Smith Mountain Loop

Round Trip Distance: 12.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Skill level:
Elevation: 5113 - 6426 feet
Cellphone: 2-4 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Smith Mountain Saddle Trailhead
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic views

The Smith Mountain Loop is located in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area near Delta, Colorado. The loop is formed by combining the Smith Mountain Jeep Road with the South River Road. The entire loop is a double track with all of it being accessible by vehicles with moderate clearance. The roughest part of the loop is where the Smith Mountain Jeep Road makes its final descent toward the Gunnison River. The complete loop is more suited to OHV and mountain biking than it is hiking and horseback riding.

To get to the northern area of the Gunnison Gorge NCA drive east out of Delta for 7 miles on Highway 92 to Austin and turn right onto 2200 Road. Follow 2200 Road for about 1 mile and turn left onto H75 Road. It is about 3 miles to the Smith Mountain/Sidewinder trailhead where there is a restroom and another hundred yards or so to the Smith Mountain Saddle trailhead.

The Smith Mountain Saddle trailhead has long slots for parking with trailer and plenty of room to maneuver. For this post we are riding our mountain bikes and following the loop in the counterclockwise direction.

From the trailhead it is obvious that there is going to be some pretty good uphill to do.

A look at the elevation profile shows how the hills are laid out.

The steepest part of the climb lasts for about 1 mile. After that the climbing continues for almost another 2 miles but the slope is a bit easier.

Just past the 2 mile point the trail passes beneath some powerlines and at the 3.1 mile point it comes to an intersection where the right fork leads to the Red Rocks/Nighthorse trail and on over to the Dinosaur Road. There is also the option to go to the right and then take another right that leads back down to H75 Road near the Smith Mountain/Sidewinder trailhead. That route is a little more primitive though.

The next 4 or 5 miles of the loop is mostly downhill. There are some distant scenic views of the Grand Mesa and the Elk Mountains along the way.

The road gets narrower and a little rougher as it begins descending toward the river. We probably wouldn't have had any trouble going in the downhill direction with our little 2-wheel drive Ford Ranger.

Just past the 7.5 mile point the loop reaches the South River Road and the Smith Mountain Jeep Road comes to an end.

Across the river you can see the Gunnison River Pleasure Park that is located at the confluence of the North Fork and Gunnison Rivers.

As the loop continues along the Gunnison River it passes the Cottonwood Grove Campground that sits right on the river's bank.

After a nice ride along the river there is one more big uphill climb to deal with as the road makes its way out of the river valley and back up to the mesa.

The Smith Mountain Loop is a pretty good workout on a mountain bike. The total elevation gain for the loop comes out to 1,996 feet. The trail is hard packed so it travels pretty fast in dry weather anyway. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.