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Best. Trail. Ever. If you look up the word "Epic" in the dictionary, there's a picture of this trail. As much fun as you can have with your clothes on. So incredible, it has inspired poetry If I could only ride one trail for the rest of my life, I would pick the 401. This is where I fell in love with mountain biking when I was lucky enough to have been brought here by a friend on my 5th time on a mountain bike. I sucked and it took me like 6 hours to ride, but it sealed the deal on me becoming a mountain biker for life. I have yet to find a trail with views that can compare.
To avoid unnecessary mileage on the dirt road, park at Rustler's Gulch (vs. Judd Falls or the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in Gothic). This cuts off the last few miles of the trail, but you've ridden the best parts -- the last few miles start climbing again in the trees, so is not super scenic. Aside from the sketchy creek crossing near the beginning of the descent, this trail is not very technical by Colorado standards. That being said, do take care in the aspen grove section towards the bottom, where the corn lilies grow so thick, it's sometimes hard to see the trail - hiding tree stumps that jut up really close to the trail. More than a few people have broken collar bones in this section, so know your skill level and adjust your speed accordingly. The climb up the dirt road can get super dusty, especially later in the summer, so you might want to pack a bandana to cover your mouth. If you're visiting over the July 4th holiday, ride the trail during the parade, while 10,000 people are watching said parade, not driving the dirt road/riding the trail with you. The bulk of the wildflowers peak in mid-July. In mid-august, the fireweed is at peak bloom. There are sections of the trail that are lined with their fuchsia blooms - it will take what little breath you have away. In mid-late September, the aspens will turn golden - there aren't a ton of them on this trail, but the spots that do have them are gorgeous. If you're lucky enough to own a Go Pro, bring it. If you have a 4-wheel drive, complete your day of epicness by driving over Schofield Pass and banging left to go over Paradise Divide, which lets out on Slate River Road and takes you back into town. Last, but not least, if you want to sound like a local in the know- the thick green plants are corn lilies, not skunk cabbage. Be sure to download the CBG Trails App (Android), (Apple) and then download "Colorado Trails" so they'll be available offline and will track your location.
Lori's Favorite Photo Spots
I'm not really sure how anyone can ride this trail without stopping every 50 feet to take a picture. Seriously. I have ridden this trail boatloads of times, have thousands of photos of it and I still stop to take a few hundred more EVERY time I ride it. Unless of course the hubby is patiently waiting for me at the bottom, in which case, I limit myself to 25, maybe 26 (sorry hubby!). I sorta kinda get the whole Strava thing and trying to go fast, but this is one trail where you gotta stop and smell the wildflowers. Sure, zoom, zoom, zoom down the dizzying off camber tight-ass singletrack, but stop periodically, pinch yourself, snap a photo or 20 and just take it all in. Then re-zoom the zooming (get it? resume the zooming).
1. When climbing up the dirt road, you'll pass emerald lake - keep going till you're almost past it, then stop and look back - you'll be able to capture the stunning turquoise color from up above it, looking down, when the sun hits it (wait for the clouds to pass if you can). There are generally wildflowers blooming along the road here, so you can squat down and get a colorful shot with yellow, red or fuschia wildflowers in the foreground against the turquoise lake in the background.
2. After about 15-30 minutes of climbing up the singletrack (depending on how much of a mutant you are and whether you're coming from sea level or not), the trail will open up into fields of wildflowers. Early season (June/early July, depending on when the snowpack melts), you might be lucky enough to catch the delicate, exotic yellow glacier lilies that carpet the meadows (and look like something that would be more at home in the tropics than the tundra). Be sure to get down on the ground to get a closeup with the peaks in the background. If the glacier lilies are gone, many other wildflowers will take their place. You'll be able to see the backside of the maroon bells (the red colored peaks with lines in them).
3. The snack spot. There's an obvious spot when you're nearly done with the climb where everyone stops and whips out their fuel of choice (and takes a pee break in the pines). This is a great spot to get a group photo with the chain of peaks towards Marble, CO in the background, as there's lots of people hanging out to snap a shot for you.
4. If you're only going to get one photo, it should be this one. After you've completed the lung and leg busting climb and start the yippee-ki-yay inducing downhill, you'll pass a small stand of pine trees on your right and suddenly WA-BAM, your oxygen deprived brain is hit with the most jaw droppingly stunning view of the entire Gothic Valley with Mt. CB off in the distance. There will be a little dirt pull out to the left where everyone stops and whips out the selfie sticks or waits with a shit eating grin to politely ask someone to take a photo. If you're lucky enough to hit a good snowpack/rain year, the corn lily blooms (those thick green plants with corn stalks shooting up with tiny white flowers) will be over your head tall in late July.
5. After the sketchy creek crossing where you'll have to hike a bike (unless you're one of the 5 super human mutants that live in CB that can ride it), you'll cross a couple more dips in the trail where water runs across. Then you'll see my scene favorite scene to paint - a steep hillside with a swoopy trail cutting across. There isn't a lot of wildflowers in this spot, but it's dramatic nonetheless.
6. Be sure to stop and look back up the trail on occasion - especially during peak wildflowers - sometimes flowers like the rocky mountain sunflowers follow the sun and open up facing back up the trail. I also recommend riding the trail during early - mid August when the fireweed is in bloom - it's a party for your eyeballs.
7. After a few miles of zippity-doo-dah descent, you'll start switchbacking through a gorgeous aspen grove. Sometimes the corn lilies are so freakin' thick, you can barely see the trail, except where they get beat down from people going too fast into a switchback and end up super-manning off their bike. The super narrow trail with all the greenery and the aspens makes for a nice shot, as does having wildflowers taller than your head on both sides of the trail if you can get your mate to take an action shot of you riding.