Monarch Crest Trail: Out and Back - Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado Visitor Guide

Monarch Crest Trail: Out and Back

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.

The Monarch Crest Trail is one of the most popular and scenic singletrack rides in America. It climbs above tree line and traverses the mountains through grassy meadows and rock gardens. Occasionally the trail dips back into the trees and gets slightly more technical. This trail provides everything you are looking for in a memorable ride. The views stretch across the sky with the Saguache Range to the north, the Elks to the northwest and the San Juans to the southwest. Few rides compete with the Monarch Crest Trail.

Trailhead Access: Drive west of Salida 22 miles on US 50. Park in the rarified air at the top of Monarch Pass in the massive parking lot.

Location: Top of Monarch Pass, west of Salida
Distance: 19 miles – out and back
Riding Time: 3 to 3.5 hours
Riding Surface in Miles: Doubletrack 1.1, Singletrack 17.9
Aerobic Level: Strenuous – altitude and climbing
Technical Difficulty: Intermediate – mostly smooth singletrack with rocky sections Elevation in Feet: Low Point 11,312; High Point 11,922; Climbs/Descends 1,068
Land Status: USFS
Maps: Pahlone Peak
Note: This is the only ride on the Monarch Crest that does not require a shuttle.
Options: Shuttle and sample one of the many trails that descend all the way to Salida – Silver Creek, Marshall Pass, South Fooses, Agate Creek or Greens Creek.

Monarch Crest Trail: Out and Back Mileage Log

0.0 From the parking lot, climb the short blacktop road that leads to the gondola and reads “scenic ride”. Pass the gondola, stay on the dirt doubletrack and climb.
0.3 Turn right on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) singletrack and sign the trailhead register.
1.1 At the junction, stay to the right on the doubletrack heading uphill (south). Follow the sign that points to the CDT. This is a steep 0.5 mile climb.
1.6 Turn right to stay on the CDT.
2.0 Enjoy the huge views on this sweeping lefthand corner.
4.5 Stop at the saddle and walk to the east for a great view of the Collegiate Peaks. Leave your bike on the trail and do not ride it across the high alpine plants.
6.9 Enter a meadow with a lean-to hut on your left. For an adventurous overnight, bring a sleeping bag and spend the night in the lean to. Follow the trail through the meadow and into the trees on the other side.
7.2 The water crossing the trail comes from a freshwater spring located about 20 feet uphill to the left. This is a good place to fill your water bottles. No one has been known to get ill from this spring, but be safe and purify it.
7.6 Climb uphill through a forest of dead trees.
8.8 Cross a wide rockslide. The singletrack after the rockslide is fast, treed and technical.
9.5 The singletrack intersects a doubletrack dirt road with a small clear area and old mine with white rocks. This is the end of the out and back ride, so turn around and enjoy the ride back. It’s like a whole new trail.


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.

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Buena Vista, CO 81211

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Salida, CO 81201

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