Marshall Pass (which was a formerly the Ute trail, then stagecoach toll-road and narrow gauge mainline), climbs at a gradual grade (averaging about 3.5%) to the Continental Divide. The route goes up about 12 highly enjoyable, 100% unpaved miles to the 10,821 foot summit. There is absolutely nothing technical and this route would be approachable to less experienced gravel riders and/or anyone looking for a ride that doesn’t take all day.
There are stunning views of Mt. Ouray and the Sangre De Cristo mountains. In addition, you'll bike past picturesque Lake O'Haver, roll through beautiful aspen groves, and see open meadows where moose and elk are often spotted. (We saw two large moose in the meadow near the top!)
There was very little car traffic on the route, even on a Saturday in summer when the town of Salida was busy with a festival. Drivers were polite and friendly, giving us space and going slow when passing.
Even in the summer, the decent was quite cool, especially after having worked up a sweat on the way up. We had jackets with us, but forgot our long-fingered gloves. Our hands got cold and numb!! Don't forget that you are starting at high elevation and going higher, so be prepared for temperatures that are quite a bit cooler than Salida.
Do this ride if you are in the Salida area and looking for a non-technical gravel climb that is appropriate for less experienced riders with stunning scenery.
We parked at the Shirley Site Trailhead which had ample parking and a vault toilet, but no water. The parking lot is about 2.5 miles up Marshall Pass Road from 285.
The nearest towns with services are Salida and Poncha Springs. Make sure you pick up supplies, have enough water, and have loaded the route onto your bike computer before heading to the start of this ride.
There is another vault toilet just before the top of the pass at about mile 12 where the Marshall Pass Trailhead is.
If you want to keep going, get more miles and do a second climb of about equal length, grade and condition, just stay on Marshall Pass Road/200 and you will arrive in Sargents, CO for a total of 58 miles. Sargents does have services and the Tomichi Trading Post is a perfect place to restock supplies at your turn around point of the longer option.
There is a way to make our route a loop rather than an out-and-back if you return on Forest road 203. It is, however, a very rocky and steeper decent. If you’re okay with rock gardens, more brain-rattling bumps and likely, sections of walking, this is a more adventurous way to return.
Will all the Aspen groves along this route, it would make a spectacular route to do in the fall.