If the Upper 401 Trail is not the top trail in the world, it most certainly ranks right up there. Many reviews and publications I’ve read rank it near the top. I guess it would be hard to judge until you have biked them all (which is my dream). Plus, each person looks for his/her own particular aspects in a trail. I might rankview as most important. You might be looking for jumps and drops. Now let me describe some the particulars for this awesome trail!
The Upper 401 Trail “officially” starts at the top of Schofield Pass (10,709 feet). Most riders drive 7.5 miles up Gothic Road (from Crested Butte) and park at the Copper Creek parking lot on the right. Then they grind up the remaining 4.5 miles of road (on their bike) to get to the pass.
I drove up this stretch (in the car) and over the pass to reach Cindy’s (my wife) trailhead. She set out (on foot) to hike a trail that heads toward Aspen, while I cycled back to the 401 trailhead.
As I approached the 401 trailhead I found a lot of activity centered around three cars… as mountain bikers were preparing to ride. I didn’t stop to talk but just turned left and rode past the 401 sign.
Please enjoy this interactive map, of the Upper (in red) and Lower 401 Trail.
Once I’d caught my breath I said goodbye and cranked on. Less than one full mile of climbing brought me to my highest elevation for this ride (11,200 feet). Next I crossed a small stream, climbed a steep (but short) hill, traversed a beautiful flat meadow, and managed to take the correct trail (still the 401) at a junction. There I met some young riders taking a break.
One of them was wearing tennis shoes and looked like a total Geek. He and I were the only mountain bike riders wearing tennis shoes in the whole state of Colorado. I made a vow, right then-and-there, that I was going to check into getting some mountain bike shoes!
I left them there and… as I gradually came over the next hill the distant mountains started to appear.
Soon I started getting glimpses of the Gothic valley, 2000 feet below. The views of the surrounding peaks and vacuous valley were breathtaking!! There were 3 young women mountain bikers (who also looked good) taking photos of each other with this scenic backdrop.
I think we were all kind of overwhelmed by the setting. “Why don’t you go down first,” they offered, “we don’t want to ‘hold you back’.” I like riding fast and they probably would have held me up, besides… I would probably have been distracted and crashed if I’d followed them…” My next immediate thought “WOW!! Now the real fun begins!!!
The Upper 401 Trail offers over 4 miles of scintillating downhill single track!! I cut across wildflower fields, splashed through cold streams, flew over jagged rocks, and wove my way through aspen trees, then open fields, then a pine grove, then an open field, then an aspen grove… each came and went quickly. At times I was a downhill ski racer and others I was doing the giant slalom. Weaving my way through these patches of pine and aspen forests was challenging and exhilarating. My arms and legs started to burn but I did not want to stop, couldn’t stop myself.
After I crossed a bridge I came to a “T” in the trail. The guidebook I was using told me that this double track was Rustler’s Gulch Road, and I should go straight ahead to the Lower-401 trail. But, I didn’t see any Lower-401 sign or anything that even looked like a trail. To the left the road looked relatively flat, while to the right it looked to drop down a steep hill. I decided to go left and soon stopped a lady in a pickup truck and asked if she knew of the Lower-401 Trail. She said she didn’t know any of the trails up here but she hadn’t seen any signs. I turned around and followed her down the road, past where I had first emerged from the Upper 401 Trail. The Lower-401 sign finally appeared a good 200 yards down that steep road toward Gothic road. I stopped at the sign to rest my arms and hands, but also to reflect upon riding the most picturesque trail in the state … or country … or world.
To see some footage of this ride click the YouTube video above.
Click on Lower-401 Trail to see the rest of this ride.