Hot Springs Creek Trail, to Mad Creek, to Red Dirt Trail

Mountain Bike Trail Map with GPS Track

Steamboat Springs, Mad Creek Trailhead

Trailhead (Waypoint 1)

The Mad Creek area of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area is popular with both hikers and mountain bikers. We linked together several trails to make this loop. We rode up and back the Hot Springs Creek Trail, over to the Mad Creek drainage, and then climbed out and took the Red Dirt trail back to the Mad Creek Trailhead. The total distance is 13.2 miles. I consider this ride technically moderate and aerobically demanding.

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To get to the trailhead, take U.S. 40 west out of Steamboat Springs and take a right on county road 129. The Mad Creek trailhead is on the right side of the road about 5 miles from U.S. 40.

For another ride from this trailhead, please check out my Mad Creek Trail write-up.

To start the ride, go back towards town about 0.3 miles on county road 129; you will cross the bridge over Mad Creek. You can either ride on the road or on the single track on the shoulder on the east side of the road. Turn left onto the four wheel drive road and start climbing. You’ll have to go through a couple of gates on the road.

Take the turnoff for the Hot Springs Trail (approximately 0.7 miles into the ride) on the right side of the four wheel drive road. Before you start the Hot Springs Creek climb in earnest, take a look down valley and enjoy the view.

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Steamboat Springs Hot Springs Mountain Bike Trail, photo near barn
Valley View From Near Start of Ride (Waypoint 2)

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The Hot Springs Creek Trail is a very enjoyable ride. The trail is a nice single track. You climb about 600 feet in 2.6 miles. The moderate rate of climb makes you work, but doesn’t force you off your bike. There are plenty of twists, turns, and minor ups and downs to keep your attention. As you climb the trail, the canyon gradually narrows and the trail hugs the creek in places. This photo, looking down the creek, was taken near an abandoned building.

Hot Springs Creek Trail

Hot Springs Creek Trail (Waypoint 3)

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Near the end of the Hot Springs trail, you will encounter a rock formation
that is not ride-able by mortals. A few hundred feed beyond these rocks,
you pop out at the famous Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

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Strawberry Park Hot Springs (Waypoint 4)

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Hot Springs Outhouse

Be warned, the hot springs operation, and even the road at this point, are PRIVATE PROPERTY. The proprietor informed us that interlopers are welcome to use the outhouse IF THEY ASK (at the front desk). If you do not ask, you are not allowed to use the restrooms. All is klar?

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Turn around and descend the Hot Springs Trail. Remember the rocky section near the top of the trail. After that, enjoy the descent; it’s a fun one. After the canyon opens up, you are treated to a nice view of the valley.

Hot Springs Trail, View on Descent

Hot Springs Trail Descent View (Waypoint 5)

When you reach the four wheel drive road at the bottom of the Hot Springs trail, turn right and start climbing up the road. From this point until slightly past the crossing of Mad Creek, you are riding the same trail in the opposite direction as described in the Mad Creek loop write-up. This road climbs up out of the Hot Springs Creek drainage and goes over to the Mad Creek drainage.

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Near the top of the climb, the road goes by a scenic high meadow.

High Meadow

High Meadow(Waypoint 6)

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The four wheel drive road will take you all the way to Mad Creek, but it is preferable to bypass a stretch of the road by taking a single track trail. Watch for the single track on the right about 0.5 miles after the high meadow. We had to dismount once because of fallen trees, but other than that the descent was pure fun.

High Meadow

Single Track Alternate Route (Waypoint 7)

After crossing Mad Creek, we rode over to the Mad Barn. It’s worth the time to investigate a little. All I can say is that that barn is built a bit more solidly than my house! From this area you can either:

  • Take the trail that descends along Mad Creek. This is the most direct route to the Mad Creek trailhead and parking lot.
  • Take the trail that climbs along Mad Creek. Pick this trail up just a few feet north of the bridge over Mad Creek.
  • Take the Saddle Trail, which climbs westward and then northward out of the Mad Creek drainage. This is the route that we took. From the barn, go a little ways ‘downstream’ and then stay right when the trail forks. The left fork is the trail that descends along Mad Creek.
  • Re-cross the bridge over Mad Creek and head back toward Hot Springs Creek.

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Mad Barn

Mad Barn (Waypoint 8)

Red Dirt Trail

Red Dirt Trail (Waypoint 9)

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The climb out of the Mad Creek drainage is on a nice single track trail. Near the top of the climb, the trail changes character as it enters the woods. This section of the trail is through a predominantly pine forest.

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After emerging from the woods, you can catch a last look at some distant mountains before beginning the descent to county road 129. Make sure that your brakes and your brain are in working order because this descent is STEEP. I cannot imagine riding up this section of the trail.

Red Dirt Trail

Last View Before Descent (Waypoint 10)

When you reach the road, take a left and ride back 1.2 miles to the Mad Creek Trailhead. Nice ride!

Here is a gpx file with the gps tracks and waypoints from the trail map at the top of this page.