- 14.24 mi Distance
- 6 Difficulty (1-10)
- 1300ft Total Ascent
- 6,618ft High Point
The Picture Rock Trail is a must ride trail if you are ever in Lyons or if you're in to an hour drive north of Denver when the I-70 corridor is proving to be a bit more crowded than you would like.
The parking lot is spacious with enough parking for 27 cars and three horse trailers. There is also a bathroom and a picnic table. I did not have to use the facilities so I cannot comment on the quality of amenities but I would assume they are of the pit variety. The trailhead is listed in google maps with a street view and directions here.
For the first bit of single track of the season, this trail ended up being the perfect one for me, nothing too steep and nothing too technical. The reports of rocks by other reviewers left me waiting for the technical rock gardens I was sure to run into. I had envisioned rock gardens similar to what I’ve encountered on the Rocky Ridge trail in Flagstaff AZ, or some others that I have been on in the Moab area but, except for one section on the Ponderosa trail in the loop up top, I didn’t find anything too harsh. My brother and his son ended up riding the trail with me and were pretty worn out after a little over 14 miles of out and back with a short loop of Wild Turkey and Ponderosa to the overlook and back at the top of the 5.1-mile Picture Rock trail. My nephew is a beginner on single track who rides a Specialized Hard Rock with platform pedals, and my brother is seasoned rider learning the benefits, and the pains, of clipless pedals for this first time who rides a Specialized Epic.
With my brother’s Garmin Fenix 3 paired to his iPhone calling out heartrate stats at intervals we climbed through some of the most epic views around Lyon’s Colorado. The meadows were expansive and full of flowers. The clouds overhead held threats of rain keeping the sun at bay when we were out in the open. The trail seemed crowded at times with thistle providing walls higher than me and just wide enough to brush my Whiskey Carbon 740mm riser bars on the corners. Still, the air was clear and whatever rocks we came across in the bottom section provided a nice technical detour to the slog up the 4% climb. During construction of the trail, these features were created to keep the speeds down as hikers and horseback riders frequent this trail. A few miles up the trail we found a slab rock picnic table for a nice break to take in the views and grab a picture.
Continuing up the trail we encountered a few more switchbacks and thistle sections until the path opened up for a brief time to double track. Once through the 400 or so yards of double track we reached a meadow view with some rustic ruins and an excellent smooth section of flowing single track we knew would be a stoker on the way down. After that section, we rode by an old silo and some ruins, a window of time from long before we got there. After more switchbacks that eventually took us to a slab rock section and an old car, we took another break to enjoy a look back to simpler times. It’s in this section that you start to encounter the rocks of a different variety that left my nephew a little perplexed and planting his foot more than he would have liked to admit. Many of the switchbacks are shored up with slab rock to limit trail erosion which I thought was fantastic. Rolling on single track to the corners and then riding slabs of stone around the edges made for a great transition. For my nephew, and any beginner really, maintaining line and confidence over transitioning terrain was a challenge, and his platform pedals would smash into some of the larger rocks causing a few unplanned dismounts.
The upper part of the trail moves from sparse foothill trees and dirt to some open areas. The rock features continued to appear as steps or rollers and there was even part of the trail cut into the side of a hill shored up with stacked slab rock that made for an excellent picture. The switchback on top of that climb took you back into the trees again. At the top of the Picture Rock Trail, the trail splits into the Wild Turkey trail with a nice rest area with benches and beautiful views. A perfect spot for a break and chance encounter of other trail users.
The Top of the Picture Rock Trail T’s with the Wild Turkey trail and you can either go right or left. We went right on our trip, and if the overlook is the destination you had in mind at the start of the trail, I would prefer this direction over the other. Turning right will have you climbing along a ridgeline through the trees with another great meadow view. You will eventually get to a slight downhill section that is longer than you would think it should be. It’s not too fast or steep for that matter and could even be around the 4% gradient that is consistent with the picture rock trail. It does take the edge off all the climbing you have done up to that point and gives a bit of a reward with not being too flowy or technical either. After a while, the trail will turn around through the trees and start the last leg of the journey to the overlook. The overlook gives you a view of South St. Vrain Drive or HWY 7 which will eventually take you on a scenic route to Estes Park. It also gives you a perspective to exactly how much climbing you have done up to this point. My GPS showed around 1300 feet of climbing, but the fact is that you turned off South St. Vrain Dr to get to the Picture Rock Parking Lot. Great job making it this far!
On the way back to the top of the Picture Rock Trail we took the eastern leg of the Ponderosa Loop rather than turning right on Ponderosa after exiting the overlook. It seemed to be the quicker option of the two and provided some cool rock features and easy downhill sections. Eventually, we came to the intersection of the Ponderosa and the Wild turkey trails and we stayed left. The Wild Turkey offered some rock pump features and some technical sections that were really fun and before we knew it, we were back at the intersection with the benches and the picture rock trail to swap stories before heading back down.
The ride back down the Picture Rock Trail was fun to say the least. This is rated as a blue trail and has some sweet rollers and flow section but has a lot of blind corners or sections with no bailouts and should be taken with a healthy but of caution. There are enough views to make even a slow trip down the trail exhilarating. Do not be afraid to stop and walk any section that might seem a little off to you. There were a few switchbacks my nephew walked around as it was the first time he had experienced some of those rock features. Be prepared for hikers around blind corners and horses as this trail gets busy. On the way up we saw signs of horses but didn’t see any during our ride. If you encounter a horse on the trail please give them plenty of room, like 15 to 20 feet on the lower side of the trail if possible so as not to spook the animal. That goes for hikers too, give them plenty of room and wish them well, they are enjoying the same trail you are. On the way down expect to see hikers or horses and hopefully you will not be too surprised if you come across one or several. On the way up, you may have to slow down and wait for a place that is safe for them to move off the trail to let you by.? When we are on the trails we are the ambassadors for our sport so it’s super important that we provide them the respect that they may not return, however, most are really talkative and super cool. Let them know you’re enjoying the views as much as they are and are not in a hurry to shred trail, those sections will come trust me, but the overall vibe on the trail needs to stay positive for everyone.
Our ride turned out to be 14.24 miles with 1300 feet of climbing and we had an average moving pace of 5.8 MPH. We also encountered rain in the afternoon. You can also continue on to Heil Ranch on the Wapiti Trail or combine a few loops of the Ponderosa and Wild Turkey trail as one rider we came across was doing. Remember to bring water, electrolytes, food, tools and a spare tube or two with a travel pump too. Although I personally have had the misfortune of walking my bike back to the car, or home, for several miles at a time, I have also found repairs on the trail to be solid and worthwhile to be prepared for. In Moab, I busted a chain once and in the southwest, I have broken spokes and other things. Now, I generally check air pressures at the car before the ride with a floor pump and enjoy my rides with little to no mechanical issues but I am always prepared. If you like this review and would like to be notified as I post more please use the comments section below or register for my Newsletter.