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.
The Monarch Crest Trail to Marshall Pass ride combines all the magic of the Monarch Crest Trail with a non-technical descent to Salida. The road down Marshall Pass follows an old railroad grade which connected Salida and Gunnison in the heyday of railroad. The road passes through huge forests of aspen and gives you a good idea of the challenges faced by early railroaders as they tried to spike lines across the American west.
Trailhead Access: This ride requires a shuttle. Park a vehicle in Salida. Drive the other vehicle and bikes 22 miles west of Salida on US 50 to the top of Monarch Pass. Park in the huge lot beneath the gondola.
Location: Top of Monarch Pass to Salida
Distance: 37.0 miles – one way
Riding Time: 3.5 to 5 hours
Riding Surface in Miles: Paved 11.2, Dirt Road 14.9, Doubletrack 2.0, Singletrack 8.9
Aerobic Level: Strenuous – altitude and mileage
Technical Difficulty: Intermediate – Crest Trail; Novice – Marshall Pass
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 7,043; High Point 11,989; Climbs 1,384; Descends 5,629
Land Status: USFS, City/County, Private Land
Maps: Pahlone Peak, Mount Ouray, Poncha Pass, Salida West
Note: This is the easiest descent from the Monarch Crest Trail to Salida.
Follow the description for the Monarch Crest Trail – Out and Back route to mile 9.5.
9.5 At the end of the singletrack, turn left (south) on the doubletrack road. This is a scary fast downhill section with many huge water bars. More collarbones have been broken here than on any other section of the ride, so take care! Stay on this fire road all the way to the top of Marshall Pass.
10.8 Stay to the right on this sharp corner.
10.9 The road ends in a large parking area at the top of Marshall Pass. There are pit toilets here. Turn left downhill on the Marshall Pass road, CR 200.
11.9 Cross a long built up section of railroad grade.
14.3 Pass Tents Creek and ride through a narrow cut in the hillside. Huge forests of aspen trees glow gold in the autumn before and after Tents Creek (starting mid-Sept.).
17.4 Grays Creek.
19.7 Ride straight on CR 200.
20.0 Look west for an amazing view of the Sangre de Cristo range.
21.5 Stop at the intersection and look for cars. Continue straight on CR 200 following the signs to Poncha Creek.
22.7 Stay on CR 200 as it turns left and crosses a one-lane bridge over Poncha Creek.
23.3 Turn left (north) at the T-intersection and stay on CR 200. The Shirley Site Angling Parking area will be directly across the road. There are pit toilets here.
23.5 Stay on the road downhill and straight.
25.8 T-intersection with paved US 285. Turn left (north) downhill.
30.8 Enter Poncha Springs and pass the High Valley Center where they sell snacks. To Salida, ride straight on US 285 heading through town. Do not turn on US 50.
31.2 Turn right (east) on CR 120 which parallels US 50. Stay on CR 120 all the way to Salida. There is a bike path next to the road.
35.2 Enter Salida. CR 120 becomes Poncha Blvd.
36.5 Poncha Blvd. ends as you take a sweeping downhill corner to the right. This road now becomes 3rd Street. Pass Safeway on your left.
36.7 Turn left at the corner of 3rd and F Streets in the heart of Historic Downtown Salida. Ride 3 blocks to Sackett Street or wherever you parked.
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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