Passing Through: Gunnison, Colorado

Nestled in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains along Highway 50 sits the city of Gunnison, Colorado. The town received its name in honor of United States Army General John W. Gunnison, who was sent to survey the land for the railroad. In the late 1800s, miners, ranchers, and mountain men settled into Gunnison once the railroad had been established. Walking down Main Street, it’s easy to imagine the horses of yesteryear hitched to the posts outside of storefronts. The facades of the buildings have maintained their Old West charm, but where there once were horses, there now are bicycles.

While Gunnison has held onto a fair amount of its ranching past, which is celebrated over 10 days each July during an event known as Cattlemen’s Days, much of the city is occupied by outdoor enthusiasts and students attending Western Colorado University. Gunnison is surrounded by a host of outdoor playgrounds. At just 40 minutes from Crested Butte, residents have access to a world-class ski resort and seemingly endless backcountry routes to explore. Of course, when the snow melts, there’s an equal amount of top-shelf mountain biking to be had on the same trails; carving between the aspen trees and wildflowers, it’s easy to think that you’re riding in a page out of a travel brochure. 

Ride

However, if it’s excellent mountain biking that you are looking for, you needn’t travel far out of Gunnison proper to find it. Just a short pedal away from the center of town is Hartman Rocks, high-desert terrain decorated with wild sage and a giant granite formation. Controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, Hartman Rocks is open to a host of recreation, including all forms of vehicles, motorized and not. Over the years, Gunnison Trails has helped to establish purpose-built mountain bike routes through the rocky terrain. The small nonprofit trail group hosts the Gunnison Growler event annually to help raise money and awareness for the trails at Hartman Rocks. 

At Hartman Rocks, you can find everything from fast and flowy XC sections to gnarly and technical lines down the piles of granite that litter the landscape. Some of the highlights are Rattlesnake, a trail that cascades down a granite traverse, and Collarbone, a bermed-out, high-speed rip back to the parking lot with some optional jumps if you are feeling frisky. Beyond the trails, you can find some excellent bouldering and top-rope climbing routes as well as some perfect camping spots. 

Eat

All that time playing on the trails and rocks is likely going to work up a mean hunger and thirst. For craft beers and good eats, be sure to swing through High Alpine Brewing Co. A rotating stock of carefully crafted brews will have the beer snob in you smiling. While you’re there, don’t miss the art on the walls provided by local photographer and mountain biker Dave Kozlowski. For a righteous burger in an unassuming setting, check out the Power Stop. Yes, it’s a gas station. But those $12 burgers are made with local grass-fed beef and will rival any fancy sit-down gastropub, plus there’s beer on tap behind the register. 

There is certainly no shortage of bike shops in Gunnison, but if you find yourself in need of some maintenance while in town, swing through Double Shot Cyclery. It’s one part bike shop, one part café with a rotating list of beers and cocktails, so your wait on that flat fix won’t seem nearly as long as it usually does. 

Getting there

Gunnison does have its very own airport, but I have to say the drive from Denver over Monarch Pass is worth the extra travel time for the scenery. Be sure to check out some of the surrounding areas, like Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park or any of the other natural beauties tucked away in the mountains of Colorado. 

Editors Note: This Passing Through originally appeared in issue 212, like what you are seeing? Become a subscriber and help support independent mountain biking journalism.