Looking for some fun backcountry riding around Denver, Colorado? Check out Buffalo Creek mountain biking. The 24.5-mile IMBA Epic Big Loop route traverses through beautiful forest and open meadows, much of which is on the Colorado Trail, and has of the best descents in the area!
The Buffalo Creek Big Loop is a 24.5-mile IMBA Epic cross-country mountain bike loop that traverses through dense pine forests, down sandy washes, up switchbacked climbs, over granite boulders, and along smooth singletrack. I rode it solo a few years ago and had a great time (although with an elevation high of over 8,000 feet I was definitely gasping for breath!) There’s nothing really technical about this loop, but it’s a nice pedal with several hefty climbs and a few bomber descents.
The views along this Buffalo Creek mountain biking loop are intermittent (except on Nice Kitty, which climbs through a burned area), but when you’re able to see the peaks in the distance – specifically Banner Peak, Cathedral Spires, and Raleigh Peak – they are stunning.
This loop is only one of many possible routes through the Buffalo Creek trail system, but if you’re looking for a big day out on some singletrack with a few fun ups and downs, it’s a great full-day adventure!
(There’s a good chance that affiliate links are scattered throughout this post. If you click on one I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you and I’ll definitely be using it to buy bike gear.)
About the Buffalo Creek Big Loop
Start/End: Buffalo Creek Mountain Biking Parking Area
Miles long: 24.5 miles
Ascent: + 3,035 ft
Descent: – 3,035 ft
Elevation high: 8,268 ft
Time needed: 4-6 hours
*These numbers are approximate and measured by my Garmin Fenix watch
What to Expect
Most of the Buffalo Creek mountain biking loop is over 7,000 feet, so if you’re coming from a lower elevation or not used to the altitude, be prepared for a bit of suffering. I live at 4,500 feet and I felt like my lungs and legs were burning for the first 45 minutes. Be prepared with extra water, sunscreen, and plenty of daylight hours.
This loop has quite a bit of climbing, but I never felt like it was ‘terrible’. The first climb up Nice Kitty is probably the worst because you’re just getting warmed up and there are a few punchy climbs that may leave you gasping for breath. Other than that, the climbs feel manageable and mostly rolling for the rest of the ride. Keep in mind, though, that the whole route has over 3,000ft of elevation gain, which is a good amount even for experienced riders.
The majority of this ride felt pretty remote. Even the drive into Buffalo Creek feels like you’re leaving civilization behind. But that being said, I did see a few mountain bike groups throughout my weekday ride and I have a feeling this place blows up on the weekend. Even so, always tell someone where you’re going and be prepared with the 8 pack essentials and a first aid kit. (I also didn’t have AT&T cell service for the whole ride. I’m not sure about Verizon).
Overall, the Buffalo Creek IMBA Epic loop is a cross-country loop with very little tech. There are some punchy rock climbs at the start of the ride and the last descent has a few rock features that are all rollable but might need to be scoped out depending on your riding skills. What makes this ride more challenging is the mileage and the altitude, not necessarily the technical features.
How to ride the Buffalo Creek MTB Loop
Where to start
There are several parking areas along the Buffalo Creek mountain biking loop, but the most popular starting point is the Buffalo Creek Main Parking Area off of Pine Valley Rd. Starting here will give you a good warm-up climb on Nice Kitty and a fun, fast, and long descent down Sandy Wash at the end.
Other possible starting points are Little Scraggy, Buffalo Creek Trailhead, or Gashouse Gulch parking area.
Trails That make up the Buffalo Creek Mountain biking Loop
The Buffalo Creek loop starts off along a mellow fire road leading out of the main parking area. The road is flat and a good warm-up spin for the legs. You’ll pass by Sandy Wash on the right, which is the exit at the end of the loop. A bit further on, you’ll see the entrance to Nice Kitty on the left.
Nice Kitty is the longest and steepest climb of the whole loop, but that being said, it’s not that bad (unless you aren’t yet adjusted to the elevation which starts at 6,700ft and ends at 7,600ft). The first mile on Nice Kitty is the steepest and actually probably most technical part of the ride with a few punchy boulders to get up and over and several steep pitches to grunt up.
