Mountain Biking Breckenridge Colorado: Peak 9 Access Road and Wheeler Trail

  • 27.7mi Distance
  • 10 Difficulty (1-10)
  • 3,844' Total Ascent
  • 12,507' High Point

Nothing has you wishing for, or even googling, a new larger cog cassette than riding elevations between 11,000 and 12,000 feet or higher. There is also nothing quite like the feeling of taking on one of these demanding trails and living to tell the tale. My phone showed 12,410 feet at the top of Wheeler Pass and just the mere realization of making it that far had me?euphoric and ready for the descent down to Copper Mountain in the Valley below. I found myself marveling at the views and the surprising difficulty of maintaining my line and speed on the narrow?descent snaking its way across the high elevation tundra. A month earlier I was still trying to find a route above treeline in the 10-Mile Range.

Spread the Word

I don’t know if you are aware of the sign near the Frisco side of the Peaks Trail, that innocent sign that points towards Copper Mountain being just 9 miles further from the junction!  It is so deceptively inviting and the trail meanders on the flats and rollers for just about a half mile until it’s no long uncle Tom’s Cabin and pitches upward to over 12,000 feet in the distance. It is on this trail I first attempted to ascend over the 10 mile range to Copper Mountain.  I dreamed of riding that fork of the trail since the first time I rode the Peaks Trail in the summer of 2015.  I liked the Peaks trail so much that I wanted to use it to combine other routes.  Mountain biking is an adventuring sport after all, right!  The spur trail started at an elevation of 10,000 feet, and I climbed 1200 feet in 2.8 miles to tree-line where I turned around due to storm build up.  The ride back down that section of the Colorado Trail, also called Miners Creek, was incredible!  Steep, gnarly, with lots of rocks and fun tech sections to check your brakes or shocks or both.  Even though that section of trail didn’t get me where I wanted, I still had a lot of fun and got to ride the Gold Hill section of the Colorado trail back to the Rec Path.  Eleven thousand two hundred feet was the highest I had ever ridden, and I knew I could get up the Wheeler trail and down into Copper if I could only find the right route.

A few stops at the local bike shops and I was provided with the best option without having legs like tree trunks, or a larger tooth rear cassette, or pedal assist, which I am still on the fence about.  They directed me to the peak 9 access road at the southeast parking lot of the Beaver Run Resort and cautioned me that the access road was steep, rocky and hard to manage above the tree-line.  I was oddly challenged and inspired by their recommendations, so I started planning and checking weather forecasts for clear full days.  Weather in the high country needs to be respected at all times as there are a number of people struck by lightning in Colorado.  The storms can also move in quickly without much warning and get pretty wild.

Peak 9 Access Road switchbacks up Peak 9 at Breckenridge Ski Resort

The day for the climb towards the Wheeler Trail had finally arrived. I had used Hammer Nutrition’s Endurolytes during the Newman MS150 in June and had great results, so I loaded some of them into my Osprey Raptor 14 Hydration Pack. I also grabbed some Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem Solids, and some of my favorite Blueberry Crisp Cliff Bars filled my water bottles and checked the air pressure in my tires.  After everything was tested and verified, I jumped on the Blue River Rec Path for the 15-minute ride up to village road in Breckenridge that would take me to the Beaver Run Resort and the base of the peak 9 Access Road.  The Peak 9 Access Road is a service road for Breckenridge Ski Resort so expect to see resort traffic during your climb. The road is wide enough not to have any issues with traffic, but it has a 12% average gradient for the 5 and a half miles to the Wheeler Trail. The bottom of the Peak 9 access road may have more traffic in peak times due to the horse stables being a little over a half mile up the road.  I stayed right and followed the main path and other mountain bike tracks on my accent.  Three miles up, I reached the Day Lodge which is an excellent place to rest with panoramic views above tree line.

View towards Peak 8 from the Day Lodge on the Peak 9 Access Road

This was also a great place to get my strength back because from here on out the next 1.5 miles is difficult. The grades stay around the same with some steep sections above 15%.  The rocks start to increase as you climb above tree line and you might just have to walk a bit.  I found myself zapped with energy at spots where I knew the road was easy enough to ride and realized that the elevation was taking its toll on my body’s ability to turn the cranks. I walked and rested when I needed and used those opportunities to snap a few pictures and enjoy the views.  I could also see the wheeler trail long before I reached it as it cut a path across the high elevation tundra.  The top of the Imperial Express Supper Chair and the summit of peak eight also captivated my attention as I climbed the switchbacks mostly on foot.

One of the rocky climbs on the switchbacks on the Peak 9 Access Road

The Wheeler trail is easy to spot darting off the right of the peak nine access road and was physically marked with a signpost as well.  Riding the narrow trail across the tundra was a lot of fun and easier than the climb up to this point.  A few tech sections and rock gardens later I found myself almost wanting to test my mettle above 11,000 feet and attempt to clean the switchback climb to the top of Wheeler Pass.  I chose to not get anaerobic with only a feeble attempt that had me climbing halfway up the first switchback and then resting for a while until my legs felt like they had enough power to walk again.  I climbed the switchbacks using my bike as a tool to lever myself up the high elevation grade.  With a tremendous sense of accomplishment and more work than I had imagined, I finally reached the top of Wheeler Pass at 12,410 feet.? 6.2 miles, over 3000 feet of climbing, in 2 hours and 30 minutes from the Beaver Run Resort parking lot!

Wheeler Pass, Elevation 12,410 Feet

After resting, admiring the view and fueling up again, I started my descent into Copper mountain.  I didn’t know what to expect, but from what I could see of the trail from the top it didn’t look too tricky.  That is until I got clipped in and developed a little speed and could not stop!! After grabbing much more brake than I should have had to, I was once again stopped to re-evaluate the trail that I had somewhat scoffed at in the comfort of my house as I read the review from MTB Project classifying it as a black diamond trail.  I proceeded much more cautiously and got my first real glimpse as to why it was classified as such when I descended off the summit.  The trail exposure was just as beautiful as it was alarming in the narrow trail that wound its way across the exposed landscape.  There were big rocks in the path on the tire side of blind corners, off-camber climbs through the brush, makeshift water bars, and beautifully choreographed steep slopes that the trail cut across.  There were also stream crossings at the strangest of places.  Once I got into the trees, the trail felt a lot more comfortable. It was still technical with rocks to maneuver over or around depending on size, but the exposure was much less visible.  The grade also was less dramatic but always there. Not much pedaling required at all.

A mile and a quarter down the trail is the intersection of the Colorado trail.  At the fork, you can either start climbing again to the Miners Creek trail or descend down to copper a short two miles down the trail to the rec path and eastern parking lot of Copper Mountain Resort.  It required much more effort than I had realized to mash the brakes and maneuver the bike down the trail, so I scoffed at the thought of people even thinking about trekking back up towards Miner’s Creek.  I took the opportunity to rest a bit and then continue down the trail again.  At this intersection, the Wheeler trail merges into the Colorado Trail. The path becomes a bit easier to manage and allows you to pick up a little more speed as you suck up the bumps, rocks, roots, and small drops of the trail.

Keep in control of your speed as this and all local trails are frequented by hikers who deserve, at the least, a friendly slow pass, or a complete yield.  A good rule of thumb is to always yield to uphill traffic and if there are horses, get off the trail on the low side if possible about 5 to 10 feet or more to allow them to pass if they are comfortable.  I was on the Peaks trail pulled off the side after riding up on an older couple and while we were talking a mountain biker flew by them and me with a quick and lame acknowledgment.  It startled the old couple, and it left me embarrassed at how I now had to defend the sport I love so much because some idiot was too caught up in his moment of fun that he couldn’t give caution where it was due.  You never know who you are going to meet, or speed past, on the trail or worse yet, you never know who could be unseen near them who doesn’t know you are barreling through at speed because they can’t hear or see you.

On the two-mile descent, I met up with a couple of overnight backpackers who were looking to hunt some elk.  I stopped to let them by, I learned about them and what they had planned, let them know that I had smelled some elk earlier on my ride up the Peak 9 Access Road and they ended up pretty impressed that I had come over the pass from Breckenridge.  The rest of the trip down to Copper Mountain Resort was excellent and really quick in some areas where I could let the bike go. Towards the bottom, there are a lot of wooden pathways over wet areas that really liven up the trail.  Three and a half miles down the trail from the summit of Wheeler Pass you will reach the Rec Path to Frisco. From there it’s a 7-mile descent into Frisco and then another 5 miles to the Gold Hill Trailhead.

When I got off the Rec path and limped up Tiger Road to my house, I had ridden 27 miles. I didn’t have the opportunity to take many pictures on the way down the trail, but I did remember to charge and bring along my Garmin Virb XE action cam. It uses a handlebar mount that also holds my Garmin 810 and looks realistic with excellent HD image quality. When the GPS works within the device, you can use overlays in post-production on the video stream to display elevation, grade, speed, and some other cool features. I have uploaded a short and extended version of the videos in the links below in my YouTube Channel. Please take a look and give me a thumbs up if you like the videos.

Wheeler Trail Short?5 minute video

Wheeler Trail Long 19 minute video

I would recommend the Wheeler Trail to anyone who has a full day to ride and rest.  I was pretty exhausted after completing the 27-mile loop that I did.  If you have someone to shuttle you, I would start at the south gondola parking lot and use the short climb up to the Beaver Run Resort to get your climbing legs under you and get picked up in Frisco after you have ridden the Rec path down from Copper.  I didn’t start to lose energy until after I began the climbs on the Rec Path before Farmer’s Corner after the Hospital. The whole route is really scenic, and you will be super stoked when you complete it.  If you wanted to make a loop out of it, I would start at the Gold hill Parking area just before Tiger Road, that way you don’t have the additional climbing to get back to the free summer Gondola Parking after over 20 miles and 4000 feet of climbing. With stops and everything, I was on my bike a little over 4 hours and had a sense of accomplishment that far outweighed my fatigue. Take your time, enjoy the trails and the 12 to 15 percent climbs, and have fun out there on the trails!

Note: The North and South Gondola parking lots have been converted to pay parking and are no longer free. You can still park there in the summer but please plan to pay a fee for parking. I will update this when I know how much it will cost for the 2020 summer season.