The Colorado Creek Ride
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By: Liam Wescott
This is a great ride to do if you're a) in shape, b) want to get out into the boonies and c) like riding on roots and through lots of mud. It is exactly 20 miles long and there is nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain on this ride. A determined rider or group of riders could easily complete this ride in under three hours, but most people take at least four hours to do it. It's a technically challenging ride, and the descents are not for the faint of heart so it's really not a ride for beginners to attempt. If everything goes right (i.e., it's a dry year) and you're in top-notch condition, you could very easily complete this ride in under three hours, if you push yourself. If you take it slow and mellow, be prepared to be out on the trail for at least four hours. NOTE: the trail can be very, very bumpy, rooty, and gnarly. A full suspension is not absolutely necessary for this ride, but if you have one, you will appreciate it! Also, make sure your brakes are in good working order. You will get much use out of them! Remember to bring a fair amount of water and food with you because you'll burn up quite a few calories. Also, bring lots of bug dope! Finally, this ride is not a whole lot of fun in the rain, so it's best to wait for a day when it's not raining.
You start this ride at the Colorado Creek trailhead, which is at about 31.4 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road. You cross over a little bridge at one of the tributaries or forks of the Chena and the trailhead is off to the left. It's a bit hard to miss so look for it carefully. Park in the parking area and head on up the trail.
The first mile or so is generally muddy, bumpy, rutty, and some of it has to be walked. This trail is open to ATV's, so be prepared for deep ruts, puddles, and the like. Walk around or through them if you have to. At about a mile into the ride, you come to the first, grinding hill. This can be ridden up to the top, but most people will walk all or parts of it. It's about three-quarters of a mile long. It tops out along the ridgetop. For about the next 10 or 11 miles or so, the terrain of the trail you're on is roughly this: up, down, up down, grinding up, quick descent, ride over roots, bumps, etc. up, up, down, down, and so on. There are several large puddles and muddy sections on this trail and if it is a wet year, you can count on getting your feet wet and/or muddy. There are a few little side detours here and there, but basically stay on the main trail and look for the orange or red diamond trail markers, especially the ones that say "cabin" on them. This is the trail to the Stiles Creek cabin.
At about 7.5 miles into the ride, the trail takes a major fork. Take the left (downhill) fork, following the signs as you do, for a quick, wicked descent that takes you right to the Stiles Creek cabin. If this is your destination, YAY! you've made it! If not, take the trail heading on past the cabin. NOTE: I didn't map the exact location of the cabin, having only my memory to go on, so the actual location of the cabin is probably a bit to the west of where I have it mapped. Watch for the occasional mile markers and/or the red or orange diamond-shaped trail markers! Basically, stay on this trail for the rest of the ride. There are a number of grinding ascents, so be prepared to lean into the saddle and do some heavy exertion. The descents on this trail are fun but pretty quick and can be done at some measure of speed by an experienced rider.
Finally, after all these ups and downs, at about 12.6 miles, you come to the last killer descent. It's a little over a mile and a half long and can be ridden all the way. However, in order to descend this hill at speed, a) your brakes MUST be in working order and b) you have to know what you're doing. Stacking on this descent isn't a pleasant prospect! The descent is generally very bumpy, rooty, and has lots of ravines and gullies. Eventually, it puts you out in a short stretch of swamp you have to cross, similar to the one at the front of the ride through which you walked to get to the first killer hill.
You come out to what used to be a road, but as of July, 2005 has been widened and hyrdo-axed into a major swath through the woods. Some of it can be ridden, but most of it you'll probably have to walk. It's about a half-mile long and it puts you out by an unnamed gravel pit. Stop here, rest, ride your bike into the sanctified, blessed, and holy waters of Lake Unnamed Gravel Pit, dip into those waters, clean yourself and your bike of the mud you're hauling with you, and then ride on around the gravel pit to Chena Hot Springs Road.
Turn right and it's about four or five miles of road riding back to your car. Congratulations! You've completed the Colorado Creek Ride!