Northwest of Durango and southwest of Silverton, the 77 mile section of the Colorado Trail from Molas Pass down to Durango is considered an epic multi-day mountain bike trail. Who would have thought there were so many miles of continuous singletrack - it seems endless rolling through meadow, forest and over passes above 10,000 feet. The route starts from Molas Pass (10,900 feet) and runs southwest over Bolam Pass (11,200 feet), over Indian Head (12,300 feet), and Kennebec Pass (11,700 feet) before the big last day descent into Durango. Along the way, there will be plenty of rolling high alpine, above-treeline riding through exposed ridgelines, along with pine, aspen and scrub pine forests.
In addition to the high elevation and scree field crossings, there are a few other challenges. First, there are numerous hike-a-bike sections to keep things honest - you can expect to be on and off the bike dozens of times along the way. Second, there are a shockingly dense swarm of bugs including flies and mosquitos, so bring plenty of bug lotion. Third, while the first day of riding has plenty of water crossings, there are very few water sources as you head south towards Durango. In fact, there is a 15 mile stretch without any water so fill up often. With the scarce water, finding a good campsite can be difficult requiring good advance planning.
In terms of route planning, you’ll want to start early from Molas Pass (typically before 9am). Since the route follows the official Colorado Trail, it can be found on the associations maps on Segments #25, #26, #27 and #28. While some uber mountain bikers will do the ride in a day (a very long day), the ride from Molas Pass to Durango is typically ridden in three days with two nights camping along the way. That three day route works nice for self-supported camping at sites with water. There are many guided and semi-supported tours offered for the route, and many of those recommend a four days of riding with three nights camping at dry sites where they supply the water. That four day option does result in some very short days in the middle of the trip, so you’ve got to find something to do which can be tough with all the bugs around. But, the four day option works well with riders accustom to lower elevations and need time to acclimate to mountain biking above 10,000 feet.
For the three day option, there is good camping for the first night about a hour past Celebration Lake before reaching Blackhawk Pass, and for the second night at Taylor Lakes. The second day of riding is long, but worth it to setup the last day of plenty of downhill. It can be a little punishing to finish the day with the multiple ascents along Indian Head Ridge all above 12,000 feet.
Since there are so many riders that use the semi-supported four day option, here is a detailed description of each segment.
DAY ONE (Molas Pass - Bolam Pass): 20 Miles / 4,000 Feet Climbing. The section requires an early start, such as 7am, due to afternoon high-alpine storm exposure. Along this section, there are two passes that must be crossed with plenty of above treeline alpine mountain biking. If you’re riding in early July, you can expect to be crossing some decent snowfield near the pass. From Molas Pass, start climbing west for 3-4 hours (10 miles) on singletrack up to Rolling Pass (12,500 feet). The last 1,000 feet of climbing is typically a hike-a-bike for most riders. From Rolling Pass, descend fast to Cascade Creek before starting the 2-3 hour climb up to Slide Rock Pass (11,800 feet). From Slide Rock Pass, descend to Bolam Pass (11,200 feet) where good camping can be found and there is also nearby Celebration Lake to swim.
DAY TWO (Bolam Pass - Orphan Butte): 20 Miles / 3,200 Feet Climbing. From Bolam Pass or Celebration Lake, follow the winding route around Hermosa Peak and then ascend Blackhawk Pass (12,000 feet), which requires a hike-a-bike. From Blackhawk Pass, there is an epic descent all the way down to Hotel Draw (no water). From Hotel Draw, follow the rolling, forested Highline Ridge for 2-3 hours without water to Orphan Butte (10,800 feet) where you can camp.
DAY THREE (Orphan Butte - Kennebec Pass): 12 Miles / 2,600 Feet Climbing. The section requires an early start, such as 7am, due to afternoon high-alpine storm exposure. From Orphan Butte on Highline Ridge, the ride continues along rolling Indian Trail Ridge with two miles above 12,000 feet where you’ll find 4 rolling ascents of 500 feet each around 12,000 feet. On this rolling high alpine route, there are several hike-a-bike sections on scree totaling about two miles. Continue southwest to Kennebec Pass (11,600 feet) to camp. Actually, about 1.2 miles before the pass, there is very good camping at Taylor Lakes just to the west of the trail.
DAY FOUR (Kennebec Pass - Durango): 21 Miles / 1,700 Feet Climbing. From Kennebec Pass, start the day by descending 3,500 feet along a winding route through the La Plata Mountains. After crossing Junction Creek, ascend for 1,400 feet on a hot dry rolling ridge over about 2 hours up to Wild Oat Mesa. From Wild Oat Mesa, descend 2,500 feet into Durango with the last five miles on paved road.
To reach the starting point at Molas Pass from Silverton, head south on US550 ascending for 8 miles. There is good trailhead parking off the dirt road leading to signed Little Molas Lake Campground. Alternately, from Durango, head north on US550 for 38 miles up to Molas Pass.
To reach southern Junction Creek trailhead near Durango, head north on Main Avenue, which becomes US550, to West 25th Street. Turn left heading west on 25th Street, which becomes Junction Street. Continue on Junction Street (CR204) until it becomes dirt. There is a large signed parking area on the left side of the road.
TIP - there are bike shuttle companies located in Durango that run shuttle service up to Molas Pass. They typically require reservations and have a minimum number of bikes that they will shuttle up.
Overall, Colorado Trail - Molas Pass is the 8th most popular mountain bike trail of all 176 mountain biking rides in Colorado.