Salida to Marshall Pass, Continental Divide Trail to Silver Creek Trail, to Rainbow Trail, back to Salida
Start in town, roll easy to the west on pavement for about 20 minutes, then turn south and climb a bit up highway 285. The climb takes about 40 minutes, but it's a nice warmup. The grades are never more than about 4%. Then turn west onto Chaffee County Road 200, a dirt road that is a converted narrow-guage railroad route.
From this point, at about 8,000 feet elevation, you will climb to around 11,000 feet on dirt at a very consistent easy grade. The scenery is beautiful, from gambel oak and piñon/juniper into Ponderosa Pine forest, then into a vast aspen forest, and finally to the thin fir forest near treeline.
There is very little traffic, though this road is open to all vehicles. If you are there on a quiet day, and you ride quietly, you can see deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, possibly even bear or mountain lions. It's a peaceful, beautiful climb.
But then, when you reach Marshall Pass, the real fun begins. Now you have 20 miles of fabulous singletrack to ride. The Continental Divide Trail for about 3 miles to the top of the Silver Creek drainage, then a 7-mile downhill on the Silver Creek Trail.
After finishing the Silver Creek downhill you ride the fabulous first section of the Rainbow Trail beginning at its western terminus near Silver Creek and finishing at highway 285. From there you can just roll down 285 back to Poncha, and then take the easy spin back to Salida.
It's a beautiful ride, with lots of variety in scenery, and it's a world-class training ride. Hours and hours long, with a huge but easy aerobic climb up front and then hours of fun, engaging, and challenging singletrack riding.
©Tom Purvis, 2007-2012