Mountain Biking The Buffalo Creek Loop
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Looking for some fun backcountry riding around Denver, Colorado? There’s a lot to choose from, but Buffalo Creek is one of my favorites. There’s a ton of great mountain biking at Buffalo Creek including a 24.5-mile IMBA Epic Ride. Of course, there are plenty of options for shorter rides if you don’t want to do such a big day.
Buffalo Creek is located about an hour south of Denver and is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
What to know before you ride
You’ll be at high elevation
Most of the Buffalo Creek mountain biking trails are 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.
There’s a lot of climbing
The 24.5-mile main Buffalo Creek 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.
If you’re not doing the full loop, there will still be climbing, but you can also adjust your route to how you’re feeling.
It’s remote terrain
Buffalo Creek feels pretty remote. Even the drive from Denver 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 your mountain bike 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).
There is no water
There is no potable water at Buffalo Creek. Make sure you bring plenty of water with you.
The Buffalo Creek Loop Trail Guide
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.
Route directions: Buffalo Creek Main Parking > Nice Kitty > Buffalo Burn > Colorado Trail > Redskin Creek > Gashouse > Charlie’s Cutoff > Homestead > Sandy Wash
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.
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 the 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 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.
How challenging is the Buffalo Creek Loop?
Overall, Buffalo Creek and the full IMBA Epic loop feature mostly cross-country terrain 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.
There are lots of options to do shorter loops and rides in Buffalo Creek if you’re not feeling this 24.5-mile route.
- Little Scraggy Loop (12.5 miles): I haven’t ridden this route, but one of the comments mentions that Little Scraggy is similar to my all-time favorite trail – Vitamin B in Buena Vista.
- A bit of work and lots of fun (14.5 miles): This route climbs the fire road up to the top of Charlie’s Cutoff so you can get the best descent of the Full Loop with fewer miles and elevation gain. I haven’t ridden the fire road, so I don’t know how hard it is.
What to pack
The biggest concern for Buffalo Creek mountain biking is water, so make sure you bring plenty with you (at least 3 L). Here’s what I typically bring for big backcountry rides:
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.
Have you explored the Buffalo Creek mountain bike trails outside of Denver? Which were your favorites? Leave a comment below!
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