Mountain biking is often portrayed as a sport for thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies throwing themselves down hair-raising slopes where danger lurks around every corner. The Front Range has plenty of trails to satisfy those appetites.
But many mountain bikers aren’t driven to test themselves on Lookout Mountain’s Apex Trail, for example, or at White Ranch Park in the foothills west of Arvada, both of which climb hundreds of feet over rocky terrain and where downhill crashes can be punished severely. Some simply prefer pleasant off-road riding, while others may be looking for good places to learn critical skills before testing themselves on more intimidating terrain.
The Front Range has plenty of that, too.
Jay Bolllinger of Golden is a passionate mountain biker who used many of those gentler trails to introduce his 13-year-old son, Isaac, to the sport. Now, Isaac is an avid mountain biker looking forward to competing in high school races, and his 8-year-old brother, Sam, is joining dad on the trails, too. Bollinger helped us compile a list of trails that are comfortable for beginners and those who just want to ride without scaring themselves.
“Mountain biking is my passion and something I have really loved over the past twenty-something years,” Bollinger said. “These trails are ones where I can share that love with my boys. If you can do the things you love with the people you love, it’s the best.”
Natalie Raborn, a mountain-biking coach based in Evergreen, helped us out, too. She is the race director of the Beti Bike Bash, a Team Evergreen race aimed at introducing more women to the sport in a setting that is welcoming, not intimidating. That event is held annually in October at Lakewood’s Bear Creek Lake Park, which Bollinger and Raborn both say is ideal for beginners and folks who prefer not to be frightened on the bike. There are some fun climbs, but nothing too challenging.
“There are no intimidating rock features or drops,” Raborn said. “It’s beautiful, but it’s still challenging enough that you feel like you’re mountain biking, not just riding on a dirt road. You have pretty good visibility there, so you don’t have to stress about coming around a corner and running into another biker or hiker. You can’t really get lost, which is sometimes a fear for a beginner, and there’s cellphone service. There are all these things that you don’t think are a big deal, but they kind of are when you are a beginner.”
Bear Creek Lake Park also is a beautiful natural setting and, after all, that’s one of the main attractions of mountain biking as compared to road cycling. It gets you closer to nature.
“Colorado has so much forest and open space where you can disconnect from society a little more,” Raborn said. “You’re really in nature, so you’re more likely to see animals and ride by streams. You can connect with the outdoors more. It adds more of a challenge, mental and physical, because you’re not just propelling a machine forward. It provides a full-body workout, so you’re conditioning your core and your upper body, more so than you generally would on a road bike.”
Here are some other unintimidating mountain biking destinations, in or near the foothills, to consider:
South Table Mountain Park: There are multiple trailheads to ascend this mesa in Golden. The easiest ways are on the south side of the mesa from Quaker Street, Golden Hills Road or Camp George West Park. All three routes offer moderate climbs of a couple of hundred feet or so to the top of the mesa, where there are miles of relatively flat trails with great views, especially on the east and west edges of the mesa.
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South Valley Park: This is one of Bollinger’s favorites among the Front Range’s easier mountain-biking destinations, in part because of the beautiful rock formations found there. It’s located just west of the hogback, south of Ken Caryl and north of Deer Creek Canyon Road.
Green Mountain (Hayden Park): Located on the west side of Lakewood, there are some good trails for beginners around the perimeter of the mountain that are best accessed from a trailhead on Rooney Road. Trails to the top aren’t technical but require 800 feet of climbing to reach the summit. There are other trailheads located along Alameda Parkway.
Marshall Mesa: Located south of Boulder just east of Colorado 93, there is good riding on the mesa, and trails there connect to a trail system with some easy riding on the other side of Highway 93 that includes the Community Ditch and Doudy Draw. Another option: From Marshall Mesa, head south via the Greenbelt Plateau and cross Highway 93 to Flatirons Vista.
Anya Semenoff, Denver Post file
Alderfer/Three Sisters Park near Evergreen has a nice network of trails for children, beginning mountain bikers and folks who prefer to avoid steep descents.
Alderfer/Three Sisters Park: This park near Evergreen has a good variety of generally flat trails and great scenery. “There are some technical spots that would be hike-a-bike (spots where the rider gets off the bike briefly), but you don’t have the classic Front Range climb of a thousand feet and descend,” Bollinger said. “It’s more of a network of trails that you can explore.”
Hildebrand Ranch Park: Both Bollinger and Raborn recommended this park, which is near South Valley Ranch but is located on the east side of the hogback near Chatfield Reservoir.
Elk Meadow Park: Located just south of Bergen Park and north of Evergreen, there are some good trails here for beginners. Just leave the Bergen Peak trail (which climbs 1,700 feet in less than 3 miles) to the experts.
Flying J Ranch Park: Located near Conifer, Raborn suggested this one as a good place to get out of the city and ride. “Not heavily trafficked by bikers,” Raborn said, “but very beginner-friendly.”
Final notes: Novice mountain bikers should educate themselves on trail etiquette. Courtesy and communication are important, especially on single-track trails, but there is an accepted hierarchy when riders approach each other. Mountain bikers are expected to yield to all other users — hikers, runners and horseback riders — and when two mountain bikers approach each other, downhill riders should yield to uphill riders.
There’s another important rule: “It’s never acceptable to ride off the trail,” Raborn said. “If you can’t pass another rider with you both staying on the trail, one or both of you need to stop.”
Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file
Bear Creek Lake Park has mostly flat trails and descents are mostly gentle without technical challenges.
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