Crested Butte, Monarch Crest, Fruita, Gunnison, Golden, these towns are among the many world-class options for mountain bikers in Colorado, the highest state in the country. But there is a small town, down near the Four Corners area, that few have heard of; and those who have heard of it are keeping a tight lip on it. Try as they might, however, word is getting out about the little town of Cortez, Colorado. While it certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of a Crested Butte, Aspen, or Monarch Crest, it boasts some of the best riding in the West.
There are essentially three main options for riding in Cortez. The first, and arguably the reason people are starting to show up in Cortez, is a network of trails known as Phil’s World. Set among the Pinon pines, sage and juniper of the Southwest, the trails were started, according to Jimbo Fairely, the affable, co-founder and co-owner of Kokopelli Bike Shop in Cortez, “by a local guy named Phil.”
And while most of his original work has been modified and expanded, the network still gives you that feeling that you’re riding something that was built with pure mountain bike love. Like the trails in Fruita, Colorado, to the north, “the trails are mostly built and maintained by a core group of folks,” said Fairley.
The trails are extremely well maintained, clearly marked and they are all directional, clockwise trails that end up where you started; it’s pretty damn hard to get lost here. There is no double track to speak of, all buffed-out singletrack with amazing flow, and a few really fun rocky sections here and there to get the blood pumping a bit. This isn’t a huckster’s paradise, but if you like to get air, there is plenty to be found here. One trail in particular, recommended highly by Fairley, and rightly so, called “Rib Cage” is screaming fun — you can spend a lot of time in the air on this one, if you so choose. It’s a guaranteed perma-smile trail.
Phil’s World packs a ton of fun for all levels of rider. I rode here with my 9-year-old son and we all had a blast. For those just starting out, you can try the Trust and Hippie House loop, which is about a 7-mile sinewy singletrack route with very little climbing and almost nothing technical. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are options aplenty. To the west side of the network there’s Ledges Loop, Vertebrae, and Stinky Springs.
In addition to Phil’s World, there are two other hot spots for riding around Cortez. To the north is Dolores, Colorado, which, according to Frailey, has an amazing network of seldom-used singletrack waiting to be enjoyed. To the south, there is Sand Canyon, which boasts slickrock, singletrack, and challenges for any level of rider. You can easily spend a week riding here and never hit the same trail twice.
The town of Cortez itself is a gem with tons of character, and worth making a trip for. It’s about eight miles west of Mesa Verde National Park, which is home to the ancient cliff dwellings of the Pueblo Indians—dating back to A.D. 550 – A.D. 1300. We camped in the park and the facilities were excellent—what you can expect from the best of the National Park system. Main Street in Cortez houses a number of very good restaurants and shops, including Once Upon a Sandwich, and the famed Silver Bean coffee shop, which can be found in an Airstream trailer. If you’re thinking of planning a trip for some fair-weather riding, and one that’s slightly off the beaten path with amazing trails, look no further than Cortez, Colorado.
If you go: Cortez, CO
Must-do trails: Rib Cage, Ledges Loop, Lemon Head, Stinky Springs
Best bike shop: Kokopelli Bike and Board
Best map: Latitude 40
Best coffee: Silver Bean Coffee
Riding season: Technically, you can ride here year-round. In Dec/Jan the highs are in the 40s, in July/Aug the highs are in the upper 80s.
Getting there: Phil’s World is located across from the Montezuma Fair Grounds, just east of Cortez.
Lodging: The best way to experience Cortez is to camp in the Mesa Verde National Park. The park has clean restrooms, showers, shops, etc. There are hotels in Cortez as well.
Insider tips: Rib Cage Trail = some of the most fun you can have on a bike while clothed.