Mountain Biking the Colorado Trail – Segment 7: Breckenridge to Copper

  • 25.93 Distance
  • 10 Difficulty (1-10)
  • 4522 Total Ascent
  • 12500 High Point

The 567-mile Colorado trail is one of the gems of Colorado. If you are a visitor and find yourself near any of the 28 segments, you will no doubt be hooked as I am on this incredible trail. When I moved up to Breckenridge at the end of summer in 2016, I lacked the acclimatization to tackle Segment 7 of the Colorado Trail. During the 2014 -15 ski season my brother and I skied over 300,000 feet vertical. I also stay in pretty good shape year round. You would have thought all those vertical feet would have prepared me! Well, the reality of the matter was, altitude played a big role in my first attempts to summit the 12,500-foot pass of Segment 7 in the 10-mile range. The mountain peaks took me to school the first time I tried to summit them in the summer of 2017. I ended up turning around happily exhausted, right before breaking out of tree line due to weather. I had made it to 11,400 feet. I was beyond excited to have made it that far.

After a few years of riding the trails in summit county, I got used to the elevation gain, the gradient, and altitude of the local trails. Not all trails are big, but the Colorado Trail attaches itself to some big passes in this area as it goes over treeline on either side of Breckenridge to the east and west. Visiting town, it’s hard to miss the 10-mile range, it’s ridgeline calls to those intrepid souls looking for adventure and rewards those who do the work to get the views. Segment 7 of the Colorado trail showcases a little over five and a half miles of single-track above tree line, and all of it is above 11,400 feet. From end to end, it is 13 miles long with 4000 feet of climbing and 3500 feet of descending.

Spread the Word

You can make a loop of this trail by using the Rec Path from Copper Mountain back to the Gold Hill Parking lot as I have. When you reach the rec path at the bottom of Segment 7 of the Colorado trail at Copper Mountain, you will want more as your mind goes over the incredible experience of the descent from 12,500-foot elevation. The Rec Path opens trail access all over town and eliminates the need to organize a shuttle or rely on friends. It’s perfect for this ride to get you back to your car.

The Start

Segment 7 of the Colorado Trail starts near Tiger Road off highway nine on the west side of the road. There is a good-sized parking area that is free for now, and you can use it to access the Rec Path and other trails in town. The trail is steep, at 10 to 12 percent, until you get above the first hill from the parking lot, then meanders up and down with no greater than a 6 percent grade for the first mile. This gets your legs warmed up and ready for what is to come. Be sure to take in views of Breckenridge and the Dillon Reservoir as you make your way through the open mountainside. At the fourth switchback, things start to change as you take on short, punchy climbs above 10 percent until you work your way into the trees and see a road to your right.

This is where the grade begins to pitch up as a sustained 10 percent or more hill takes you through the trees to the next clearing. The traverse across the mountain to the next set of trees from this point doesn’t get any easier.  The trees give you a chance to stretch your legs on a bit of a decent. The rest of the climb up Gold Hill isn’t too hard until you get close to the summit. This is where the rocks get loose, and the roots get big. I have yet to clean this last section to the summit, but my time will come!

Descending to the Peaks Trail

Descending the peaks trail is a 330-foot drop in a little over a third of a mile. You will encounter lots of rocks, both on the top and bottom sections of the descent, with some smooth dirt in places in between. This is a great time to relax and get used to the trail again and catch your breath as you descend below 10,000 feet for the last time before Copper Mountain. There is something about 10,000 feet and steep climbs that still get me. This is the perfect descent to get your breathing back under control while descending through a few tech sections.

When you reach the Peaks Trail, you will veer left and ride the Peaks Trail for less than a half-mile to the Miners Creek sign where you will follow the trail to the right. The 9 miles as written on the sign and the unassuming start does not do a good job in preparing you for this climb. The thick trees don’t help either as you can hardly see the ten-mile range at the start. It’s best to ease into this climb because you will be climbing close to 2300 feet over 5 miles.

Climbing Miners Creek

Once you cross your first creek over a wooden bridge and follow the trail around a left-hander, you will start your ascent to thinner air and some of the best views this trail has to offer. While the views up top are stunning, you will want to keep thinking about what making the summit means to you. You will be rewarded with a 4 and a half mile 2500 foot world-class descent into Copper Mountain. You may even see Pika and even the occasional Marmot along the way. The views up top are also legendary, and riding across the ridgeline around 12,000 foot on Segment 7 of the Colorado trail is going to move you into another world. The climbing from this point is tough, but nothing is better than descending to tree line, or riding ridgetops above 12,000 feet. Plan a few hours for this climb from here, give or take, depending on your fitness level.  It took me a little over an hour to work my way above tree line and then another hour to the summit.

