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Adventure

Must-Ride MTB Trail: Canyon and Benjamin Loops in Betasso Preserve

This Boulder County preserve offers a quick (but first-rate) ride on the Canyon and Benjamin Loop Trails, with stunning views and a few leg-burning hills to boot.

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Length: 7.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Why We Love it: These trails are really well built, and the route is short enough to ride after work when the daylight lasts long into the evening.
When To Go: Mid Spring through Fall, so long as the trail is dry and clear. Note: Betasso Preserve is closed to mountain bikes on Saturdays and Wednesdays.
Restrooms: At the trailhead
Distance from Denver: 35 miles, one-way
Dogs: Allowed on leash


Once you ride into Betasso Preserve, it doesn’t take long to realize two things: First, you’re entering a seriously beautiful area—marked by sprawling hills and ponderosa pines dutifully preserved by Boulder County Open Space. And second, these trails are sculpted with mountain bikers in mind. Each turn seems to propel you into the next, with playful berms, not-too-tight corners, and rollers that let you build speed without sending you out of control.

There are a few ways to mountain bike Betasso Preserve, but we recommend combining the Canyon Loop trail with the Benjamin Loop trail via the Loop Link. At the Canyon Loop trailhead, you’ll ride by a picnic area and public restrooms before hitting a trail sign after about 300 feet, which depending on the day will instruct bikers to ride either clockwise or counter-clockwise (the direction changes every few weeks). If riding clockwise, you’ll begin pedaling uphill initially before leveling off atop a grassy field on a wide trail. The loop then ducks into tree cover where the trail narrows and winds through a ponderosa forest. The first half of the Canyon loop is a quick ride, featuring a manageable mix of uphill and downhill.

The Canyon Loop trail before it drops into the woods. Photo by Jay Bouchard.

After approximately 1.2 miles, you’ll hit a junction with the Loop Link. Rather than continuing around the Canyon Loop trail, turn left and ride the .8-mile link—which features a steep climb toward the end. You’ll climb your way to another junction, this time with the Benjamin Loop trail. If riding clockwise, turn left here, where you’ll be rewarded with…another hill. It’s a tough climb, after which you’ll be glad to have spun your way up. What follows is perhaps the most fun section of this ride—a narrow, steep downhill section where riders can really let loose. But be careful: hikers or horses may be coming in the opposite direction.

Follow the Benjamin Loop all the way around and meet up again with the the Loop Link, which you’ll ride in the opposite direction this time back to the junction with the Canyon Loop. Now, turn left onto the remaining portion of Canyon Loop trail, which begins with a smooth downhill section. But it’s short-lived. Perhaps the one drawback of this ride is that it ends with a brutal uphill climb for more than a mile back to the parking lot. If you didn’t already feel like you’d had a good workout, your legs and lungs will be burning by the time you ride the final hill.

But because the ride is relatively short, you won’t be too spent to enjoy a post-ride beer on Pearl Street in Boulder, which is only about five miles down the hill.

Getting There: From Denver, take I-25 North to exit 217-A (36 West). Follow 36 for 25 miles and take the Baseline Road exit in Boulder. Turn left on Baseline Road and then turn right Broadway. After 1.5 miles turn left onto Boulder Canyon Drive and follow that road out of the city for 5.2 miles before turning right on Sugarloaf Road. Follow Sugarloaf Road for one mile and then make another right on Betasso Road, which you’ll drive for about a half-mile before seeing signs for Betasso Preserve and the Canyon Loop trail.

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