Hermosa Creek - Durango, CO
Distance: 35 miles. Time: 6 hrs. Classic Colorado Backcountry Exposure.
Hermosa Creek is an epic ride which traverses serious elevation and mountain terrain at first, then follows hard core Colorado backcountry along the fast moving mountain river. Take 550 North out of town for 20 minutes or so and park one car at the intersection of 550 and Hermosa Road. Drive your second car or shuttle up to the Purgatory Mountain Ski area (Durango Mountain Resort) and begin pedaling up the only fireroad climbing away from the parking lot. Your starting at approximately 8,800 feet and will climb the gravel Elbert Creek road up past 10,000 feet until you see signs for Hermosa Creek Trail.
After catching your breath at the top, claim your reward by cruising down the fireroad for the next few miles,giving up all the elevation you just worked so hard for. Shortly you will find yourself in a remote, backcountry valley with spectacular views in every direction. As the road traverses the length of the valley heading South, you will see more signs for Hermosa Creek Trail, at which point you turn left onto a smaller fireroad which crosses the broad and shallow creek. After the 100 foot crossing, the trail begins to head south and becomes more narrow. Soon after it begins to climb and meander along the edge of the creek as the forest thickens and the terrain becomes more rugged. You are now on Hermosa Creek Trail proper - and you will be for the next 20 miles. You are now committed and there are no bailout spots until you reach the end.
The trail is fairly rocky with a few precarious ledges along the creek side for the first five miles or so. We saw waterfalls of ice in June and a small herd of elk in the creek. Further along, the trail settles into a pattern of narrow bench cut singletrack traversing the steep mountainside along Hermosa Creek. Sometimes it rides high above the canyon as you look cautiously down at the creek 200 feet below; and other times you are splashing across a handful of shallow tributaries that feed into the creek just a few feet away. The beautiful mountain river is almost always in view, save for the many inward turns required to cross the tributaries. Here the trail turns left and drops down quickly until you reach a hairpin turn and water crossing, followed by steep uphill climbs back to the elevated bench cut high above the main creek. All the while you will feel yourself losing elevation over the miles until you reach a campground and perhaps several roaming cattle as you end your ride on 4-5 miles of gravel downhill on Hermosa Road towards 550.
After this grueling but rewarding ride, head back South on 550 towards Durango and stop at the Olde Schoolhouse Cafe for Pizza and Beer and a taste of local culture. It's a nondescript, white house on the East side of 550.
Sign to Hermosa Creek Trail
Crossing Hermosa Creek
Hermosa Creek Trail
Along Hermosa Creek
Near the End of the Ride