Fruita mountain biking trails a far cry from still-muddy Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Fruita mountain biking trails a far cry from still-muddy Steamboat

— Fruita isn’t for everyone.

There’s no shopping mall, for instance. If you’re looking for art, Steamboat Springs offers substantially more galleries, and if you’re looking to waste a rainy afternoon, you can’t turn to a bowling alley or even a movie theater.

Still, vehicles in a long and constant line made their way to the small western Colorado town Friday – cars, trucks and SUVs with mountain bikes strapped to every surface.

Fruita might not be the right place to shop for crafts. But when it comes to Colorado mountain biking, there’s nowhere else.

A whole new world

Steamboat Springs has a proud mountain biking tradition of its own. Still, there’s nary a dedicated Routt County gearhead who’s not intimately familiar with the 200 miles between Steamboat and Fruita.

“It’s fantastic down there,” local rider Kelly Boniface said. “It’s like a great big playground.”

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In the weeks after Steamboat Ski Area closes and before local trails are dry, there’s no biking outlet more popular that Fruita.

For Steamboat bikers, the appeal is primarily two-fold.

First, while the Yampa Valley faces bouts with snowstorms all through the spring months, Fruita already is dry as a bone, with not a hint of snow or the recently passed winter anywhere in eyeshot.

“It’s just a few hours away from here, but it’s a whole different climate,” said Boniface, who already has made several trips this spring. “It can be a blizzard up here, but drive a few hours to get there, and you’re in a desert.”

Something for everyone

It’s been dry in Craig for weeks, too, but many local mountain bikers use that town as little more than a pit stop on the way south. Fruita’s appeal is about more than dry trails.

It’s about the variety.

“For the beginning and end of the year, it’s the perfect warm-up,” Ski Haus bike tech Cory Prager said. “It’s perfect for getting into your season whether you’re into cross country or downhill.”

Fruita trails are broken into several different areas.

The 18 Road trail system lies about 10 miles south of Fruita and offers some of the most accessible terrain in the area.

Prime Cut, which starts directly across the street from the area’s main parking lot, is an easy ride through the terrain beneath the Bookcliffs, a long series of cliffs that mark the northern edge of the massive valley that includes Grand Junction and Fruita.

Tough, technical trails Zippety Do Da and The Edge Loop also are nearby.

Another trail, Kessell, represents the area’s diversity.

Boniface said she’s not afraid to challenge her 8-year-old daughter, Isabelle, with the 2.2-mile trek. Children attempting the ride Friday rode most of the trail but were quick to dismount and push their way across a few trouble spots.

This trail isn’t just for the young, though. It offers a fun, fast – but not scary – dash, swinging riders through dry creek beds and up and over small hills.

The Kokopelli trail system, meanwhile, lies about 5 miles west of Fruita at the Loma exit.

Again, there are options for the beginner, such as Mary’s Loop and Rustlers. And there’s handlebar-clenching technical rides such as Moore Fun.

Horsethief Bench breaks away from the tame Mary’s Loop. The trail eases up after an almost impossible-to-ride drop into the canyon, where it’s not nearly as impossible to walk your bike down. Riders are met with 5 miles of rocky ledges and stunning views of the Colorado River.

Even more trails await riders farther west on I-70 at Rabbit Valley.

It all amounts to more than enough to satisfy Steamboat riders itching to get on their bikes.

It doesn’t, however, draw them from home when the snow finally vanishes from Mount Werner and Steamboat’s own renowned trails.

“The appeal of those areas is they can help expand your riding season,” Orange Peel employee Essam Welch said. “But, during the summer, it’s time to ride here.”

If you go

– How to get there

Fruita is 200 miles southwest of Steamboat, just past Grand Junction on Interstate 70.

– Where to ride

18 Road: To access the 18 Road area from downtown Fruita, head east on Aspen Avenue. (which runs straight through the downtown district) and turn left on Maple Street. Go north nearly 4 miles and turn right on North 3/10 road, which ends in a T at 18 Road. Turn left on 18 and drive (or ride) 4.3 miles to a large parking area on the left.

The 18 Road system includes easy trails such as Prime Cut and complex rides such as Zippety Do Da. Don’t miss Kessell, though. It’s accessible for novice riders but fast and fun enough to thrill riders of all skill levels.

Kokopelli: To access the Kokopelli Area, continue past Fruita for 4 miles to the Loma exit, Exit 15. Coming from the east, turn left to cross over the highway, then right to the trailhead. Signs point the way to the Kokopelli trailhead.

Rustler is great for beginners, and Moore Fun is perfect for experts. The Horsethief Bench trail, which breaks off from Mary’s Loop, offers challenging rides through rocky sections and thrilling sections along the cliffs above the Colorado River. It’s 5 miles long.

– Where to stay

There are several hotels in the area, and Grand Junction, just a few miles up the road, offers plenty of options. Several Steamboat locals recommended the Balanced Rock Motel, 126 S. Coulson St. in Fruita, for a good, cheap stay. Reach the motel at 858-7333.

There are also plenty of sites in the area to camp, and the Highline Lake State Park is popular. Unlike many barren potential camping spots laid out on rocky or sandy sections, there are grassy spots and shower facilities available.

– Where to eat

It’s hard to go wrong with the Hot Tomato Cafe, 136 E. Aspen Ave. in downtown Fruita, right across the street from the Over the Edge bike shop. The cafe offers a wide range of reasonably priced pizza, available by the slice or by the pie.