From there, the trail mellows out and switchbacks up the mountain through a huge burned area. Be sure to look back the way you came for awesome views!
After making it to the top of Nice Kitty, Buffalo Burn continues to the right at a slight incline to the Little Scraggy parking area. After spending most of the Nice Kitty climb out in the open through a burn area, Buffalo Burn heads back into the forest for a rolling pedal among the trees.
By far the largest portion of the Buffalo Creek Big Loop is spent on the Colorado Trail. The full Colorado Trail traverses the state from Denver to Durango and sections of it are actually part of the larger Continental Divide Trail that spans the length of the US from north to south.
This portion of the Colorado Trail is mostly rolling as you head out from the Little Scraggy parking area. There is one big climb followed by a super fast and fun descent down a wash.
Like the rest of the loop, there are really no technical sections on the Colorado Trail. It’s mostly smooth, buff singletrack with rolling terrain.
Redskin Creek & Gashouse
After about 8 miles on the Colorado Trail, the loop turns off onto Redskin Creek. There’s an initial fun descent and then it’s a pedal up to Gashouse Gulch parking area. You can choose to stay on the trail or if you’re feeling the miles and elevation, the road leads to the parking area as well.
Gashouse is the final climb of the route and while it’s a 2.5-mile climb, the slope is very manageable and the pedaling is mellow (although there are a few rocky features that may cause your legs to groan).
Charlie’s Cut, Homestead, & Sandy Wash
Once you reach the top of the Gashouse climb, it’s time to descend! Don’t get too excited though, because there’s still a tiny bit more climbing throughout the descent, but for the most part, you can coast back to the car.
Charlies Cut to Homestead to Sandy Wash is a super fun and fast descent through the forest with lots of granite rock rollers, sandy corners, and great views out over the peaks. This is the reason you should ride the Buffalo Creek Big Loop clockwise. If you ride it counterclockwise you’ll have to climb this bomber descent!
Everything on this section is made to be rideable, so there should be no surprises (unless someone didn’t read this post and is riding the loop counterclockwise).
The trail will spit you out on the fire road you pedaled in on and then it’s a quick, easy spin back to the parking area.
Buffalo Creek Mountain Biking Considerations
This is a big ride at high elevation. Most of the Buffalo Creek IMBA Epic ride is above 7,000ft. If you’re coming from sea level, you’ll probably be gasping for breath even on the smallest of inclines. I definitely was. I’m not saying don’t do this ride if you’re not yet accustomed to the elevation, but just make sure you take it into consideration and allow yourself extra time and bring lots of snacks and water.
Water. There is no potable water along the Buffalo Creek Loop. Make sure you bring plenty of water with you.
Allow for at least 4-5 hours to complete this ride. You’ll want to stop to take pictures, eat snacks and rest at the top of the climbs. I rode it in just over 4 hours. You can do it in much less time if you’re accustomed to the elevation and wear lycra.
While the loop is mostly well-marked, it is essential that you bring some sort of navigation guide like the TrailForks app or a printed map.
Buffalo Creek gets crowded. Since it’s located not too far from the metropolis of Denver, Buffalo Creek can get crowded, especially on weekends. I rode it mid-day on a weekday and the parking lot was still about a quarter full. If possible, I would recommend trying to ride this on a weekday rather than a weekend.
What to pack
The biggest concern for Buffalo Creek mountain biking is water, so make sure you bring plenty with you. Here’s what I recommend bringing with you for your ride:
Hydration pack with a 3L water reservoir
Spare tube and/or tire plug kit
Sunscreen (it gets hot out there!)
Snacks/lunch and hydration powder (the Skratch single packs are great)
First aid kit (you won’t need it unless you do!)
Cell phone with TrailForks downloaded
Final Thoughts On the buffalo creek Loop
The Buffalo Creek IMBA Epic loop is a fun and scenic cross-country ride. As far as ‘epicness’ goes, I wouldn’t say it’s the most epic of IMBA epics. There’s really nothing technical or difficult about this ride other than the miles and elevation.
I’m glad I did it once – and you should definitely ride it if you haven’t already – but if and when I return to Buffalo Creek I think I’ll choose to explore some of the other trails and loops in the area instead.