Rotary Trail on back of Emerald Mountain a ride to relish |

Rotary Trail on back of Emerald Mountain a ride to relish

The Rotary Trail provides sweet views of Routt County and Sleeping Giant. It's not about the views, however. Instead, the draw is the sweeping, rolling terrain carefully morphed into a trail that's not too challenging.
Joel Reichenberger

— Back when it still was just a meadow strewn with brambles and thickets, Aryeh Copa had little trouble getting excited talking about it. He'd spread his arms as though he were flying down singletrack, his mind's eye picturing the smooth trail where there was nothing but a thin trail scratched into the brush.

He pointed out where there would be berms and rollers and jumps. No one in Steamboat Springs had ridden a trail like this, he said. Maybe no one anywhere had.

Two years ago, Copa, in exchange for a little volunteer work on the trail, happily would explain his vision of what the Rotary Trail, on the backside of Emerald Mountain, could be. Now, as the trail is for all practical purposes complete — Copa said he could spend the rest of his life refining it — one lap on the four-mile loop can make any cyclist a believer.

Those pictures in his mind and scratches in the dirt were hammered into existence through two grueling summers of volunteer-powered work, and the Rotary Trail now is one of Steamboat's sweet surprises.

Planning ahead

The Rotary Trail was the product of a cooperation between the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs, Routt County Riders and the Bureau of Land Management. With its sweeping banked turns and multitude of as-difficult-as-you-want-to-make-it features, it's every bit as pleasing as Copa, the lead architect, claimed.

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The trail is on the far side of Emerald Mountain, and can be accessed from the front side via the Ridge Trail. It really is a trail accessible to riders of all abilities, and anyone lacking the desire to pedal up and over the downtown mountain easily can drive to the Rotary Trail by heading out of Steamboat Springs on 13th Street. Take a left turn onto Routt County Road 45 — it's not for 5.4 miles from the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge — and two parking lots are on the left, the first about one-quarter of a mile down the road and a second after another 100 yards.

Like virtually every Routt County ride more ambitious than a cruise next to the Yampa River, there is some climbing required to ride the Ridge Trail. Few rides require less climbing, however.

Begin the adventure by pedaling from the parking area up Ridge Trail, about one-half mile. It's uphill, but it's not too tough. A perk of the entire area is ample shade — a godsend on a hot summer day and a relief on the early climb. Even that section lacks any long, sustained climb with the gain in altitude frequently broken up by flat or rolling sections.

The actual Rotary Trail breaks off to the left on an unmarked by obvious turnoff.

Swinging in

The first 1 1/2 miles of Rotary Trail mostly features climbing, though it's even less demanding than the climb out of the parking area, and shade offers plenty of chances for a cool breather.

It's after that climb, about two miles into the the overall ride, that the fun really starts and the Rotary Trail distinguishes itself from anything else riders can access locally.

It starts with a few banked turns with large berms built up on the outer edges. A few give way to many, a series of the turns sending riders diving down the trail, giving up the elevation they've gained, though not as quickly as it would seem.

The trail eventually gives up those banked turns, and riders get closer to the base elevation. The fun doesn't stop, however. A long string of rollers and tabletop jumps await in the final stretches before the trail dumps back out at the base of the Ridge Trail, just above the parking lot and 5.2 miles from where it left.

Thought process

The sweeping turns, berms and lower-trail jumps and features are what many will remember about the Rotary Trail, but they're only part of what make the ride so enjoyable. As much as it is those elements, it's the way they're designed and strung together that make it all work.

Nervous riders may approach the first sweeping turns with trepidation, locking up their brakes as they skid around. The opportunities just keep coming, however, so even in just one lap, there's ample opportunity to learn to ride the curve. By the time nervous riders reach the bottom curves, they've had plenty of practice.

The jumping features are the same way. The first ones are small and easy for anyone to roll over. They grow gradually larger as the trail continues, however, and the final ones are large. There are well-established options to ride around those jumps, so like much of the difficulty associated with the trail, they can be tailored to a rider's particular level of daredevil.

As the jumping and downhill trails at Steamboat Ski Area come online this summer and in future seasons, the Rotary Trail will lose a little of the distinctiveness it's enjoyed in its short life, but that should do little to erase its appeal. It's a trail accessible to riders of all skill level and one that includes a bit of climbing but squeezes every bit of fun possible out of every foot of altitude gained with a thrilling descent that helps newbies learn and gives the hard core plenty of room to play.

No matter what else comes to the valley, it seems a good bet that the Rotary Trail will be popular for a long time to come.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email

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