cairns, follow the singletrack. They don’t always match up.

After the climbs, the trail traverses Bald Mountain and crosses many technical talus fields. As you round the shoulder of the peak the trail drops steeply toward two small alpine lakes. This downhill section is really good if you ride trials. If not, be ready for difficult rock sections and abrupt switchbacks. The trail passes near the lakes below and remains challenging with rock sections and switchbacks. Stay on the trail as it follows the talus line on the south side of the lakes.

8.6 The trail mellows out and drops into the trees. Hunt Lake is on your left.
8.7 As you round Hunt Lake, look for the wide trail that used to be a jeep road. Turn left and follow this wide rocky trail. There are no signs, but it’s still the CDT. The very angular peak visible to the northeast is Mt. Aetna (13,745 ft.). This trail winds downhill through the forest.
9.7 After passing a series of large boulders in the trail, look for a CDT sign. A road heads downhill left and another dirt road heads straight. Ride the road straight. Boss Lake should be downhill on your left.
9.9 Intersection with an orange-colored dirt road. The CDT continues straight across the road, but it’s easier to turn left on the dirt road and follow it around Boss Lake Reservoir. The road follows the shore and turns into a singletrack skirting the water line.
(If the water level in the lake is too high and the singletrack is under water, backtrack to the CDT at mile 9.9 and ride the trail over the hill, cross a bridge and continue on to the Boss Lake Reservoir dam.)
10.1 Cross a small creek and climb a short steep incline onto the dam. Turn left and ride along the dam, past the small log building.
10.2 On the far side of the dam, turn right on the steep downhill singletrack. This section offers technical riding and silky singletrack before crossing over Middle Fork Creek.
10.9 T-intersection with a dirt road at the Boss Lake Trailhead. Turn right on the road. After about 50 yards, the road splits. Stay on the right hand road.
11.0 Intersection with FSR 230. Turn right and ride down this loose rocky road all the way to Garfield/Monarch. Several small roads split off, but they all go to summer cabins.
12.3 Cross the old railroad bed and continue on the road.
12.4 Stay to the left around a building until reaching paved US 50. After stopping to look for traffic, turn left downhill and ride to your car.


We want you to have a safe and enjoyable trip into Colorado’s backcountry. Be prepared it could be a long walk out. Be sure to read this list of equipment you should bring on your ride along with tips to make your biking trip more enjoyable.


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.

Visitor Photos


Get Inspired


Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce
111 E Main St
Buena Vista, CO 81211

Salida Chamber of Commerce
406 W Rainbow Blvd.
Salida, CO 81201

connect with us!

© 2023 Chaffee County Visitors Bureau | All Rights Reserved