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The Goal: A Star Pass Descent by Neil Beltchenko

Colorado , United States
60 mi



ft elev +


Loops are easy, and bikepacking from home is even easier. Many of you know of Crested Butte, Colorado. A popular destination for mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts. It offers fantastic trails close to town and high-alpine access that is extremely rewarding.
I created this route last year and it was a perfect beginner to intermediate high-alpine bikepack. It’s not easy by any stretch, but it's great for someone wanting to get out for an overnighter in some beautiful scenery while getting the opportunity to descend Star Pass, or rather Trail 400, maybe one of my favorite trails in the Crested Butte area. In short, it’s a two-day, one-night route starting in Crested Butte. You will ride on pavement, well-maintained gravel roads, forest service roads, two-track, singletrack, and you will even hike your bike a little bit. The total is 65 miles, and you will climb roughly 7,500 feet. 
Conditions at 8,000+ feet tend to be a bit erratic, especially in the mountains, so if you are going out to travel this route or any high-alpine route, be sure to check the weather report beforehand. Monsoon season typically starts in late June, so expect afternoon showers and storms, some of which can be much stronger than others.

As far as the trail is concerned, as long as the snow is gone, it should be dry, and if it rains hard, the trails typically dry fast. Just be sure you are not traveling this high alpine route too early in the season.
There is plenty of water on the route. Look at your map and plan ahead. I bring Chlorine Dioxide tabs or Iodine, but a filter will work. Much of the route is open range for cattle, so even if it looks clean and its flowing fast, just throw a tab in for good measure. 
What bike is good for this route? My favorite question to answer is what bike is best. My simple answer is use what you have. That being said, if you have a full suspension bike and a hardtail, bring the fully. It may not be necessary for 70% of the route, but you will want it on Trail 400. I used my Spearfish, and I can't think of a better bike to carry a load on a climb and rip descents. Also, I advise against riding a drop bar mountain bike for this route. I love them, but there is a time and a place, and this is not one of them.
Salsa Spearfish
My fiancée Lindsay and I started in a neighborhood south of downtown called Riverbend, where we used to live. We could have certainly taken alternatives routes to Cement Creek, but this was not a suffer fest. We had a pretty big day of climbing on hand. We took Highway 135 down valley to Crested Butte South, where we took a left and traveled past the small town and continued Cement Creek Road. Cement Creek is a well grated and popular route for cyclist who want to pedal the popular Reno-Flag-Bear-Deadmans Loop. It’s also popular for dirt bikers. Eventually, the route will turn right, which takes you off Cement Creek road, and on to Reno Road. Reno road can be steep and stout at times, but offers easy, non-technical pedaling. 
If you do this trip on a weekend, you will see a lot of cyclists, and even dirt bikers climbing up to ride the classic singletrack loop. A great ride if you have some extra time in Crested Butte. The top of Reno Road is a great spot to chill out a bit, because you will indeed have more climbing from there, after all, your lungs will likely already be burning as you sit at 10,500 feet. After the junction, you will be hard pressed to see too many people. You will continue on Italian Creek Road, where you may see some jeepers, or dirt bikers, but not too many as the road gets rougher. Eventually, you will filter out of the trees, and ride the southeast side of Italian Mountain, a beautiful 13,379-ft peak certainly lets you know how tiny you are, but the climb out of the trees to the high point of the day ends with relative ease. The vista, which sits at 11,400 feet, is in the saddle between Italian Mountain, and American Flag Mountain. It overlooks the Collegiate Mountains off to the east and is spectacular. From here you will have a lengthy descent to the Taylor Valley. Along the way, you will pass Star Mine and some private land, along with the “Million Dollar View.” Make sure you don’t trespass here, as I have heard some stories of these homeowners getting their panties in a bunch.
You eventually take a left on a dirt bike trail that cuts off some miles, and brings you over a bridge where we refilled on water, a great spot to also hang out. You may run into some folks as the Dorchester Campground is right around the corner next to the Taylor River, typically friendly RV folk. 
From the river valley, you head north on Taylor Road until it ends and turns into a parking area. This portion is on a well-maintained gravel road that comes with a very gradual climb. Once you reach the end of the road, you are treated with beautiful views of where you will be riding the next day. If you are ready to camp, this is not a bad spot. There is a fire pit and plenty of flat camping. You may stumble upon a few folks in their vehicles, but they will likely turn around. This spot is also nice as you will have access to water for cooking.
The next section is likely the most difficult – it is a dirt bike trail first, so keep that in mind. You will likely see some dirt bikers, but we never had a bad encounter. Many of them are from Crested butte, and Crested Butte people are generally nice.  
You start on the Mount Tilton Trail, which is short but somewhat difficult trail at times. Eventually you hit a trail junction and you can’t miss it, as there will be old mining parts to gaze at.  Here you will take a right on Taylor Divide Trail 440. This is roughly a 1.5-mile section of trail, and at times, it is very rocky, so you will unavoidably need to hike your bike. The trail travels through thick evergreen forests, with a few openings that will be sure to catch your eye. Eventually, you reach Taylor Pass Divide Road and turn left. This quality road will eventually bring you up to tree line around 11,500 feet. From here the views only get better so keep your camera handy. 
The road will turn into Trail 400, the start of one of my favorite trails I have ever pedaled. You will have to climb a bit, and it will include some rocky pitches, and small creek crossings before reaching the saddle at 12,270 feet. 
Sit back, relax and strap it down. This is a beautiful place to have an early lunch, gaze at the nearby wild flowers or the distant mountain views before the descent of a lifetime. The descent of Trail 400 starts with your standard high-alpine riding, wide-open, fast and smooth with a few motor bike humps here and there. Once you hit tree line again, things get more technical and fun.
The trail has plenty of roots and rocks, and weaves a bit before finally taking aim down the Brush Creek drainage. If this descent does not give you a smile then I don’t know what will. You will pass a few trail junctions, be sure to stay straight or right for the first two, it will be obvious. Once you get to your third intersection, head down valley instead of up Pearl Pass, this should be clear as you will continue to go down valley toward Crested Butte. 
The riding is easy after you get off trail 400, and on Brush Creek Road. It’s a well-maintained forest service road that leads back to Skyland, just outside of Crested Butte. Basically, from here you have a lot of options if you want to continue riding on singletrack, or if you are yearning for a beer you can take the road back. 
Neil Beltchenko is a Salsa sponsored rider and overseer at You can learn more about him here: