The tour of California Park and the Little Snake River is a Northwest Colorado classic that takes in a series of sparsely traveled dirt roads through Routt and Moffat counties with a brief excursion into southern Wyoming before returning to Steamboat Springs through the scenic Elk River Valley.
The route starts and finishes at the historic train depot in Steamboat Springs and can be ridden in either direction but we prefer doing it in a counter-clockwise direction. Starting at the depot you will take the Yampa River Core Trail north to Shield Drive and then just two miles of US Highway 40 before turning right onto CR 42 where the pavement ends just over the other side of the hill. Riding past the head of the Sleeping Giant you will come to the ends of the road’s winter maintenance and a section that is impassable when wet. It takes a lot of moisture to turn the hard dirt into mud, but it is some mean mud and should be respected. Turning left onto county road 52 you ride past the Wolf Mountain Ranch and begin a long fast descent down to highway 40 again for a quick half mile of pavement and back to the gravel on county road 70. A few miles of rolling road next to the river changes into a demanding climb as soon as you turn right onto the California Park Road (CR 80). Be sure to turn around and take in the view of the wide open Yampa Valley before you plunge over the top and begin the next climb as you stairstep your way up to California Park itself. California Park gives way to Slater Park before you begin the long descent down to the Little Snake River which is named for the way the river meanders back and forth across the valley floor and not named because of snakes. At mile 72 you will pass the Brush Mountain Ranch which is famous among the Tour Divide rides for their hospitality towards cyclist and could be the perfect overnight accommodations for riders looking to do the California Park/Little Snake tour in two days.
After crossing the Little Snake River you will hit the pavement and venture into Wyoming for 4 miles before turning right onto the Little Snake River Road where you will return to Colorado and begin climbing gently along the river until the Three Forks Ranch where the road tilts upwards more significantly. The climb stair-steps its way up to Hahn’s Peak and the townsite of Columbine where the general store sometimes has doughnuts for sale. The paved road then descends down to Steamboat Lake where you can take a 1 mile detour into Hahn’s Peak to eat at the Hahn’s Peak Cafe or you can stay on route taking county road 62 around the lake and down to Clark and the Clark Store which also serves excellent food and has supplies to restock yourself with.
A few miles of paved highway takes you back to the dirt at Moon Hill (CR 56) and then to Salt Creek (CR 52E) which is impassable when wet. If it is raining hard you should avoid this road at all costs and just stay on highway 129. If it is not raining you will be rewarded with some spectacular scenery through the rolling hills as you make your way back to Steamboat Springs going over Fly Gulch (CR 44A), across the Elk River and past the airport before rejoining highway 129 for the final few miles before you reach the only traffic light of the entire tour where you will cross highway 40 and can take the Core Trail back to the depot.