Mad Creek Trail to Red Dirt Trail

Mountain Bike Trail Map with GPS Track

This is of the several mountain bike rides that you can do from the Mad Creek trailead. We climbed along Mad Creek to Mad Barn, took the Saddle Trail over to the Red Dirt Trail, climbed for a few minutes up the Red Dirt Trail, and then descended the Red Dirt Trail back down to the road. The ride is 8 miles long and climbs about 900 vertical feet.

The ride is aerobically challenging; the climb is a good workout, but not severe. The technical degree of difficulty varies widely along the ride. At the start, the climb along the Mad Creek canyon shelf is technically moderate. There are a few challenging rock formations, but the rest of the climb only requires you to avoid small rocks. Some might call this part technically easy, but in my book if you have to pay attention to where you front wheel goes, it’s technically moderate :) The Saddle Trail and most of the Red Dirt Trail are technically easy. I call the end of the Red Dirt Trail technically moderate. The trail itself is pretty easy, but there is serious exposure on the right side of the trail during the final steep descent along the face of an even steeper hillside. My friend joked that there is a “Warning, falling cyclists” sign on that stretch of road.

Check out Hot Springs to Mad Creek to Red Dirt Trails and Mad Creek to Hot Springs Creek pages for descriptions of other rides from the Mad Creek Trailhead. My favorite, so far, is the Hot Springs to Mad Creek to Red Dirt ride.

I did not take any pictures on this ride, but hopefully the photos on the pages linked to above will do a good job in presenting the scenery of the area.

Waypoint 1 Icon

The Mad Creek Trailhead is on the right hand side of county road 129, about 5 miles from U.S. 40. (county road 129 intersects U.S. 40 just west of town) Start the ride by entering the trailhead at the north end of the parking lot. (Ride straight across the dirt road and pick up the trail that starts climbing the hill.)

The first mile and a quarter is a pretty steep climb, so it’s a good idea to warm up a little in the parking lot. After that, the climb moderates as you gently ascend the trail on the shelf of the canyon.

Waypoint 2 Icon

The canyon gives way to rolling meadows just under 3 miles into the ride. Here you’ll find the historic Mad Barn. My friend exhibited some serious local Steamboat Springs real estate knowledge in leading us on a phantom single track that wound around the field northeast of the Mad Barn. It eventually dumped us on a more travelled trail that intersected with the Saddle Trail. Although there are multiple trails to explore in the vicinity of Mad Barn, there are “four ways out” of the area:

  • The Saddle Trail (climbs away from Mad Creek to Red Dirt Trail)
  • Cross the bridge over Mad Creek and head to Hot Springs Creek Drainage (see
    Mad Creek to Hot Springs Creek for a map of this route.

  • Head back down the Mad Creek canyon (on the trail you just rode up)
  • At the bridge over Mad Creek, take the trail that ascends along the
    north side of the creek.

Once on the Saddle Trail, the climb is on again. It is amazing how moist and lush the vegetation is on this section of trail. The insect population is alive and well there too. It is a stark contrast to the drier ecosystem that you ride through later on the Red Dirt Trail.

Waypoint 3 Icon

The Saddle Trail tees into the Red Dirt Trail. We were time limited, so we could only ascend the Red Dirt Trail (after turning right) for a short time before we had to head down. The rate of climb on the Red Dirt Trail is similar to that of the Saddle Trail. On the way down, the Red Dirt Trail flattens for about a half mile before you reach the big descent. The last pitch takes you dwon about 500 vertical feet in about .5 miles! All this with no room for error on the right side of the trail. Yikes! It is fun though, especially after you are down in one piece.

Waypoint 4 Icon

When you reach the road, take a left and ride a little over a mile back to the Mad Creek trailhead and parking lot.

Here is a gpx file contianing the gps tracks and waypoints shown in the trail map at the top of the page.