Biking Telluride’s Historic Galloping Goose Trail

My family has a bone to pick with the United States Forest Service.

Mostly, we like…even love… the Forest Service. Here in Colorado, they provide us with skiing, camping, hiking and mountain biking. They manage some of our most beautiful lands and generally they do it well.

No, our family beef has nothing to do with the government’s management of our natural resources. It has to do with their understanding of Colorado history. Specially, with their understanding of the construction of the narrow gauge railway right-of-way now known as the Galloping Goose trail.

The Galloping Goose mountain bike trail is 17 miles of graded roadbed and single track that runs from the top of Lizard Head pass down into Telluride. The trail extends beneath some of the most incredible mountain scenery in our state. It also passes directly in front of our family cabin. More importantly, it is our family’s understanding that our forebear, Thomas H. Wigglesworth, was the civil engineer responsible for surveying this route. Too bad the USFS doesn’t agree. But more on that later.

Ride Downhill…and Uphill

This year, over the 4th of July weekend, I talked my oldest son into riding from our cabin down to the most interesting and challenging portion of the Galloping Goose trail. He is a very accomplished mountain biker whose tastes, when we are in San Miguel County, tend to run more toward the advanced, downhill and cross-country trails that crisscross Telluride Ski Resort and the surrounding mountains. The Galloping Goose trail is an easy ride — too easy for him, but fun for me — and I cajole him into taking it with me at least once a year.  Despite our differing abilities, we always enjoy it.

Ordinarily I am reluctant to share some our of favorite, special places. However, the Galloping Goose trail is an open secret. Telluride Outside uses the entire route for guided mountain biking tours, going from the top to the bottom (all “downhill and level terrain” they advertise). Telluride Outside is a reputable outfitter and they do a good job. But you most certainly don’t have to use an outfitter to access this trail and you certainly don’t have to just go downhill.

Perfect for Families

So, just for fun, let’s say you’re part of a family that mountain bikes and are looking for some mellow single track. You’re in Telluride and you also happen to be interested in trains and Colorado history. Have I got a deal for you.

While this is not the exact route we ride, it is a good one and is easy to find. Along this segment, the Galloping Goose trail is a confidence-building ride that takes you high above the valley floor on a narrow track with absolutely stunning views of the surrounding peaks. It’s not for the nervous or those with a fear of heights, but there is nothing very technical about it.

How to Do It

1. Park at the Sunshine Mesa Road Trail head.  Leave Telluride, heading west on Highway 145.  About 6 miles out-of-town, turn left onto South Fork Road (easiest to look for the sign that points to Ilium). Go about 2 miles. Turn right at the former Episcopal church camp and head up along a well-graded dirt road (Sunshine Mesa Road). Look for a USFS map and Galloping Goose trail signage on your left at a point where the road curves higher. Park.

2. From here, you’ll ride about three miles until you come to a sturdy Forest Service bridge that crosses a stream on private land. You will know you’re at the bridge when you go down a short, steep hill. This is your turn-around point.

From trail head to turn-around is approximately 3 miles up a gentle sloping trail. There are four stream crossings and your feet will get wet. There is one small bit of exposure — you’ll know it by the wooden retaining wall — and you may want to get off and walk. The rest of the trail is mostly smooth, except when crossing talus slopes, and even then, it’s more bouncy than rocky.

3. Once you turn around at the bridge, there’s a quick steep uphill back to the railroad grade. Back in the day, a train trestle would have soared above the stream without any loss of elevation. The trestles have sadly been removed, but you can still see remnants of them along the trail, as well as old wooden railroad ties. Heading back to your car is easy. It’s your turn for the gravity assist!

When You Go….

Telluride is about 360 miles from Denver and 127 miles south of Grand Junction. There are endless trails both on the ski area and throughout the Forest Service’s domain. Good resources are the resort summer map and the Visit Telluride website. The natives are also quite friendly, so ask at the local bike shops, especially if looking for recommendations for rides with kids.

Photo courtesy Heritage West

And now back to my family’s bone of contention. You see, when Thomas H. Wigglesworth arrived in Colorado after the Civil War, he already had quite a lot of experience surveying railways in the South. Once in Colorado, he was hired to survey numerous railways in Colorado, including the Colorado Midland Railway (which ran from Colorado Springs to New Castle) and the route known today as the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. In his day, Wigglesworth was known as the Pathfinder of the Rockies.

Otto Mears, the man the USFS credits with surveying the Galloping Goose right-of-way is called the Pathfinder of the San Juans. In our family, he is known as something else. For it is our understanding that Mears took credit for a number of surveys along the Rio Grande Southern that were actually done by Wigglesworth, including what is today the Galloping Goose trail.

Will the USFS change their history? Nah. Will we continue enjoying the Galloping Goose trail? You’d better believe it. In the end, it doesn’t really matter who surveyed the route. What matters is that the route is there.


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