Less than a half-mile up the trail, you will reach a burn area that crosses a creek several times. This is the Peak 2 Burn area, the result of a wildfire that scorched 80 acres and drew in a Type 1 Incident Management Team. The fire was first reported by a mountain biker and is a reminder to us all that we are custodians of the vast areas we ride and ambassadors for our sport to all we meet out on the trail. As you see the trail climb and cross the creek to the switchback up above, you will be looking at grades of 20 percent before they level out. The views open up here and allow you to look down at what you have accomplished to this point. Rest a bit here because the next switchback and beyond is 15 to 18 percent, and you still have about a half-mile to Miners Creek Road.

Miners Creek Road

Miners creek road meets Segment 7 of the Colorado Trail in a bit of flat section. From here, you have three-quarters of a mile of tough hike a bike until you reach 11,000 feet and a place where the trail mellows out for a bit. The next three-quarters of a mile to the edge of the tree line is incredible. You will find yourself walking some more, but the riding you will be able to do will remind you of why you are here. Riding through forest at 11,000 feet is remarkable, and you will also be able to ride through a high alpine meadow right before you make your final push above tree line. This last tree section is really steep, and you may even find yourself walking to the end of the second switchback right before the saddle overlooking the town of Breckenridge. The first 2 switchbacks are difficult, and they pitch well over 10 percent. I had spotted a group of backpackers on the last switchback making their way to the saddle while I was at the base of the switchbacks. This was the only group of people I saw on my climb up miners creek, and I had made it a point to catch them. They were a significant motivating factor, but it wouldn’t be until close to the summit where I would bridge the gap and work my way through their group.

Saddle and the final push to the summit

The saddle almost directly under Peak 4 is a great place to fuel up and rest a bit. Any aerobic work near 12,000-foot elevation requires an economy of motion, and your body tends to move slower than your mind will want it too. Especially if there are people, you are trying to catch. Just remember, slow is fast at high elevation, and speed is the culmination of forward motion over time. It took me an hour from the saddle to make 1.46 miles to the summit with nearly equal parts walking and riding. Three-quarters of this section to the summit is over 12,000-foot elevation. The trail isn’t particularly steep until the final switchbacks near the summit. Those switchbacks are surprisingly difficult with the lack of oxygen that zaps the strength from your muscles. The work you have done to this point plays a big part in the speed you have available to muster across the high alpine tundra. Crossing 3 snowfields along the way makes it even more interesting.

The Summit of Segment 7 of the Colorado Trail

After nearly 9 miles of riding with 3900 feet of climbing, I made it to the summit between peaks 5 and 6 on Segment 7 of the Colorado Trail. It took nearly 3 hours, which included almost 15 minutes of stopping time throughout the ride. It will take some of you more or less time, depending on your conditioning and ability to ride at high elevation. The 360-degree views up top are amazing and fill you with adrenaline like no other. Looking down into Copper Mountain thousands of feet below turns that adrenaline into excitement and nervousness for the ride down the mountain. You will have a little over a half of a mile of riding across ridgeline before you reach the descent into Copper Mountain. The second significant rock garden close to peak 6 signifies the start of the descent. You will see the trail bend around the west side of peak 6 and cut across the steep, unforgiving landscape in a thin line.

Riding the Exposure below Peak 6

Mountain biking is all about the fun of transitioning between tech to flow and every possible combination in-between. This half-mile section of trail traverses across a steep high alpine mountain face above 12,000 feet on a narrow band. It is smooth for the most part but has a few tech sections where you will be rolling over some jagged rocks in the middle of the trail. Riding this section requires you to be calm and alert. You will be pedaling quite a bit as you work your way across this traverse, but all your steep climbing is but a distant memory. It’s mostly downhill from here. Enjoy the descents and technical rock sections you come across as you navigate the slopes above tree line. The trail will mellow out in about a half-mile as you make your way into a high alpine bench. The trail from this point continues its descent to tree line and continues to amp up the fun factor with steep technical sections of single-track.

Entry into Tree Line

A sharp right-hander will mark your final descent into the trees. You will have just descended below 12,000 feet shortly before turning right, and the air will start to make an impact again in your muscles. I have always found riding above 12,000 feet to be an interesting concentration event, especially when going downhill. My reaction time seems to be a bit slower as my body economizes the flow of oxygen to places that need it most. So, sometimes I may be looking at a section of trail, and I may think it’s quite easy. I generally find out it is more gnarly than I had thought in the middle of it. This is one such section. It’s completely rideable and relatively easy as you pick up speed and make your way left navigating a rock water bar and a few turns. What can easily be missed in the descent is the gradient ramping up from 16 percent to over 30 percent before you reach the trees below. For all the people competing in the Breck Epic, they should be intimately familiar with this section as it zaps their energy while they climb it. I have always wanted to ride down from the summit into Copper Mountain on this trail ever since I first walked up it.

