Alpine Tunnel Loop

Buena Vista

Salida

Traverse the Continental Divide Trail above 12,000 feet and enjoy historic sites and high-alpine lakes.

Mountain Biking Moderate

Distance
29 km
Ascent
807 m
Descent
807 m
Duration
2-3 hrs
Low Point
3 km
High Point
3.8 km
Gradient
Alpine Tunnel Loop Map

While the Alpine Tunnel Loop has a relatively low singletrack to dirt road ratio, this ride is still an absolute gem. The portion that IS singletrack is located largely above treeline--the longest stretch of bike-legal above-treeline singletrack in the region after the Monarch Crest. However, this singletrack reaches even higher elevations than the Crest: over 12,000 feet.

Description

Unlike many other trails in the Salida area, the Alpine Tunnel is relatively non-technical, making for a great high alpine cross country mountain bike ride in the Sawatch mountain range. In fact, the Continental Divide Trail runs concurrent with the singletrack on this route.

Even the dirt roads used to get up to and down from the Alpine Tunnel singletrack are quite entertaining, with the road from St. Elmo to Hancock passing by numerous historic sites, like old mines, cabins, and eventually an old town site once you reach Hancock. And St. Elmo, where the ride starts/ends, is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the area. If you enjoy touring historic sites on your mountain bike rides, this is the ride for you!

The Alpine Tunnel gets its name from an old railroad tunnel that runs through the mountain. While it's now collapsed, you can see the entrance to the tunnel, and a placard that explains the history of the area.

Part of the route runs along the railroad grade as you approach the tunnel itself. But after you pass the tunnel, the trail turns into classic singletrack, climbing up and over high-alpine passes, and running past beautiful alpine lakes. Despite breaking above 12,000 feet, the nearby mountains rise higher still, providing jaw-dropping views.

Eventually the trail turns back downhill, dropping out of the alpine and entering a forest of tall pine trees. The soil transforms into loamy, dark dirt--a rarity in this area. Flowy trail punctuated by switchbacks drops down to a 4x4 road, and a fast descent down the boulder-filled road ends in St. Elmo.

Difficulty

Moderate

Mostly stable trail tread with some variability, with unavoidable obstacles 8in/20cm tall or less. Other obstacles such as rock gullies and steep sections may exist. Ideal for lower intermediate riders.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

4 out of 4

In the high mountains or remote conditions, all individuals must be completely autonomous in every situation.

Best time to visit

July, August, September

Features

  • Hike a bike
  • Road sections
  • Roots
  • Rock Gardens

Guidebooks in this area