Looking for the best mountain bike trails in Colorado Springs? How about riding some of the same trails the pros ride? Since 2020, the Pikes Peak APEX has hosted a bucket-list worthy mountain bike race highlighting — and raising money to maintain — some of the best bike trails in the Pikes Peak region. While the $25,000 prize purse draws some world-class pros, the race is for amateurs and adventurists too. Whether or not you want to join in the challenge and race week festivities (Sept. 23-26, 2021), you can enjoy these world-class trails when the non-local pros go home.
“There aren’t a lot of cities where you can ride your bike literally out of downtown and do a big day on the mountain bike and be completely in the backcountry, like up in Frosty Park and Jones Park and Captain Jack’s,” says Micah Rice, executive director of the Pikes Peak APEX. ”You just don’t get that from cities the size of Colorado Springs. It’s a very unique thing that we have.”
Here’s a rundown of the stages of the four-day Pikes Peak APEX, which highlights some of the best mountain bike trails in the Springs. Sound intimidating to ride with or in the same spots as the pros? You will need some intermediate mountain bike skills and endurance to enjoy these trails. But Rice likens the APEX and its course selection to a marathon or Ironman event with top competitors leading out front and others just happy to finish a challenging, bucket list ride. “This is an event for everyone,” Rice says. “It’s challenging and difficult, but it’s doable.”
APEX Stage 1 Prologue, 2020 and 2021
11.5 miles with 940 feet of elevation gain
Palmer Park is a popular gem in the middle of suburban Colorado Springs. There are over 20 miles of trails for riders of all levels, and while the twisting trail network can be confusing, it is also marked with plenty of signs and green, blue, black trail ratings. The park’s western lookouts offer panoramic vistas of downtown against a Front Range backdrop that sweeps all the way from the Spanish Peaks south of Pueblo, past Pikes Peak, to Mount Herman above Palmer Lake.
The APEX Stage 1 route circles the east and center of Palmer Park on the Greencrest Trail, Mesa Trail, Cheyenne Trail, Grandview Trail and more. “We stay away from the black trails as much as possible,” Rice says. “It’s mostly the green and the blues that we we race on. So while it’s somewhat technical, it’s definitely achievable by an amateur cyclist who’s looking for a great ride and 11 miles.” Expect a combination of twisty, flowy singletrack with sections of slickrock sandstone, rocky bumps and big vistas mixed in along the way. Read more about Palmer Park in 3 Great Trails for Year-Round Mountain Biking.
Monument and Mount Herman
APEX Stage 2, 2021
40 miles with 5,500 feet of elevation gain
New to the APEX, the Mount Herman area has been a longtime favorite of Tri-Lakes area riders. This route combines a long gravel climb up Mount Herman Road, a singletrack loop in Lovell Gulch just north of Woodland Park, a few gravel miles on Rampart Range Road and a long, rowdy descent through Limbaugh Canyon, behind Mount Herman and back to Monument Preserve.
“The section right there at the end, on Forest Service Road 715 between miles 33 to 35, is possibly the most technical 2 miles of the whole week,” Rice says. “That’s a difficult section coming down to Monument Preserve.”
The route overall is made for gravel grinders. Those wanting to stay more focused on singletrack can opt for an out and back on the Monument Trail (715) or combine it with the advanced White Ghost Trail to circumnavigate Mount Herman.
Gold Camp Road to Jones Park and Captain Jack’s
APEX Stage 3, 2020 and 2021
40 miles with 5,000 feet of elevation gain
This is arguably Colorado Springs’ most quintessential long ride, and it includes some of the area’s most beloved, iconic mountain bike trails: Captain Jack’s and Jones Park. The APEX route starts downtown at America the Beautiful Park, rolling through Bear Creek Park and onward and upward for 22 miles of mostly gravel road. Yes, it’s a long way to climb. You definitely earn the loose, flowy, 3,000-foot descent along the backcountry New Jones Park Trail (701) and Captain Jacks. “That’s a classic Colorado Springs mountain bike ride,” Rice says. “People from out of town always ride that and that’s the one they remember when they go home.”
If you’re not up for that much climbing, you can use the Buckhorn Trail or High Drive to lap the lower, classic Captain Jack’s in a 5- to 7-mile loop. Jack’s is a local favorite, intermediate to advanced downhill, but note that it is a multiuse trail, shared by hikers, motorcyclists and equestrians. So beware or oncoming traffic as you roll through the bermed turns and blinds corners. For some fun background, check out Captain Jack Was a Woman.
APEX Stage 4, 2021
20 miles with 3,600 feet of elevation gain
A shorter day for the APEX, this ride covers more of the favorite trails in the Cheyenne Cañon area. Climbing along the canyon rim on Columbine Trail provides some punchy climbs and sometimes slippery gravel, and Buckhorn Trail adds some scattered rollovers and steep bursts. But the route includes two descents of lower Captain Jack’s. The APEX route begins downtown in America the Beautiful Park with a gravel ascent through Bear Creek Park, then a steep, lung-busting climb up High Drive. To adapt the route, you can start from the parking lot before the first tunnel on Gold Camp Road. Or park at one of the lower trailheads in Stratton Open Space. You’ll climb through the meandering trails of Stratton to begin (excellent trails in their own right), and you’ll be able to add a grin-inducing descent of the Chutes, Colorado Springs solitary downhill-only trail.
Want to Ride the Pikes Peak APEX?
The annual bike race takes place in September, drawing mountain bikers of all abilities. But you don’t have to be a cyclist to join the APEX party. All trail users, outdoor lovers and festivarians are invited to the downtown APEX Outdoor Festival and Expo for food trucks, a beer garden, bike skills clinics and family fun, not to mention the start and finish of one of the race stages. All proceeds go to Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance to benefit trail stewardship.
“This entire event is a fundraiser for the Pike’s Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance and their trail fund,” Rice says. “It’s a really interesting model where any money made is going straight back into the trail system in the city we all live in. It’s really cool of the PPORA to set this up because it benefits the people that live here.”
Get all the details at pikespeakapex.com
Looking for More Beginner Friendly Bike Trails?
If you’re seeking smoother trails where you or the family can sharpen your skills, check out Best Beginner Mountain Bike Trails in Colorado Springs for our list of green-rated favorites.
Read More About Mountain Biking in Colorado Springs