East of Salida, the popular Monarch Crest mountain bike ride is a 29 mile epic route that combines the a stretch of the Continental Divide Trail, the Silver Creek Trail (#1407) and a stretch of the Rainbow Trail. Starting from Monarch Pass above 11,000 feet, the route rolls south on the Continental Divide Trail (aka Colorado Trail) with several moderate climbs and descents for roughly 15 miles. The classic route then turns left heading east on the Silver Creek Trail. Make sure to watch for this turn, otherwise, youll end up in Sagauche! Once on the Silver Creek Trail, the route descends quickly on loose, rocky terrain for about 1,500 feet of vertical. Just before reaching the road (FS201.2), the trail enters a stream bed and then continues downstream in the bed for about 100 feet before reaching the road. Continue east on the road for about 0.25 miles to the Silver Creek Trailhead where the Rainbow Trail begins. Head east on the Rainbow Trail. For the next 9 miles, the Rainbow Trail rolls over numerous challenging hills roughly along a constant elevation before reaching the final descent down to US285. At this point, the total mileage is 29 miles from Monarch Pass.
Most mountain bike riders do this mountain bike ride with a car shuttle using one car west of Salida on US285 at the Visitor Center and the other car up at the pass. The Visitor Center is about 5 miles north of where the Rainbow Trail crosses at US285. There are shuttle services available from the Visitor Center to the pass.
Before starting this mountain bike ride, you ll need three things. First, a really good map showing the route you intent to take. Second, a shuttle mountain bike ride up to Monarch Pass (719) 539-6089 or (800) 871-5145). And Three, extra cash, food and water in case you don't end up where you intended. Theres a rumor out there of two guys who ended up in Saguache, instead of Salida, as the only lycra pant wears in a crowded bar of ranchers trying to use the phone to get a mountain bike ride back.
Starting from Monarch Pass and the Monarch Tram parking lot, start climbing southeast on a steep jeep road passing under the scenic tramway. After about 0.5 miles, turn right onto the Monarch Crest Trail (#531) (a.k.a. Continental Divide Trail). Follow signs to Marshall Pass. This hardpacked singletrack through trees cutting along a hillside meanders south up and down for 11.3 miles along the Continental Divide to Marshall Pass. On the way, mountain bike riders get a sensational view of the Sawatch Range, Pikes Peak and the distant San Juans, while cruising ridge lines and pine forests. Be prepared for about 2,000 feet of vertical climbing as the trail rolls over several ridges.
At Marshall Pass, the trail intersects a gravel road and the Marshall Pass Trailhead parking. If you’ve had enough and want to bail, the easy routes back to Salida are either CR200 or the old rail grade. Both lead to US285. At US285, turn left heading north about 10 miles back to Salida.
Otherwise, turn right onto the gravel road heading up hill past the ponds and a single trail on the left. After the cattle guard, turn left on trail marked by signs to Saguache. Continue south roughly 4 more miles to the Silver Creek Trail.
Turn LEFT heading EAST on the Silver Creek Trail and then the Rainbow Trail for 20 miles dropping 2,000 to the intersection with US285. If you’ve had enough, turn left heading north on US285 for 5 miles into Salida. If you are feeling really ambitious, continue across US285 on the Rainbow Trail and up the switchbacks. Supposedly, it takes about 2 hours just to climb the next mountain. The trail continues on another 20 miles with 1,000 of climbing ahead. At Bear Creek Road (CR101), turn left heading north about 11 miles back to Salida.
Overall, Monarch Crest Trail is the 6th most popular mountain bike trail of all 175 mountain biking rides in Colorado.