Tree Line

Back in the comfort of the trees, your views become comfortably obstructed, and your mind is no longer swayed by the views of the jagged peaks calling out your name. Descending closer to 11,000 feet further allows your brain to gain more control, and the adrenaline continues its lofty pitch as you make your way on some of the best ridable single-track near Copper Mountain. It’s a half-mile from the trees to Wheeler Junction with a few switchbacks thrown in for good measure. The trail continues its pace with pitches over 20 percent, and you now start to focus more on meeting other trail users as your visibility plummets on this busy trail. I met 2 through-hikers in this area near the switchbacks and another 4 at the Wheeler Junction. It is a testament to the fantastic exposure of our sport to ride responsibly and courteously allowing safe connections with all the people we meet on the trail.

Wheeler Junction to Copper Mountain

From the right turn at Wheeler Junction, you will have a 1400 foot descent over 2 miles to complete the dirt section of the ride. You will encounter tech sections, stream crossings, jagged rock gardens, water bars, and long flowy straight sections that will leave you wanting more. The trail will mellow out as a whole, but you will still find a section or two with pitches over 20 percent. Pedaling is mostly optional but required when navigating the rock gardens and creeks. This is also a busy section of trail, and I encountered another 6 hikers. Near the bottom of the trail, you will find 5 wood bridges that take you over creeks and wet areas. Once you break out of the trees again, the rec path is only a short distance away. In the Spring of this year, this area received quite a bit of snow, which lead to several avalanches. I counted at least 3 to the rec path, and one of them had a debris field big enough that they were unable to clear the trail.

Copper Mountain from the Rec Path

If you have made plans to be picked up at Copper Mountain, you can get there by turning right on the Rec path and taking it one mile to the Copper Mountain turn off. You will cross a bridge and work your way into the resort after crossing highway 91.

Frisco From the Rec Path

If your destination is Frisco, then you will have 3 miles of relatively flat riding along Tenmile Creek and the Curtain Ponds before climbing up to the start of the 10-mile canyon descent. This 3-mile lazy section of rec path will allow you to take in the sights once more and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Summit County. This rec path is bustling in the summer months and is a part of the Vail Pass Shuttle system. You will see a lot of families on this rec path with varying degrees of speed, skill, and awareness.

The descent into Frisco down Ten-mile Canyon is 4 miles long and follows Ten-mile creek the whole way. It is divided by a center line for both uphill and downhill traffic. This part of the rec path is also popular with road bikers as well. You may even see some roller skiers or long boarders enjoying the great outdoors as you are. You will find bathrooms a few miles down the rec path to your left. As you get closer to Frisco, the path flattens out where you will eventually reach a turn off to the left that will take you to a parking lot near the north side of town closest to I-70. Continuing on the rec path to your right, you will find another turn off to your left that will take you to the north end of main street and to the shops.

Frisco to Tiger Road

If you parked at the Gold Hill parking lot near tiger road and are committed to riding the rec path the rest of the way to your car, you have around six and a half miles left. On rides like this, I usually think of the rec path in sections.  The first section has a gentle downhill leading to a bit of a climb through a neighborhood that shares the rec path. You will pass by the Rainbow Lakes trailhead and the Peaks Trail and the Miners Creek road. The Miners Creek Road is the dirt road I usually use when riding the peaks trail from Breck. After passing those places and keeping your eye out for cars through the residential area, you will reach an intersection. Stay right and climb the 10 percent grade through the curves that take you above the hospital.  After the hospital, you will reach a small descent and another intersection where you will want to stay right again. The top of the short climb marks the end of this first section and sets you up for a downhill.

The second one and a half-mile section of the rec path takes you under highway 9, down to the Dillon reservoir and back to highway 9 again. The narrow part of the rec path leading to the new reroute is a remarkable section of the trail. It’s really short but showcases the incredible potential this rec path offers to the community, and it’s visitors. Before you know it, the rec path widens out, and you can start hammering the descent reaching speeds of 30 miles an hour or more. Take care as you set yourself up for the turn into the tunnel under Highway 9, expect to see other trail users, and be prepared to slow significantly. The descent after the tunnel is where you can safely accumulate all that speed. After riding under highway 9, you will see a rec path to your left leading you to the Frisco Adventure Park and beyond to the Frisco Bay Marina. The next left gravel turn will take you to the Lakeshore trail and the Frisco Peninsula. This part of the rec path to highway 9 follows the old highway and has a few pull-offs with signage detailing the mining history of the area as the trail flattens out.

The last and final section of the rec path to the Gold Hill parking lot is two and a half miles long and works it’s way behind the high school and eventually hugs highway 9 on into Breckenridge. This section of the rec path is usually where I start to fade a bit. When I get my nutrition right, It is fun to hammer it all the way to Tiger Road. That usually doesn’t happen, and I ride this pretty hard until I pass the high school and slow down until I get to highway 9 again. Once back to highway 9, the rec path curves through the trees and then straightens out as it passes by a pasture where there are horses. At the end of the pasture, the trail climbs into a fenced area as it makes its final turn on it’s way to Gold Hill. You are just about to finish a 26-mile ride and one of the most epic rides in Summit County. Enjoy the last bit of yards, and get ready to plan your next ride!