Custer County’s mountain peaks and wild landscapes create some of Colorado’s most scenic bike rides.
Road bikers can ride a portion of the Western Express Bicycle Route connecting San Francisco to Pueblo. The route travels from Salida into the narrow valley of the Arkansas River to Cotopaxi, where leaves U.S. 50 via County Road 1A and winds up to CO 69 and the Wet Mountain Valley. In Westcliffe, it turns onto CO 96, climbing over the Wet Mountains and snaking down through Hardscrabble Canyon on its way to Wetmore and developed trails at Pueblo Reservoir.
Custer County also boasts the mile-and-a-quarter Park-to-Park Trail. Ideal for families, this beautifully-groomed trail joins Westcliffe’s and Silver Cliff’s town parks and offers gorgeous views of the entire Sangre de Cristo Range.
Those eager to spin their fat tires without racking their bikes can find several excellent rides that begin in Silver Cliff and Westcliffe. The “Historic Mining Loop” is slated for routing signage and begins in Silver Cliff along unpaved Cliffs Lane, turns north onto a half-mile of steep pavement up Oak Creek Grade and branches left onto the gravel of County Road 251 at the hilltop. From there, you have several choices.
This route leads to many other options, including a set of dirt roads around DeWeese Reservoir. With rolling hills and a gravel surface, this ride is great for kids and novice bikers looking for something more adventurous.
The 100-mile Rainbow Trail is famous among mountain bikers for its variety of terrain and foot trails leading to lakes and mountain peaks—although rough conditions on parts of the trail can be very challenging. The Ghost Town Loop, a ride through historic Rosita and Querida, is also popular among mountain bikers.
Ride the Rainbow Trail, tool around DeWeese Reservoir or cruise through town. In Custer County, there are trails and experiences for all abilities and interests.
Custer County Road and Bridge maintains over 350 miles of road in the county, with most of it being gravel. The roads that are paved are either in/near town or are state highways. While some road bike riders do ride the few miles of paved roads in the valley, the best-kept cycling secret here is the wonderful opportunities for “gravel grinding”. So, if you like putting your cycling mettle to the test, here are a few pointers to help you plan your riding.
These are the Rocky Mountains – wherever you ride in the valley, you will encounter inclines. Even the valley floor is a “hill,” no matter which way you go. For example, if you ride the valley floor south to the Custer County line, you will ascend about 600′ in elevation. Another example is riding east or west from the valley floor on Schoolfield/Rosita Road – an eastward ride will include a 1400′ vertical gain to the highest point and a westward ride will include 1100′ vertical gain.
Long and Straight Versus Winding and Hilly – If you enjoy long, straight roads with constant vistas of the mountains, investigate riding the valley floor. A 10-mile loop to the south from town might include about 500′ of vertical gain, depending on your exact route. If you’re into riding the hills, then investigate a ride through the various subdivisions in the Wet Mountains on the east side of the valley. Riding in this area is sort of like riding a rollercoaster – the roads are never straight and your speed will vary from about 3 to 30 miles an hour. In this area, expect vertical gains of at least 100′ per mile, on average.
Have the Right Equipment and Be Physically Prepared – As with any other sport or activity, know your body and be sure that your equipment meets the task. If you plan on riding the hills on the east side of the valley, make sure the gearing on your bike is appropriate (minimally for the lowest gearing, for an average rider, 32 teeth front to 34 teeth back, or equivalent). While the east side of the valley doesn’t have 15 mile long climbs like you see on a big mountain pass, there are short hills that are steeper than anything you will see on big passes. Make sure everything on your bike is in good working order, especially your breaks. And, wear a helmet! A gravel road will do just as much damage to your noggin as a paved road will.
Observe Property Boundaries – Do not venture down gated or posted roads unless you are absolutely certain you are not trespassing. In some cases, roads are gated to keep cattle from venturing beyond their grazing land. Stick to the public roadways and enjoy the ride!