It’s only natural that with all the mountains surrounding Marble, mountain biking is a popular activity. There are several excellent mountain bike rides around Marble, ranging from fairly easy to fairly strenuous. Note: Mountain Bikes are not allowed in wilderness areas and must stay on designated routes.
Schofield Pass and Crested Butte
The most popular route is the trip to Crested Butte via Schofield Pass. This is a fairly long ride, however, and many people make a two-day trip of it, spending the night in Crested Butte before riding back. This is also a fairly difficult ride for some folks.
To start the 24-mile trip to Crested Butte from Marble, the route begins at the bottom of Daniels Hill, on the eastern edge of town. Parking is limited here, and there’s plenty of parking at Beaver Lake and at the Marble Millsite Park next to the fire station in town, which adds only another mile or so onto your trip.
Daniels Hill is very steep, so gear down or even walk up the 3/4-mile grade. You’ll come to a fork in the trail, with a couple of cabins with red metal roofs below you. Take the right fork to the town of Crystal. Some folks park at this point and ride from here, but parking is limited and you must have a four-wheel-drive vehicle to make it to this point.
The road to Crystal is a visually stunning, rugged two-track jeep road that begins with a steep descent down to the Crystal River. The road parallels the river upvalley for 4 miles and it’s fairly easy riding, though it’s rocky in places. Be advised, however, that the road receives heavy 4x4 traffic during the summer, particularly on the way to Crystal and back, so get an early start to avoid having to pull off again and again.
Once in Crystal, after stopping to take a few pictures at the famous Crystal Mill, ride on up the road and through town. Please note that all the cabins are private property. The store might be open and might not, and the selection is limited to a few mineral specimens and perhaps candy bars and pop.
The road goes on through town and starts to climb up the base of Mineral Point on the east side of town. The next two miles is the roughest part of the ride. First comes a rough climb up a nasty ¾-mile section of road, with loose rocks under your wheels. About halfway up, the road to Lead King Basin forks off to the left at a switchback. Keep going straight. There’s a little flat stretch, and then the road climbs another ¾ mile up through the infamous Devil’s Punchbowl. The narrow road is carved out of solid granite at a 20-degree slope on the south (shaded) side of a steep cliff over looking the boiling river 300 feet below.
Once the road climbs out of the Devil’s Punchbowl, the road levels off, crosses the river, and enters Schofield Park, which is wide and flat. After two miles or so, the road climbs up to Schofield Pass, which is 10,700 feet in elevation.
On the other side, the road traverses down a steep slope above Emerald Lake to join the East River into Gothic, which is a town similar to Crystal, but a little bigger. Once in Gothic, the road climbs 3 miles up the north face of Snodgrass Mountain to a divide overlooking Crested Butte Ski Area. It’s all downhill from here to Crested Butte via a paved road.
Depending on your fitness and ability as a rider, the ride to Crested Butte should take between 3 and 5 hours. Some very fit riders may be able to do the round trip in one day, but why not stay overnight and start fresh in the morning? Most guidebooks rate the trip to Crested Butte as an intermediate/advanced ride of moderate difficulty.
Lead King Basin
The Lead King Loop, as it is known, is a popular day trip for mountain bike riders in the Marble area. The first half of the ride is the same route as the Schofield Pass/Crested Butte ride, starting at Daniels Hill and ending up four miles later at Crystal. Just east of the town of Crystal, however, instead of proceeding straight up the canyon to Schofield, riders take a left and continue up to Lead King Basin.
From Crystal, the first ¾ mile is very difficult climbing on a mountain bike—very rough, loose rocks, rutted from ATV traffic, and steep. The route then crosses a rockslide overlooking the North Fork of the Crystal River, and the views are tremendous in all directions. The road climbs up limestone shelves, through a grove of Englemann spruce, with waterfalls thundering in the river a stone’s throw away. It’s very beautiful.
The road then emerges into an open meadow in the bottom of Lead King Basin with Snowmass Peak and Hagerman Peak overshadowing the spectacular Geneva Falls at the head of the valley. It’s the prettiest place in Colorado.
Take a left to cross the bridge over the North Fork of the Crystal and proceed up the basin until the road starts to switchback up the west side of Lead King Basin. This is simultaneously some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever witness, and some strenuous climbing.
The road crests out near the top of Arkansas Mountain and then drops down through a series of switchbacks 4 miles to the starting point at Daniels Hill. The trip totals 12 ½ miles and should take 3-5 hours, and it’s rated as an advanced ride and strenuous.
NOTE: There are several sections on the Lead King ride where HORSES may be encountered AT ANY TIME. You are REQUIRED to get off your mountain bike and STOP until the horseback riders pass.
Ragged Mountain Trail
For single track riding, the Ragged Mountain Trail 19 miles to the Kebler Pass Road is as good as it gets. Access the trail by driving (or pedaling) 2.5 miles up the dirt road leading off McClure Pass, and look for the trail sign on the right, just before the second gate.
This is a 19-mile ride that drops 2,000 feet in elevation, making it a very pleasant sojourn, but you’d be well advised to arrange a shuttle, because there’s plenty of uphill involved and the ride is rated as advanced and strenuous.
The Ragged Mountain trail is a delight for those riders who are looking for classic single-track riding in a gorgeous locale. The trail passes through one of the largest aspen groves in Colorado, beneath the furrowed cliffs of Ragged Mountain. While the track loses plenty of elevation, it has plenty of short uphill climbs mixed in with the downhill glides. After several miles of single-track, the trail joins up with a two-track jeep road as you get closer to Dark Canyon. Follow the orange diamond signs nailed to the trees—they’re markers for snowmobilers who use the same route in the winter.
Ultimately the trail ends up at the Erickson Springs campground at the base of McClure Pass. To drop off a shuttle, drive over McClure Pass and down 19 miles to the base of Paonia Reservoir, take a left at Crystal Springs, drive 6 miles up the gravel road to the Erickson Springs campground, and drop a car there.
For more information and maps of any of these rides, we suggest you read “Mountain Biking the Roaring Fork Valley” by Richard Compton (1996, Who Press, Aspen, CO, www.whopress.com).