5 Star Route / Ridden and Reviewed by ReeseR
If you’re looking for a challenging, high alpine gravel ride, the Slate River / Gothic Basin loop will be right up your alley. The high alpine views (and high elevation) will leave you breathless. This route, which goes over two mountain passes, features terrific and sometimes challenging gravel roads and alpine lakes.
Start your ride from Crested Butte Town Park. I would recommend stopping at Camp 4 Coffee on 4th street near Elk Avenue and getting a strong blast of caffeine before you head out. You will need it.
Ride out of town in a northerly direction and turn left onto Slate River Road. The first 3 miles is on pavement. Shortly after Nicholson Lake, on your left, you’ll pass a mountain bike trailhead for Lupine Trail 2 and the road will turn to gravel. **Read More
For the next several miles, the road will gradually climb at 2 to 4% grade on a well maintained gravel road. At ~ mile 8 you’ll roll through Poverty Gulch and Pittsburg, former mining areas from the late 19th Century. Shortly after that, the real climb begins. The monster! You’ll climb up a short section that has some 12-18% grades. At ~ mile 9.5 do a 180 degree switchback turn and from this point to just before mile 13 (Paradise Divide), you’ll be on a very difficult and sustained climb. At its most challenging (worst?), you’ll have long sections of 17% on a rocky gravel road. Expect smooth, easy rideable sections, followed by sections with larger rocks to navigate. This is a narrow road that is traveled by cars and OHVs. Just be aware- it’s not constant, but people do drive this road.
The climb might be steep, technical, and at a high elevation, but the views are absolutely stunning. If you’re not in a hurry to get to the top, be sure to stop and enjoy the high alpine scenery. You’ll have amazing views the valley you just climbed out of as you rise up and the road ahead cutting into the side of the mountain.
Once you get to Paradise Divide, mile 13, your route is trending downhill. Most of the climbing is behind you, only small rollers will be in your future. Yes!! The descent can get rocky, though not as technical as the climb to Paradise Divide, and depending on the time of year, you’ll encounter some small water crossings.
The crucial thing to remember is to stay on road 734 until you see the trail marker for the 401 trail on your right (located on Road 317). This is around mile 15. This is a very obvious trailhead and there is a Schofield Pass sign covered in stickers across from the trail. Head towards the 401 Trail / Schofield Pass and down into Gothic Basin. You’ll know you’ve headed the right direction if shortly after the start of the descent you pass a large lake, Emerald Lake, on your right.
You’ll be on a fast gravel descent for nearly the next 9 miles. When I rode this in September, a large section of road just after the lake was covered in very deep moon dust that was extremely difficult to ride through and see through. Use caution, as you never know what lies under the moon dust.
At ~ mile 24, there is a trailhead for Snodgrass trail and the road turns back to pavement. From here, remain on Gothic Rd (317) until you get back to town. This section takes you right through the ski resort, so be aware that it is heavily trafficked … but the road is wide and there is a nice bike lane.
I would advise ridding the route in the clockwise direction, as descending Slate River road might be more terrifying than climbing it.
I rode this on a Cervelo Aspero with 40mm tires.
Adventure / Gravel Route
– Loop: 29 miles / 3400 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 70% gravel, 30% paved
– eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: Crested Butte, Colorado
– Published: January 2020
Advanced. Due to the most of the riding being above 10,000 feet and the technical climb up Slate River road. My Strava data for the ride. Note, I started in Crested Butte South, not as detailed in the map below.
When we like to ride this …
In the summer after the snows melt and the road dries until mid fall and the first snows. It’s best to start this ride early in the day to avoid OHV and cars on the road, as well as potential afternoon storms.
Crested Butte Town Park. Flush toilets, water.
Lat / Long: 38.868084, -106.980810
Food / Water
There is a river alongside the route on Slate River Road and you will also be able to get water from Emerald lake- assuming you have a filter with you. There are no stops for food along the route. I did this ride with 2 water bottles full of Skratch, but would have benefited (greatly!) from more hydration due to the high elevation and the dusty/dry road conditions.
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road