Nathrop to the Chalk Cliffs - Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado Visitor Guide

Nathrop to the Chalk Cliffs

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.

Nathrop to the Chalk Cliffs – this nice ride starts in the small community of Nathrop and heads west into the mountains below the Chalk Cliffs at the base of Mount Princeton. The road continues to the ghost town of Saint Elmo, but the pavement ends before the town. This ride goes all the way to the end of the pavement and back. It’s a beautiful ride through grasslands then up a small valley full of cottonwood and aspen trees along Chalk Creek. The trees are brilliant golden in mid to late September. Try it, you’ll like it.

Trailhead Access/Facilities: Drive 17 miles north of Salida (US 285) or 8 miles south of Buena Vista (US 24/US 285). Park in the open lot on the west side of the highway in the middle of Nathrop. It should be obvious, but there are no signs.

Location: Between Salida and Buena Vista
Distance: 21.0 Miles – Out and Back
Riding Time: 2 Hours or More
Riding Surface: Good Pavement
Shoulder: Narrow but little traffic
Traffic: Light
Aerobic Level: Moderate
Elevation in Feet: Low 7,706; High 9,084; Climbs/Descends 1,444

Notes: Traffic will be heavier on holiday weekends and during hunting season. Toilets and food at the hot springs resort. Pit toilets in campgrounds.

Nathrop to the Chalk Cliffs Mileage Log

0.0            From the parking lot, turn south and ride down CR 286, a short road that dips down and parallels the highway. There is no CR sign here, but only one little road going south.

0.3            Turn right (west) on CR 162 and ride straight toward Mount Princeton and the Sawatch Range. Mt. Yale and Mt. Columbia are to your right. Mt. Antero to your left.

4.0            Stay straight on CR 162.

4.7            Pass Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort on your left.

6.5            Look right for a great view of the Chalk Cliffs.

8.1            This meadow on your right is a great place to spot wildlife in early morning and late evening.

9.2            The bottom of this steep hill is a good place to turn around if you don’t like riding up steep hills. It’s a steep climb, but worth it because it’s there and Cascade Falls parallel the road to help take your mind off the burn in your thighs.

9.7            Top of the hill!

10.5            End of the pavement. Turn around here if you don’t want to get your bike dirty. If you don’t mind dirt, the road continues and is hard-packed and perfectly fine on a road bike. You could ride all the way to Saint Elmo if you’ve got the desire. Either way, be careful when you descend that steep hill – you can be going 55mph+ at the bottom and there is a sharp right hand corner right at the bottom.


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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