If you are familiar with the Salida 76 event, this loop may look familiar.
This is a just the loop portion of their "Banquet" 76-mile course.
Biking in Colorado in the fall can't be beat! It is the best time for gravel biking in our opinion. This route highlights the beauty of changing aspen leaves and the array of rust colors that dot the Colorado landscape. The biggest challenge in Colorado is trying to find a quiet place where hundreds of others aren't also driving to see the leaves. This area is so remote, you will hardly see any cars! We saw two other bikers, and more people on horses than in cars!
There is a total of about 4,000 feet of elevation gain on this route but it never feels like a grind. All the uphill sections are followed by fun downhills, and most of the climbs have a fairly gradual grade or are not all that long. (All except the last one getting back to the car!!)
The beginning and end of this route is in forested areas where you'll see Aspen trees changing in the Fall, but the large majority of the miles in the middle are quite open, barren, and exposed.
There is a small community of campers/mobile homes out there (around mile 13). Many of them were rundown or abandoned, and the vibe was a little weird.
Some of the road surface is quite gnarly and chunky. If we are trying to come up with a term to match "champagne" gravel, we might venture to call this "moonshine" gravel 🤣
Do this ride in the Fall if you want an adventurous route near Salida where you can get far out there, away from other popular places with leaf peeping drivers.
While the start of this ride is only about 13 miles up from the town of Salida, it took nearly 40 minutes on winding dirt roads. We were driving a Honda Fit (low clearance), and it was fine up to the point where we parked on the side of the road. (There was a nice wide pull-off area.)
The road descends sharply and becomes more rugged right after that point, but if you have a high clearance, all-wheel-drive car, you could continue further down the road to where the loop begins if you choose. (You could, of course, bike those miles we drove, but it would add another 27 miles and about 3,000 more feet of elevation gain! If this is your jam, we suggest doing the Salida 76 event where there is support and aid stations.)
There are absolutely no services whatsoever out there, so plan accordingly and bring all the food and water you will need for all 50 miles.
In late September, there were a few creeks that you could possibly filter water from if you have a portable filtration system.
You might also consider using a camelbak to pack enough water for the round trip.
Fall is really the only time we recommend doing this route. 90% of the route is completely exposed and heat could make this route miserable. Spring time is also a possibility but you'd want to make sure snow had cleared and roads had dried out fully.
Recommended tire size : 40mm or wider with low tire pressure. Conditions are pretty chunky out there and you'll want a little cushion!
Places we recommend to visit in the town of Salida before or after your ride:
Oveja Negra for awesome bike bags/packs hand made in Salida
Subculture Cyclery for Salida's best bike shop
Bunny and Clydes for an excellent breakfast burrito
Howl Mercantile for a terrific cup of coffee and/or ice cream