Midland Trail

Sometimes the best things in life are, in fact, free. Take the Midland Trail, which is easily accessible from downtown Buena Vista. This 18.8-mile route, which travels between Trout Creek Pass and town doesn’t require a long drive or a ton of effort to reach. And it makes for a good spin on the bike, perfect rail run or casual hike—hey, it’s even been the site of Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation races. Here, we describe what locals call the Gentlemen’s Loop, a moderate 11-mile route that cruises through small canyons, passes historical railroad ruins, and serves up spectacular big-mountain views. Pick your poison—ride, run, hike or bring your ass—and enjoy this beautiful, dog-friendly high-desert trail. If you want a bigger burn, reverse our directions and follow the trail clockwise.ElevOut_0046Buena Vista River Park Trailhead

Start at the Buena Vista River Park, which you access by turning east on Main Street from Highway 24. Follow East Main for 0.5 miles until it turns to dirt. At the signed junction, keep left toward the river park where there is ample parking, informational kiosks and a toilet. Take the pedestrian bridge across the Arkansas River and follow the double-track to the left up the rocky switchbacks. (Bikers may find it hard to stay in the saddle here, as this climb pushes your legs and technical skills, but it’s short-lived so hang in there.)

Cruising the Railroad

After the initial lung-busting climb of about 200 vertical feet, you turn south (right) onto CR 304 and the trail levels out and joins the old Midland Railroad Grade. Enjoy rolling along, climbing gradually through cuts in the rock and taking in views of the snow-covered Collegiate Peaks across the valley.  Keep an eye out for cinders from old engines and railroad relics scattered along the trail.

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Midland Bike Trail

About 3.25 miles from the trailhead, you pass the CR 304 Trailhead and parking area (an alternate access point). Pass the map kiosk and hit the wide trail traveling east to enter the non-motorized section of the Midland Bike Trail (FR 1450). Now, the real fun, a.k.a. rolling singletrack, begins. A short technical rocky stretch, with a narrow chute at the top, leads into a fast, flat stretch of trail. Several sandy washes challenge your balance and calf strength, while steep rocky walls seem to be closing in as you pass. It’s mostly smooth and relatively do-able, but a handful of short, steep technical sections (some of them where railroad trestles used to be) keep it interesting.   

Junction

Head left (north) at this junction and climb steeply along 1450 A, a rough spur that climbs over loose rocks through peaceful forested terrain to reach 376 A.   

Looping Around 

At the junction with 376 A, turn left (west) and meander along this rarely used road that serves up some incredible views in every direction. Follow the trail as it curves left and descends back toward 304. Choose your line well on this descent to steer clear of the rough, gravel-filled ruts prevalent on this rough road.

Retrace Your Route

Reach the junction with the Midland Bike Trail, turn right (west) and begin to retrace your tracks back toward the car.

South Loop Option

As you near the river, keep an eye out for the South Loop trail to your left. Descend to the bridge via this steep, rocky, flowy route that drops closer to the river. Enjoy one final burst of beauty before heading home.

Trail Gear

SCOTT GENIUS 930

This do-it-all 29er trail bike boasts a Fox Nude shock and Fox 34 Float performance fork that allows you to switch between three settings to dial-in the ride. Slightly slacker geometry offers up stability at speed, while added travel (140 front, 130 rear) means you can make mistakes and still plow through without ending up on your head. Made of super light custom-butted alloy, it handles like a champ. $4,000; scott sports.com

SCOTT VIVO PLUS HELMET

With vents to keep it cool and an easy-to-dial-in fit system, this extended-coverage helmet features MIPS Brain, a technology that mimics the fluid around your brain and acts as a barrier to reduce the chance of a concussion in the event of a crash. $150 

—C.K.

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