In Gunnison you can find world class biking, boating and climbing just a short walk from the coffee shop.
There are few places left in Colorado where Old West and New West have come together so seemlessly. Here, you still have Cattlemen’s Days, which celebrates the local ranching culture, and true-to-life tumbleweeds occasionally “tumble” across Highway 50 come summer. Go to any restaurant and 10-gallon hats are intermingled with side-cocked flat brims; at the local banks skate shoes tread beside spurred cowboy boots. Out on Main Street you can see a harvested elk in a pickup on one side of the street, and $20,000 worth of mountain bikes roof-racked on the other. Ahhh, diversity.
Part of the eclectic mix is due to having Western State College in town, a small state school surrounded by world-class “field work” opportunities and a couple million acres-plus of public land. Students study the environment right outside the classroom door, and explore it on knobby tires, kayaks and rock shoes when school’s out. Even snowboardcross rider Seth Wescott, a 2010 Winter Games gold medal winner in Vancouver, hung his helmet at Western for a stretch.
Gunnison is still true grit, authentic despite the merger of a workingman’s town with a recreation hub. You can still get your ass kicked by native Coloradans at the Alamo bar on Main St. for getting mouthy, and get it kicked again on-trail by a cowboy that moonlights as a single-speed mountain bike racer.
At around 7,700 feet in elevation, you get everything from sage-lined singletrack to blistering boulders to roiling runoff-fueled rivers to run at your pleasure. The beauty of Gun City is you can have it all without leaving town limits. Hartman’s Rocks is the gravitational pull for local and visiting mountain bikers, and there is some quality climbing and bouldering there as well.
Don’t be duped by the desert-style riding and climbing—there is plenty of navigable water here, too. The nearby Gunnison Whitewater Park is on the west side of town, and is managed and maintained by the Todd Crane Center for Outdoor Leadership and the Recreation Department at Western State College. Kayakers can earn their freestyle chops on the hundreds of feet of features, while rafters navigate the frothy waters and anglers cast flies up-and-down stream. Multisport missions are the rule, not the exception. If you are going to visit, aim for June 25-27, when the Gunnison River Festival (gunnisonriverfestival.com) turns the stream into a celebration of the stream, replete with a freestyle rodeo, downriver race, kids events, live music and more.
Hartman’s serves up everything from aerobic cross-country loops to technical, mandatory turns and drops that leave little room for error. One of the best parts about Hartman’s is it dries out early in the spring due to the pureed, porous granite that layers the landscape. The riding often opens up in April and can last into November—but it can be Sahara hot mid-day in the dead of summer, as there’s little shade, so ride early or late for optimal conditions.
Many of the trails ride well both ways, and single-speeders and freeriders alike will find plenty to keep entertained … for days. Think lot of shorter trails that you can link up in endless combinations. It’s challenging at first to get your bearings and put good loops together, but there are maps available at the local bike shops, and Holly Annala’s book: Mountain Bike Crested Butte, Gunnison, and Salida Singletrack is also a great resource.
Three rides not to miss: Rattlesnake is an expert 1.8-mile trail; it has technical slickrock features and rides easiest south to north; Rocky Ridge covers 1.5 miles and combines buff and technical riding with killer views; Wiensy’z is a mellow, intermediate trail named for local riding legend Dave Wiens, who has beaten the likes of Lance Armstrong in the Leadville 100.
-Pubs and Grub-
Hit up the Steaming Bean (thebean.com) for coffee and breakfast burritos. The Firebrand (970-641-6266) makes outstanding sandwiches. For local brews and eats, it’s the Gunnison Brewery (gunnisonbrewery.com).
The Wanderlust Hostel (thewanderlusthostel.com) is affordable, clean, has free wireless, gear storage and central location. There is limited, low-impact camping at Hartman’s Rocks and several locations outside of town.
Mike Horn completed his meandering three-college, eight-year undergraduate career at Western State and now lives in Crested Butte.