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A Pearl of a Pass

By David Nelson - March 15th, 2004

A classic mountain-bike ride connects Crested Butte with Aspen via Pearl Pass, traversing sensational backcountry on high-elevation terrain. The route is most spectacular on the south side of the Elk Range; try an out-and-back ride to the top of the pass, beginning and ending in Crested Butte.

Be prepared for a day in the backcountry: deep creek crossings, rough terrain, prolonged exposure above timberline, and afternoon thunderstorms are part of the experience. But the picturesque Brush Creek drainage and the views from the pass make the pedaling (and pushing) worth all the effort. Take plenty of food and water and rain gear. Before you head out, check in with local bike shops in Crested Butte for an update on conditions and directions.

Trip Planner

Route location: In Gunnison County, from Crested Butte northeast to the Pitkin County line at Pearl Pass.

Surface: Smooth to rocky forest roads, rough four-wheel-drive road over detritus (scree) rock above timberline and two miles of paved state highway.

Distance: 33.9 miles out and back. Ride time: Allow 5 - 7 hours for the round trip.

Difficulty: Difficult. There is substantial elevation gain (nearly 4,000 feet) and several technically challenging sections.

Maps: Trails Illustrated: Crested Butte, Pearl Pass, Colorado; U.S. Forest

From Denver: Travel southwest on U.S. 285 to Poncha Springs and turn west on U.S. 50 to Gunnison. Turn north on Colorado 135 to Crested Butte. A five-hour drive.


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