Durango is one of the OG mountain bike destinations, so why is it still so underrated? We may never know.
For some reason, the town of Durango, Colorado, manages to fly well below the mountain bike tourism radar. Granted, there are a few good reasons for this: there's literally nothing else of note in southwestern Colorado, aside from big-ass mountains, thousands of miles of trail, a few world-class ski resorts, and a national park. It's hours to the closest interstate highway, and flights into the small airport are limited.
But mountain bikers are known for sniffing out the best places to ride, regardless of how difficult they are to reach. So what keeps Durango so hidden?
Well, it actually isn't that hidden. “Durango was not put ‘on’ the cycling map, the cycling map was built around Durango," says local Ed Zink of Durango’s Mountain Bike Specialists on Singletracks.com. In many ways, Durango was one of the original mountain bike destinations. The 1990 World Mountain Bike Championships catapulted Durango onto center stage, and a venerable list of world-class racers like Ned Overend, John Tomac, Greg Herbold, Juli Furtado, and Todd Wells have called Durango home. Yet towns like Fruita, Crested Butte, and Steamboat Springs receive far more mountain bike tourists than Durango.
My personal theory? Mountain bikers and mountain bike media have a propensity to keep looking for the new and shiny, and they forget that some of the classic destinations are still the best. At the time of this writing (2020), Bentonville, Arkansas, is the trendiest mountain bike destination on the continent. And while Bentonville is building singletrack at a mind-bending rate, it is a long way from being the "Mountain Bike Capital of the World," as they claim.
At the same time that Bentonville is the "in" place to ride, I meet mountain bikers who haven't been to Moab since the mid-90s because they've already "checked that box." Never mind the fact that Moab has built hundreds of miles of new singletrack since the 90s, and many of the original trails still deliver the best riding experience in the world.
I think the same phenomenon has struck Durango. While places like Bentonville have had to work (and market) to make a name for themselves, the Durango locals have quietly gone about their business. In addition to the hundreds of miles of historic world-class singletrack found in the San Juan National Forest, local trail building organization Trails 2000 has built over 300 miles of singletrack close to town, according to Marty Grabijas on Singletracks.com.
How many total miles of mountain bike trails can you ride near Durango? It's impossible to list an accurate number, as the town of Durango is essentially the jumping off point for the entirety of southwestern Colorado. Even long-time locals call the massive web of singletrack "limitless."
Wrapping your head around a network so vast, so complex, is next to impossible, so in this guidebook, I've whittled this expansive network of singletrack down to a short greatest hits list. Linked below, you'll find 8 of the top mountain bike rides close to Durango that are loved and ridden by tourists and locals alike.
For highly technical in-town mountain biking, head to Raider's Ridge, the Hogsback, and Animas Mountain. If you want to ride from downtown but prefer buff, flowy singletrack, try out the Grandview Ridge Loop instead.
From here, the guidebook heads deep into the San Juans. While you could choose to bikepack the entire section of the Colorado Trail from Silverton to Durango, this guidebook focuses on logical day ride itineraries instead. The final section of the COT dropping into Durango from Kennebec Pass is a popular shuttle run and a must-do ride. While lesser-known, the Blackhawk Pass COT segment is regarded by some locals as one of the best sections of trail in the San Juans. The Molas Pass -> Engineer Mountain route combines one of the best high alpine sections of the COT with a burly descent down a connector trail. Last but not least, Hermosa Creek is a classic point-to-point shuttle that's served as a popular mountain bike ride since the dawn of the sport.
As you work your way through this greatest hits list, you'll soon begin to realize all the other ride combinations that you can stitch together in this massive trail system. Once you begin looking at the trail map near Engineer Mountain or Raider's Ridge, you'll be blown away by the ride combinations you can put together. So start with these recommendations, and once you've checked them all off, begin creating your own epic routes. The sky is the limit!